Image: Jack Wallen

It’s only been a few short days, but Pop!_OS 20.04 has quickly made its way up my list of all-time favorite Linux distributions. Although the operating system, created by System76, is based on Ubuntu 20.04 and contains a (mostly) generic GNOME desktop interface, there are certain things Pop!_OS does that keep it from being just another spin on Canonical’s baby.

Sure, Pop!_OS starts with the usual updates to Ubuntu 20.04: There’s the new kernel, GNOME, and all of the other bits that come along with the latest iteration. But System76 has taken 20.04 to a completely different level.

It all starts with System76 truly knowing its audience. That alone sets this company—and the Linux distribution it creates—apart from all others. System76 fully understands who they serve: Developers, creators, and anyone who demands a highly productive environment.

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Being bold

To make this happen, System76 has taken some bold steps forward with its flavor of Linux, and it comes together to make Pop!_OS something special. This is a lead so many other Linux distributions should follow. With few exceptions (such as Ubuntu dropping Unity for GNOME), it seems every new distribution release has been nothing more than a slight variation on a theme. A new kernel, a shift in the desktop theme, a bit more eye candy. Sometimes those changes happen in such a way as to make the distribution seem fresh and sometimes a distribution will be released that is touted as being snappier, more responsive, and stable.

But more productive? Not so much.

With a few bold strokes of the developer brush, System76 has delivered a release that really can make you more productive. Seriously, this time it’s for real.

Still doubting me? Let’s take a look at two of the additions System76 has made to launch Pop!_OS ahead of the pack.

Window tiling

I’m going to confess, right here and right now, that I’m not a fan of window tiling. I like to control where my windows are placed and their size. But that’s the way of window tiling—you either love or hate it. And for those that love it, it does make for a much more productive environment.

What is window tiling? Imagine, if you will, you open an application. With window tiling, that application will open to take up the entire desktop. You open another and it will automatically shift that previous application to only fill up half the screen, while the new application takes up the other half. You now have one app filling the left side of your screen and another filling up the right side.

Open another app and it’ll split the screen in thirds. You can continue on like that and even drag those windows around until your desktop is laid out in a way that will make it most productive (Figure A).

Figure A

A bit of an exaggeration, but this shows how window tiling works.

Before you think this is a deal breaker, System76 has made it such that you can easily enable and disable window tiling on the fly. From the top bar, you’ll see a new icon. Click that icon to reveal the Window Tiling option, where you can turn it on or off and configure the new feature (Figure B).

Figure B

To tile or not to tile, that is the question.

To navigate around your open windows, just hit the Super key plus one of the four arrow buttons on your keyboard. There’s no need to touch your mouse.

Productive, eh?

App launcher

How many ways can you launch an app on Linux? If you’re a Pop!_OS 20.04 user, you now have another. Hit the Super key plus the / key to reveal the new app launcher (Figure C).

Figure C

The new Pop!_OS app launcher.

Type the name of the app you’re looking for and hit enter to launch the app. This same launcher also allows you to switch between applications. Hit the same key combination, type the app you want to use, and hit enter. That app will come into focus, ready for work. You can still use the tried and true Alt+Tab or the Super key to navigate around your open apps.

Either way you do it, there’s no need to touch your mouse.

So long, and thanks for all the mice

Are you spotting a theme here? You should. System76 understands their target audience wants to keep their fingers and hands at the keyboard. Why? It’s more efficient. Instead of shifting from the keyboard to the mouse and back again, things go much more smoothly when you can keep those digits pounding keys.

Developers know this. Writers know this. Anyone that uses a laptop will certainly appreciate this.

Of course, not everyone wants to have to train their fingers to behave in a new fashion. That’s why, with Pop!_OS you can either adopt the new way of doing things, or you can stick to the same ol’, same ol’. Either way, this new release from System76 is something that every distribution team could learn from.

Be bold. Be innovative. Know your audience.