Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Pop!_OS ‘Unboxing’ Experience

Editor’s Note: This article does not appear to have been published when written, about two weeks into using and customizing Pop!_OS.  This entry contains the original draft, followed by the two-month update.

Initial Thoughts

It took me a while to get settled into Pop!_OS on the new work laptop.  Of course, after leaving a fairly vanilla Ubuntu 10.04 LTS “Lucid Lynx” for Windows in 2012, and using Mac OS X (Mountain Lion through Catalina) at work over roughly the same time period, there was bound to be an adjustment period.  I will focus on bits of the user experience that really stand out as being subpar here; no “oh no, the shortcut is different.”

(For a snapshot of the times: Ubuntu 10.04 would have been using Gnome 2.30, Firefox 3.6, Python 2.6, and Linux 2.6.32.  KDE 4.4 was available, marking Canonical’s first LTS with a KDE 4 version.  It was the first to abandon brown-and-orange as the color theme.  Judging by reviews, the Zune Marketplace still existed at that time, too.)

Perhaps the first thing I noticed was the lack of a maximize button on the windows.  This seemed particularly weird, because the functionality was still present with a double-click in the title bar, or Super+M.  It would be a few days before I would accidentally scroll the settings pane and reveal toggles for both Minimize and Maximize buttons.  The settings window and the hidden scrollbar had conspired to look exactly like a non-scrollable window.

Another peculiarity is the lack of some settings within Settings: both the “Extensions” and “Startup Applications” are completely separate.  Extensions have their own settings pages within that app, except that COSMIC components may not have settings, or may have a settings page with a message that they can be configured from the Desktop section in the Settings app.

Bear in mind that I mostly haven’t used Gnome in a decade, particularly because Gnome 3 upended everything.  (I would later learn that some of this was aping the Mac instead of aping Windows; hurrah for open source “innovation.”) Thus, I’m not entirely sure of what the boundary between Gnome and Pop!_OS’ customizations are, but the end result is rather confusing.  Is this layout logical to someone, or am I looking at a manifestation of Conway’s Law?

Two Month Update

I think it’s Conway’s Law.  It’s rather under-documented which component provides which features, but through experimentally turning Pop Shell off and on, I have learned that it is responsible for:

  1. The good/nice launcher on Super+/
  2. The “focus the window in a direction” shortcuts, Super+(Arrow key)
  3. The window-tiling menu/feature, shown in the system menu area

Getting information on Pop!_OS has been a bit of a problem.  Because it partially customizes Gnome, information on the internet for Gnome may not apply.  Because it is semi-modular, if any of the Pop-specific components are turned off, then information about Pop may also not apply.  Although, that is kind of my fault for not leaving everything on.

However, there’s also a curious benefit to having multiple systems in use: if one breaks, the other may still work.  At some point, launching Flatpaks (which I have put in the system repository) via the Dock started freezing the UI for a bit, not even responding to mouse-move. On the other hand, launching them through Pop Shell’s Super+/ launcher causes no trouble whatsoever.

Having lived at many places on the “up-to-date” vs “actually works” spectrum, and being old and grumpy, my own preference is for something more-working than Pop!_OS, even if it’s less up-to-date.  It might be a while before I go to the effort, though, partly because this is my first EFI/secure boot system, and I don’t want to break it.  Work depends on this hardware.

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