Ubuntu 22.04 LTS has arrived, and that means new versions of distributions based on Ubuntu are coming down the pipeline as well. Pop!_OS is one such distro.
Version 22.04 of Pop!_OS has been released, and that leaves some of you with the question: what sets these two distros apart, and which is right for you?
What’s New in Ubuntu 22.04?
Since Pop!_OS is based on Ubuntu, that means much of what’s new in Ubuntu 22.04 is also available in Pop!_OS. These two distributions share the same software repositories, so the apps available for both are largely the same.
You will find more differences in the custom graphical interfaces that Ubuntu and Pop!_OS use. You will also find a few system tweaks or enhancements System76 has included to make Pop!_OS more compelling for certain use cases. So what sets Pop!_OS 22.04 apart from Ubuntu 22.04?
1. The COSMIC Desktop
Pop!_OS 22.04 comes with the COSMIC desktop experience. Like Ubuntu, this interface largely consists of GNOME with a few extensions added on top. The tweaks in Pop!_OS are more thorough and offer up more ways to configure your desktop.
Pop!_OS comes with an always-visible dock across the bottom of the screen, whereas Ubuntu’s is on the left. Both present the option to change the position. Pop!_OS arranges virtual workspaces vertically, whereas Ubuntu preserves the horizontal layout introduced in GNOME 40.
One of the bigger additions to COSMIC compared to Ubuntu is a tiling window manager option that automatically arranges your open windows into a grid.
2. Flatpak vs. Snap
Pop!_OS and Ubuntu both use the DEB format to package system components, most pre-installed apps, and the software available in the system repositories. Differences come in when it comes to the newer, universal package formats.
Ubuntu only provides support for Canonical’s Snap format. Flatpaks work in Ubuntu, but you have to manually install the necessary components. They don’t come with the same degree of integration with the default app store as Snaps do.
On the flip side, Pop!_OS ships support for the Flatpak format instead of Snap. Interestingly, you can also enable support for Nix software originally intended for NixOS. Like with Ubuntu’s approach to Flatpaks, you can install snaps on Pop!_OS, but you have to manually install the necessary components yourself.
3. A Newer Linux Kernel
Pop!_OS comes with version 5.16 of the Linux kernel, rather than version 5.15 found in Ubuntu. Version 5.15 is an LTS release of the kernel, which makes sense to bundle with an LTS release of a distro. 5.16 has already reached its end of life and Pop!_OS is moving to 5.17 as a result.
A newer Linux kernel means support for more recently released computer hardware. It can also mean improved performance for already supported hardware.
Ubuntu has a hardware enablement stack that enables support for newer hardware in the LTS release, but this is something you must know to opt-in to. Pop!_OS makes supporting the latest hardware a more seamless experience.
Pop!_OS often gets a recommendation as a distro for gamers. Part of this is due to the ease of installing proprietary drivers such as those for NVIDIA graphics cards, with Pop!_OS even offering a separate installation image for such hardware. NVIDIA drivers now appear in the Pop!_Shop and you can even install older versions.
But there’s more to system performance than hardware drivers. The System76 Scheduler now directs resources to the window in focus, which can help with gaming and other GPU-intensive tasks. Pop!_OS 22.04 also limits the max capacity of the journald log to 1GB.
5. More Control Over Updates
Many people never install updates. Updates can require a restart, or introduce bugs, which can feel an unnecessary inconvenience when things are currently working just fine. But never installing updates is horrible for system security, as many exploits generally target vulnerabilities in older software.
This is one reason why the Snap format comes with automatic updates. At most, you can delay an update to a Snap, but you can’t postpone them indefinitely. By default, updates take place automatically in the background.
Pop!_OS gives you more granular control over when an app receives an update. You can even set a specific date and time for your system to update your DEB, Flatpak, and Nix packages. By default, app update notifications arrive weekly, but you can change this frequency or enable automatic updates.
6. X.Org Instead of Wayland
Ubuntu 22.04 made the leap from the aging X.Org display server to Wayland, joining the likes of Fedora and other distros that have long since made the switch. This is one system change that Pop!_OS 22.04 does not inherit.
That’s right, Pop!_OS 22.04 still comes with X.Org by default. Most Linux software works just fine with X.Org, but there are usability and security enhancements that you will continue to do without when using Pop!_OS.
Wayland has come a long way and is where the bulk of development goes, but some apps don’t yet support the newer protocol. For that reason, sticking with X.Org may be a perk of using Pop!_OS, depending on your workflow. Though in Ubuntu it’s very easy to switch back to X.Org without installing any additional software, so if you prefer Ubuntu and want to use X.Org for a while longer, you don’t need to install Pop!_OS to do so.
Ubuntu and Pop!_OS: Two Very Different Experiences
From a technical perspective, Ubuntu and Pop!_OS are largely the same. The amount of code that separates these two experiences is relatively minor. But that’s not what matters for most people. It’s how these two distros feel to use day-in and day-out. From that perspective, they are very different projects, and they remain so in the 22.04 release.
Both Pop!_OS and Ubuntu provide an alternate way to experience GNOME software without giving up docks, desktop icons, and minimize buttons. But which is better, as always, comes down to your preferences.
If you’ve decided to go with Pop!_OS, remember there are certain things that you should take care of right after the first boot.
10 Things to Do After Installing Pop!_OS