Pop!_OS 21.04 Released with New GNOME-based COSMIC Desktop

Pop!_OS 21.04 is based on Ubuntu 21.04 (Hirsute Hippo) and brings a new, simple, and speedy desktop experience called COSMIC Desktop.

Pop!_OS as most of you well know is an Ubuntu-based Linux distribution. The distro is developed by System76, a US computer manufacturer of Linux-based laptops, desktops and servers. They have been around for 15 years, but since 2017 they have added their own distro, Pop!_OS, to further express their passion and philosophy.

The look and feel hasn’t really changed in the new Pop!_OS 21.04. It is still their own theme, dark by default with cyan and orange highlights and their own icon theme. It looks good and modern especially combined with the custom Fira font they use.

In terms of default applications, Pop!_OS 21.04 has the standard GNOME ones with Geary preinstalled for mail, Firefox for web browsing and LibreOffice as well.

Pop!_OS 21.04 replaced the GNOME Software App by the Pop!_Shop which is basically the Elementary OS App Center but tweaked a little bit. It is interesting to note that Pop!_OS while based on Ubuntu has removed Snap support and they don’t offer a graphical way to enable or disable it.

Pop!_OS don’t use the Ubiquity installer, but use the installer created by the guys at Elementory OS. Actually Pop!_OS has been using that new installer even before Elementory OS used it themselves.

Still that installer looks miles better than what Ubuntu offers. And while it doesn’t handle partitioning itself it still has the ability to encrypt the drive and a few installation options. It’s just a lot more user-friendly than any other installer we’ve ever used on the Linux distro.

Pop!_OS 21.04 Installer

During initial setup, you’ll be prompted to personalize your defaults by configuring COSMIC customizations to your liking. Each screen of the initial setup offers a preview of what your experience will look like. You can always make adjustments in Settings later on.

Pop!_OS 21.04 Initial Setup

The COSMIC Desktop

Pop!_OS 21.04 is the first release where they actually named their GNOME implementation. Its layout is quite interesting and it’s called COSMIC (Computer Operating System Main Interface Components).

Activities Overview

The most notable change in the top bar is that the Activities Overview has been split into two views: Workspaces and Applications. The Workspaces view displays your open windows and your Workspaces on the left. It’s basically what the activities view is in GNOME, except you have the Workspaces on the left and it makes it easier to just slide your mouse down from the Workspaces button into the list.

You’ll be able to change that behavior in the settings to put the workspace list on any other screen edge if you prefer.

Pop!_OS 21.04 COSMIC Desktop

The Applications button show the applications grid with all the latest GNOME goodies. COSMIC also adds a permanent dock on the bottom of the screen to have all your open windows and launchers. It lets you access the Workspaces and the Applications grid.

The rest of the layout is standard GNOME with the date and time in the middle of the top panel and the indicators to the right.


Now about that new Launcher. It is a new addition to Pop!_OS 21.04 as well. It can be summoned by clicking its dock icon or by pressing the super key. The Launcher lets you search only for applications or open windows.

Pop!_OS 21.04 Launcher

By default, the Super key opens the launcher in Pop!_OS 21.04. With the launcher, you can:

  • Launch applications
  • Open specific menus in Settings
  • Perform searches on specific websites (ex. google system76)
  • Perform calculations using the prefix: = (ex. =5+7+6)
  • Search recent files using the prefix: d: (ex. d:FileName)
  • Open file folders using one of two prefixes: / or ~/ (ex. ~/FolderName)
  • Run a command using one of three prefixes: t: or : or run (ex. run top)
  • Show launcher features by typing a question mark

Auto Tiling

The tiling mode is off by default. In the top panel you get an icon that lets you turn tiling mode on. In tiling mode the first window you open will be in full screen and each subsequent window will use half the space occupied by the currently focused window. That means that your screen is always used to the maximum and that you rarely have to resize windows or move them around.

Pop!_OS 21.04 COSMIC Desktop Tiling Window

Once multiple windows are tiled you can still change their proportions and all windows will resize accordingly.

Now it’s a really powerful experience and it basically brings a full tiling window manager inside of a more classical and easier to use desktop environment. If you’re multitasking this is really good.

You can find out more details on the COSMIC Desktop via the System76 blog.


The COSMIC Desktop environment is designed to be easy-to-use, but also highly customizable. It offers you the freedom to navigate your workflow via your mouse, keyboard, and/or trackpad.

You can download Pop!_OS 21.04 from the Pop!_OS website. They have a download for Intel/AMD with their open source drivers, or you can pick the NVIDIA specific ISO.

Bobby Borisov

Bobby Borisov

Bobby, an editor-in-chief at Linuxiac, is a Linux professional with over 20 years of experience. With a strong focus on Linux and open-source software, he has worked as a Senior Linux System Administrator, Software Developer, and DevOps Engineer for small and large multinational companies.

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