Pop!_OS is the popular Linux built by computer company System76. It is built on a Ubuntu base with many logical and helpful additions. System76 developers are gradually building a distribution with its own unique identity, separate from Ubuntu.
Update the System
Even with a new release, there may be updates waiting. These updates can patch bugs or bring new features. In general, its a smart idea to keep software updated. Begin by opening a Terminal window. This can be download by pressing the Super key and typing Terminal. After installing updates, reboot the computer.
sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade -y
A command line is not the only way to install updates. The Pop Shop is the main way to find software and update the system.
Open Pop Shop. At the top, navigate to Installed. If updates are available, Pop Shop will display how many and how large they are. Updates can be installed individually or all at once with the Update All button.
Changes to Pop!_OS
Following the lead of Ubuntu 21.10, Pop!_OS 21.10 jumps ahead to Gnome 40. This is not the latest release of Gnome (Gnome is currently on 41). Gnome 40 brings changes to Workspace and App Overview. These now scroll horizontally.
Pop!_OS 21.04 included the inaugural release of Cosmic Desktop. With 21.10, additional settings are available to customize Cosmic Desktop (discussed below).
The biggest visible change on Pop!_OS is also the visible: the Cosmic Desktop. System76 took note of how its Pop users tended to modify the desktop and decided to apply those directly. The developers added in a Ulauncher style search and app launcher that opens with the super key.
To customize Cosmic Desktop, open System Settings and navigate to Desktop. There are numerous options present to tweak.
The dock can be moved from bottom to the left or right sides. There are three preset sizes along with a Custom Size option. Of course, the Dock can be hidden or left out. The Dock can be extended out to the edges or left floating. Or the Dock can be skipped altogether.
The Super Key can be remapped open Workspaces or Applications in lieu of Launcher. Minimize and Maximize can be toggled on and off separately.
There is also a wealth of wallpapers. Pop includes an interesting assortment with some more cartoonish while others are stunning space and nature shots.
A new app drawer graces 21.10. Instead of the full screen overview that Gnome 40 launches, Cosmic displays applications in a folder view. Programs are divided into a few logical categories like Office and Utilities with the option to create custom folders to store more.
The biggest single advantage to choosing Pop!_OS over other distros is the Nvidia and hybrid graphics support.
System76 releases a Pop!_OS ISO with the proprietary Nvidia graphics drivers included. My Thinkpad has a hybrid Intel Nvidia setup called Nvidia Optimus. Pop!_OS recognizes that but defaults to Nvidia. Any of the graphics can be chosen but all require a reboot to take effect.
I can opt for Hybrid Graphics where Intel will handle most of the work and Nvidia is available on demand for heavier applications. I can also choose to use only the Intel (displayed as integrated graphics) to save on power and extend battery life.
Pop!_OS has strong built in power management. In the image above, three options are listed: Battery Life, Balanced, and High Performance. Do not install TLP on Pop!_OS as it will conflict with the built in system.
Ubuntu Restricted Extras is required to play common media files. This package also supports other proprietary or third party drivers
sudo apt install -y ubuntu-restricted-extras
DVD playback is supported with the libdvd package.
sudo apt install -y libdvd-pkg && sudo dpkg-reconfigure libdvd-pkg
AppImage, Flatpak, and Snap
Most software is packaged as “Deb” for Pop!_OS. AppImage, Flatpak, and Snap are all ways to install software that’s not specific to a distro. There are relative pros and cons between them all but all three formats accomplish roughly the same goal: to make it easier to distribute software on Linux.
AppImage is supported natively. To make it easier to track and integrate AppImages, install AppImageLauncher first.
Pop!_OS natively supports Flatpak so no additional setup is required. Many Gnome applications are available as Flatpaks now. Many titles even default to Flatpak in Pop Shop. Check out Best Flatpaks for more options.
sudo apt install snapd sudo apt update
Install Apps via Terminal
Most software can be installed in Pop Shop. For installing multiple packages quickly, the packages can be stacked together. For example, sudo apt install package will install “package” and multiple packages can be listed. In the command below, Synaptic, VLC, and Gnome Tweak Tool will all be installed. the -y is included to tell the system, that yes, it is indeed okay to install the packages.
sudo apt install -y synaptic vlc gnome-tweak-tool
One last note, Flatpaks and Snaps have been merged into Terminal category. Flatpaks are also available in Pop Shop. There is no need to install the same application multiple times. Flatpaks and Snaps commands cannot be mixed with each other or Apt.
Synaptic Package Manager feels like an old school app store with the many individual packages listed. Use Synaptic with great caution. Available as DEB.
sudo apt install -y synaptic
Gnome Tweak Tool makes it easy to modify the system. Available as DEB.
sudo apt install -y gnome-tweaks
VLC is a popular media player. It can play virtually anything. Available as DEB, Flatpak, or Snap.
sudo apt install -y vlc flatpak install flathub org.videolan.VLC sudo snap install vlc
Archive tools for opening random compressed files. Available as DEB.
sudo apt install -y unzip p7zip unrar
GIMP is an open source photo editor often touted as the alternative to its proprietary counterpart. Available as DEB, Flatpak, or Snap.
sudo apt install -y gimp flatpak install flathub org.gimp.GIMP sudo snap install gimp
Audacity is an excellent audio editor. Available as DEB, Flatpak, or Snap.
sudo apt install -y audacity flatpak install flathub org.audacityteam.Audacity sudo snap install audacity
Steam is a gaming platform. I’m not a gamer but for this is the place to download games. Available as DEB or Flatpak.
sudo apt install -y steam flatpak install flathub com.valvesoftware.Steam
Spotify is a popular music streaming service. Available as DEB, Flatpak, or Snap.
sudo apt install -y spotify-client flatpak install flathub com.spotify.Client sudo snap install spotify
Bitwarden is an open source password manager with syncing. It integrates nicely on Android with autofill ability. It syncs passwords across Android, Linux, iOS, OS X, and Windows. AppImage, DEB, and RPM downloads available. DEB and RPM packages do not auto update. CLI Tools are available along with browser extensions for most browsers. Available Flatpak or Snap.
flatpak install flathub com.bitwarden.desktop sudo snap install bitwarden
Tutanota is a privacy focused email service.
flatpak install flathub com.tutanota.Tutanota
Simplenote is a free note taking app developed by Automattic (the WordPress people). Simplenote syncs across virtually everything and supports AppImage, DEB, and RPM. Part of the appeal of Simplenote is markdown support but the other cool thing is WordPress support. Simplenote can be tied to a WordPress account for easy posting. Available Flatpak or Snap.
flatpak install flathub com.simplenote.Simplenote sudo snap install simplenote
Visual Studio Code is a lightweight source code editor. Available Flatpak or Snap.
flatpak install flathub com.visualstudio.code sudo snap install code --classic
Standard Notes is a lot like Simplenote. Its free. Its open source. Its crazy cross platform. If the Automattic/Wordpress relationship makes you uncomfortable or maybe you just don’t need it, try Standard Notes instead. Standard Notes has one big advantage over Simplenote: extensions. Yes, the extensions do cost but they effectively turn Standard Notes into a mini office suite with support for markdown, rich text, LaTeX, and HTML. Standard Notes has backup support for Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive.
flatpak install flathub org.standardnotes.standardnotes sudo snap install standard-notes
Zoho Notebook has a sticky note in a notebook feel. Create different notebooks, change the cover image, and fill it with text notes, pictures, and links. While Notebook is not open source, Zoho promises to never read your data, sell your data, or show you ads. They even claim to encrypt it. Not bad a free service. Zoho Notebook is available for Linux as a DEB, Android, and Apple devices.
wget https://downloads.zohocdn.com/notebooklinux-desktop/Notebook-1.2.0.deb sudo apt install ./Notebook-1.2.0.deb
YouTube production program. Before installing the obs-studio package, ffmpeg needs to be installed. If you’re unsure if its present, try installing it anyway.
sudo apt install -y ffmpeg
After installing ffmpeg, add the PPA.
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:obsproject/obs-studio
Finally, install the obs-studio package.
sudo apt update && sudo apt install -y obs-studio
Firefox is the de facto standard browser across Linux. The Mozilla team that produces Firefox strives to maintain a standards compliant, free and open source means of accessing the Internet. There are several other choices that may work better for particular users.
Google Chrome is the most popular browser. It is based on the open source Chromium with added Google bits. For different releases, change the package from -stable to -beta or -unstable.
wget https://dl.google.com/linux/direct/google-chrome-stable_current_amd64.deb sudo apt install ./google-chrome-stable_current_amd64.deb
sudo apt install apt-transport-https curl sudo curl -fsSLo /usr/share/keyrings/brave-browser-archive-keyring.gpg https://brave-browser-apt-release.s3.brave.com/brave-browser-archive-keyring.gpg echo "deb [signed-by=/usr/share/keyrings/brave-browser-archive-keyring.gpg arch=amd64] https://brave-browser-apt-release.s3.brave.com/ stable main"|sudo tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/brave-browser-release.list sudo apt update sudo apt install brave-browser
Vivaldi is yet another Chromium based browser with its own sync tool and tweaks.
wget https://downloads.vivaldi.com/stable/vivaldi-stable_3.8.2259.42-1_amd64.deb sudo apt install ./vivaldi-stable_3.8.2259.42-1_amd64.deb
Microsoft Edge originally used a Microsoft built engine but its now based on Chromium. Edge is still in development for Linux so some features may be lacking. Sync was recently added.
Install via Pop Shop
Most applications can be installed with Pop Shop, the native app center.
Pop Shop includes all the basics of a modern app store: software categories, a search menu, an update mechanism, and reviews. Many applications are now present in both the Pop!_OS DEB repositories and in Flathub. A drop down menu next to the install button allows users to select the source for each application.
Non Repo Software
(that’s an affliate link, by the way)
Try a secure email service like Protonmail or Tutanota. Gmail, Outlook, and other free email services offer tons of storage. In exchange, they mine your data to show you ads. Secure email services encrypt your data so they are unable to read it. Tutanota offers a free AppImage desktop client while Protonmail enables IMAP with a paid plan.
PPA or Personal Package Archive is sort of a mini repo for software that for whatever reason isn’t in the official repositories. The software may still be in a beta testing or is a small project just starting. While PPAs can be a convenient means to installing non repo software, be cautious. Too many PPAs can make software updates unreliable. PPAs could, though very unlikely, contain malicious software. I use the Mozilla Team’s official PPA to install Firefox Beta because Mozilla is a trusted source.
I don’t recommend using many Gnome Extensions. They allow easy customization of the desktop but more than a couple may hurt system performance.
GSConnect aka KDE Connect
GSConnect works with the Android counterpart KDE Connect. Before I go any further: Do not install KDE Connect on Gnome. It will interfere with GSConnect. GSConnect is the Gnome implementation of KDE Connect. The Android app works with both.
That said, GSConnect allows notification syncing so that your phone calls, messages, and app notifications will all appear on your desktop. Phone battery life is also displayed. It goes beyond just notifications though.
Text messages can be responded to or even started from the desktop. It also opens up file transfers between devices. While I like Google Messages for RCS and web access, it doesn’t compare to the features GSConnect offers.
The changes to Pop!_OS with the new Cosmic Desktop make setup a little quicker and easier. New features like the improved app drawer and app launcher move Cosmic in an exciting and more useful direction.
What are your favorite Pop!_OS tweaks? What are your must have applications? Tell us in the comments below.