Pop!_OS 20.10During the third week of October, immediately following the release of Ubuntu 20.10, I found myself downloading and testing, not only Canonical's flagship distribution, but also the various community editions of Ubuntu. One thing which kept drawing my attention, as I tested software and took screenshots, was that most of the community editions ran faster, smoother, and required less memory than Ubuntu's Desktop edition. Ubuntu MATE and Lubuntu in particular offered great performance, nice themes, and some friendly tools. At the time I was tempted to do a side-by-side comparison with Ubuntu 20.10 and one of its snappier community editions, but I was pressed for time and I wasn't sure any one-on-one comparison would be entirely fair since Ubuntu uses the comparatively heavy GNOME Shell desktop while most community editions use lighter desktops.
Later on though I thinking about Ubuntu again and realized there was an opportunity to do a fair comparison with one of its close relatives, Pop!_OS. The Pop!_OS distribution (or "Pop" as I will refer to it in this review) is based on Ubuntu, uses most of the same software, and ships with the same GNOME 3.38 desktop environment. The differences are almost entirely in the configurations of the two distributions - which extensions are enabled, the front-end applications for managing software, themes, and installers. The underlying nuts and bolts are the same and I believed this would make for a fair and straight forward comparison.
Pop!_OS does not list many changes on its website for version 20.10. It includes the ability to stack windows and to mark exceptions to make some windows free-floating. This provides users with a sort of hybrid tiling and free-floating window manager. The release announcement also mentions there is no need to reboot into NVIDIA graphics mode when in Hybrid Graphics mode if we wish to use an external monitor. Otherwise it does not look a though much has changed since we reviewed the distribution six months ago. In an attempt to keep this overview of Pop brief I will be focusing mostly on the differences between Ubuntu 20.10 and Pop!_OS 20.10 with the assumption most components and options will be the same.
Pop is unusual in that it ships with two 64-bit (x86_64) builds. One is for computers with Intel & AMD video drivers while a second download is supplied for people running NVIDIA video cards. The downloads are about 2.2GB in size.
Pop appears to skip the self-verification check Ubuntu and its community editions perform when booting from the live media. Once Pop boots it presents us with the GNOME desktop with Pop!_OS branded wallpaper. It then immediately launches Pop's custom system installer. The installer asks us to select our language from a list, our country, and our keyboard layout.
Pop!_OS 20.10 -- Adjusting the background using the GNOME Settings panel (full image size: 1.2MB, resolution: 1360x768 pixels)
At this point we can either close the installer to use the live desktop or continue with disk partitioning. Guided partitioning, which sets up an ext4 partition, and friendly manual partitioning options are available. We also have the option of encrypting the hard drive and protecting the encryption with a password. The installer then copies its files to the hard drive and offers to restart the computer.
There are still some remaining configuration options to go through. The first time my fresh copy of Pop booted it brought up a first-run wizard. This wizard asks if we would like to add alternative keyboard layouts, enable location services, and we are asked to confirm our time zone by selecting it on a map of the world. The next page offers to link our local account to on-line services. Pop supports about twice as many on-line accounts as Ubuntu with options including Google, Nextcloud, Facebook, Microsoft, Flickr, Foursquare, Microsoft Exchange, IMAP e-mail, and Kerberos. Finally we are asked to make up a username and password for ourselves.
While Pop and Ubuntu both use GNOME 3.38 as the default desktop the theme and layouts are a bit different. Where Ubuntu features a lot of purple and orange, Pop sticks to mostly blue and black for its theme. The other noticeable difference is Ubuntu places a dock down the left side of the screen that provides quick-launch buttons and acts as a task switcher. Pop does not display this dock on the desktop directly. However, if we open the Activities screen then Pop's dock is displayed to the left. This essentially means Pop's desktop looks cleaner, though accessing the dock or application menu on Pop takes one extra step.
Pop!_OS 20.10 -- The Activities screen and application menu (full image size: 1.0MB, resolution: 1360x768 pixels)
Another difference I noticed early on is that Ubuntu offers both Wayland and X.Org session options for GNOME with X.Org being the default. Pop simply supplies the X.Org session and there is no Wayland session option.
When new software updates are available Pop displays a notification at the top of the screen. Clicking this notification opens the Pop!_Shop software centre which can handle package upgrades. In comparison, Ubuntu automatically opens a minimal update manager which offers to download new packages.
On the subject of managing software packages, the Pop!_Shop software centre handles all elements of package management. The application has two tabs. The first, called the Home tab, displays a list of software categories. Unlike Ubuntu's software centre, Pop's categories mostly match common application menu categories (such as Internet and Office), making it easier to find items.
When we click on an application's entry in the Pop!_Shop we are shown a description and screenshots of the software. The software centre clearly indicates the source repository for the application, letting us know whether the package we are viewing is a portable Flatpak or classic Deb package. Ubuntu's software manager does this too, but the information is hidden further down in the description rather than in bold lettering at the top of the page.
Pop!_OS 20.10 -- The Pop!_Shop software centre (full image size: 212kB, resolution: 1360x768 pixels)
Pop!_Shop seamlessly handles Flatpak and Deb packages and automatically provides access to the Flathub repository for portable packages. Snap support is not included, but can be installed through Ubuntu's repositories. Sometimes the software centre was a bit slow to respond while it was downloading new software, but always finished its tasks successfully.
When I started out testing Pop in a VirtualBox environment the distribution performed well. The GNOME desktop automatically resized with the VirtualBox window and the interface was responsive. In fact, it was much more responsive than Ubuntu had been. When I switched over to running Pop on physical hardware I found the distribution lacked the annoying, network-related pop-ups I experienced with Ubuntu.
The GNOME desktop was more responsive on physical hardware too. All of my hardware was detected and the system ran smoothly. Pop uses a little more disk space for a fresh install than Ubuntu, 5.8GB compared to Ubuntu's 4GB. However, Pop used less memory, about 600MB next to Ubuntu's 780MB, when both distributions were running on the ext4 filesystem.
Speaking of filesystems, as far as I can tell there is no way to set up Pop on a ZFS volume, a feature I appreciated with Ubuntu.
Pop ships with mostly the same applications as Ubuntu. The Firefox web browser, LibreOffice, a calendar, contacts manager, and the GNOME Files applications are installed. There is a weather application, image viewer, document viewer, and the GNOME Settings panel are all included.
As Ubuntu does, Pop ships with the Videos (formerly Totem) video player. However, Pop does not include video codecs. When I tried to play videos a window would open and offer to download the necessary codec packages. However, once I had accepted this action and supplied my password, nothing happened. The codecs were not installed and re-opening Totem to play a video would just bring up the prompt to install codecs again. I got around this limitation by simply installing another video player, VLC in this case. On a related note, I found it odd the Totem player is placed under the Utilities group in the application menu, a spot mostly reserved for small utilities and system administration tools.
Unlike Ubuntu, Pop ships with the GNU Compiler Collection (version 10) installed. Like its close relative, Pop includes the GNOME Help application and uses systemd for init and service management. Both distributions ship with version 5.8 of the Linux kernel.
A few additional differences stood out during my trial with Pop. The LibreOffice window resize bug I mentioned encountering on Ubuntu does not occur on Pop. I also found Pop places more focus on using keyboard shortcuts to manipulate application windows. In fact, it is relatively easy to use Pop without a mouse a lot of the time. In comparison I found Ubuntu tended to rely more on the mouse for common window management.
One final piece I noticed which stood out was Pop does not offer to connect us with Active Directory domains at install-time.
The big difference though during my trial was that Pop!_OS does everything noticeably faster than Ubuntu, even when run on the same hardware with the same filesystem. The two are not even close in performance when opening programs, moving windows around the desktop, opening menus, dragging icons around. Pop consistently ran circles around Ubuntu despite both distributions running the GNOME 3.38 desktop.
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FuguIta 6.8Another project which interests me and I wanted to take a quick look at this week was FuguIta. FuguIta is a live operating system designed to be run from a DVD or USB thumb drive in order to test or rescue systems. The operating system ships with an optional graphical user interface. The FuguIta project is unusual in that it uses OpenBSD as its base. OpenBSD is commonly used in areas where lightweight computing and security are the primary focus and it is not often we see live utilities or platforms with graphical interfaces based on this hardened operating system.
FuguIta is available in 32-bit (x86) and 64-bit (x86_64) builds. The project provides separate downloads for optical media and USB thumb drives. I downloaded the 64-bit build for both targets. The images are compressed and about 310MB in size when initially downloaded. Once the builds are unpacked they expand to around 960MB.
Booting from the FuguIta media brings up a text console. The system lists available storage devices attached to the computer and asks us to confirm which one holds the FuguIta operating system. We are then asked some configuration questions such as what size we want to make the temporary filesystem and what is our keyboard's layout. The operating system can boot in a number of modes, including normal, read-only /usr, and running entirely from RAM. We can pick which one we want to use from a list.
We are then asked to make up a root password for the system and it must be a complex password or FuguIta will not boot. We are also asked to make up a hostname, select IPv4 or IPv6 networking (or a hybrid of both), and choose which networking device to use. We then go through manual or dynamic networking choices and are asked if we want to run FuguIta from a text console or graphical environment. With these steps completed we are presented with a login screen (text or graphical, based on our last choice).
I mostly used FuguIta in a graphical environment. Which meant that once I signed in through the login screen I was presented with the minimal fvwm interface. This lightweight window manager presents us with a virtual terminal, a widget to switch workspaces, and that is about it. We can click on the desktop to launch a small number of applications or exit the session.
The operating system, when running fvwm, uses about 90MB of active RAM and 580MB total RAM. Not a lot is running on the system, about 40 processes hum away in the background. Two of these are an OpenSSH remote login service and a mail server. The former blocks root logins, preventing people from accessing the system unless we create new user accounts for them.
By default there are not many tools installed on the FuguIta media. Should we wish to add software to the live session we can run the pkg_add command line package manager. It is already configured to connect to an OpenBSD package mirror and will pull in new software and required dependencies for us.
I don't have a lot to say about FuguIta. It is exactly what it advertises itself to be: live media using OpenBSD as a base. It looks and feels almost exactly like a fresh install of OpenBSD with the graphical packages enabled. This provides a very minimal, though also very light, live environment. It doesn't do much for us, apart from test OpenBSD's hardware compatibility, however additional software can be added to the live environment. I imagine this would be a good tool for rescuing, cloning, or investigating existing OpenBSD systems.