Image: Jack Wallen

I make no bones about being a big fan of System76. Not only do they walk the open source walk, but their in-house hardware (the Thelio) might well be the single best desktop computer I have ever owned, and their laptops are high on the list. That hardware is made even more impressive with Pop!_OS running on top.

For those that aren’t in the know, Pop!_OS is System76’s in-house take on Linux. Built on a foundation of Ubuntu, the operating system includes a few tweaks, geared specifically toward System76 hardware. Those tweaks make Pop!_OS truly sing on the Thelio (it runs fine on non-System76 hardware as well).

Recently, in accordance with Ubuntu 19.10, System76 released the latest iteration of Pop!_OS, and I’m here to tell you that this release is truly a wonder…. One that makes me wonder.

Let me explain.

First I want to discuss what makes this new release so good.

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The upgrade from Pop!_OS

I could probably end this piece with the simple statement:

The upgrade from Pop!_OS 19.04 to 19.10 was the smoothest, most pain-free OS upgrade I’ve ever experienced, bar none.

With the help of the pop-upgrade command and an addition to the GNOME Settings tool (which checks for upgrades to the OS), the upgrade took about 15 minutes. The only thing of issue was two GNOME extensions appeared to not work (Custom Hot Corners and Dash To Dock). However, after a reboot, both extensions returned to their regular working order.

And when I say this was smooth, I mean inexplicably smooth. The transition from 19.04 and 19.10 seemed as if nothing happened. Only my Thelio benefitted from the hard work put in by System76, GNOME, and Ubuntu. Once the process had completed, I was able to get back to work as if nothing happened.

That’s the kind of OS upgrade we all want. And System76 (and Ubuntu, and GNOME, et al.) delivered.

What’s new?

System76 really went all out with this upgrade. Not only does it include the usual goods provided by Ubuntu and GNOME, they’ve added plenty of their own touches, including:

  • Dark Mode
  • Improved default theme (based on Adwaita) which prevents application themes from breaking
  • Improved theme sound effects
  • Tensorman (a toolchain manager for Tensorflow)
  • Offline upgrades

Prior to this upgrade, I was also treated to a firmware update for the Thelio I/O board (from 1.0.1 to 1.0.2). This logic board controls the machine thermals independently of the motherboard.

The offline upgrades is a really great feature. What this does is download everything necessary for the upgrade, but holds off until the user wants to begin the process. This is part of the reason why the upgrade is so blazingly fast. In order to upgrade, you only have to open Settings, click Details, and then (if everything has downloaded), click the Upgrade button.

Outside of what System76 tweaked on 19.10, the release also includes GNOME 3.34, which includes serious performance enhancements. It’s that one-two punch of the System76 and GNOME updates that really make Pop!_OS 19.10 respond so effortlessly. The GNOME developers have done a masterful job of improving their desktop environment. Window animations are smoother, applications open a bit faster, and everything responds with more speed.

One feature that has finally arrived back in GNOME is the ability to group applications together in the overview. To make this happen, all you do is click and drag an application onto another to create a “folder” (Figure A).

Figure A

This may not seem like much, but keeping the application overview organized can make for a much more efficient experience.

There are plenty of other GNOME enhancements, including:

  • Background selection (wallpaper) has been overhauled
  • Improved Calendar Manager (with third-party calendar integration)
  • Improvements to the GNOME in-house web browser
  • Settings UI improvements
  • Boxes includes numerous improvements
  • New icons
  • Terminal now supports right-to-left and bi-directional languages

Pop!_OS 19.10 also includes kernel 5.3, which offers:

  • Initial support for AMDGPU Navi
  • Turing TU116 support in the Nouveau driver
  • 16 million new IP addresses
  • Support for HDR display in Icelake and Geminilake
  • RISC-V code enhancements
  • Utilization clamping support in the task scheduler
  • Native file SWAP in F2FS
  • EXT4 speed improvements (in case-insensitive lookups)
  • pidfd_open(2) system call to help service managers handle PID reuse issues
  • Support for Intel Speed Select
  • Support for Zhaoxin x86 processors

It makes me wonder

Now comes the fun part. After upgrading to Pop!_OS 19.10, I was left in absolute wonder as to why more people aren’t using this operating system. This isn’t just a Linux thing, it’s a general thing. Of all the platforms I’ve used, the combination of Pop!_OS and System76 hardware has been the most exciting and most rewarding yet.

I feel certain, the second people get their hands on this release, they’ll be hooked. It’s that good. Maybe the issue is that Pop!_OS runs so well on System76 hardware. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: System76 is slowly becoming the Apple of Linux–without seeming like a monolith who insists users do it their way or hit the road. The integration of System76 hardware and their particular flavor of Linux is something everyone should behold.

Prepare yourself to be impressed.