If you just want to see my take on what I like, jump down to the last 5 paragraphs.
The story of my distro hopping
In 1997 I had just exited from the military and started working at my first job as a professional developer. There I met a systems administrator who introduced me to Linux for the first time. The distro was Slackware, distributed at the time by Walnut Creek CDROM as, if memory serves, a set of 5 or 6 CDs.
Since that time, my mentality has shift from, “Linux is a really cool toy I can tinker with on weekends and evenings” to, “Linux is an inextricable part of my job and I can’t be spending hours or days puzzling out why some setting isn’t working as expected, or why my tool chain isn’t working right out of the box”.
In other words, my needs and requirements have evolved over the years. The same thing happened with hardware. I used to love to build all my hardware on my own, but the more valuable that my time became, the less patience I had with trying to correctly match hardware and assemble machines.
Fortunately, Linux distributions were evolving as well. Slackware was truly great as a toy or to test out ideas but it took so much tinkering for me to get it to work the way I wanted that I never considered using it as a work tool. A couple of years after i was introduced to Slackware and was wondering how I could use it as a working tool, another friend of mine introduced me to Red Hat. This thing was light years beyond Slackware, it even had a graphical installer! Although it still couldn’t replace Windows it was a major step forward for me.
This cycle repeated over the years, sticking with a distro that allowed me to do more and more work in Linux until something so definitively superior would come onto the scene that I had to switch. This switch would improve my corresponding user experience, workflow, and personal satisfaction each time.
For the past 5 years or so, Ubuntu has been my go-to Linux distribution. It was the best combination of user friendly without getting in the way of work. Up until a few months ago.
I was in the market for a new laptop and a colleague of mine told me about his preferred vendor for buying laptops. They make higher end Linux laptops and workstations. This vendor also supports a version of Linux that it tailors to it’s machines. He personally did not use this OS but highly recommended their machines (as do I).
I read a little bit about Pop!_OS on their website and was intrigued by what I saw (file system encryption by default for example) but didn’t really want to deal with an unknown distro, so I just went with Ubuntu (which you may choose as an alternative distribution) and forgot about it.
The laptop came, and I set about customizing it to me needs. I’d gotten a model with a dedicated Nvidia graphics card so that I could take advantage of CUDA for ML projects. If you’ve ever had to set up Linux with an Nvidia you’ve almost certainly had to deal with setting up proprietary drivers and tweaking the X configuration to get things working. This is where I started hitting my first frustration. There were a couple of other tiny things that were irritating me but the point here is that I was experiencing my normal frustrations at dealing with the hardware tweaks that Linux occasionally needs for anything that isn’t out of the box.
Eventually I threw up my hands and told myself, I’m already moving slower than I wanted, I might as well play with a new distribution anyway. So I contact support and asked if there was an upgrade path from Ubuntu to Pop which didn’t require losing all of the work that I’d already put into customizing my tools. The answer was yes, they gave me the instructions, and I was off to the races. It took all of about 4 days to realize I should have just had them ship it with Pop from the start.
Out of the box, you’re going to get a few things, like a version optimized for Nvidia or Intel/AMD. The respective versions are optimized for the specific GPU you are using. I didn’t need to make one tweak to have my Nvidia card set up correctly. Even getting the CUDA toolkit installed was a simple apt install which worked without a hitch.
Setup is straightforward and easy. File system encryption is just a choice during install (the default is yes). The install itself isn’t bloated. The interface is fairly clean. And while not a driving force, it is hands down the easiest Linux OS I’ve ever tried to play a game on. They release updates every 6 months in sync with Ubuntu on which it is based.
In a very pleasant surprise, customer support has been truly outstanding. They will answer every question no matter how detailed or simple. Interactions with them were a dialog with someone who actually understands Linux and the issues you’re likely to experience. When the laptop shipped they had even taken the time to correctly set up the SSD read/write configuration optimized. And it’s all open source so you can create a bootable USB to experiment with and see how it works out for you.
There were a small list of things that miraculously fixed themselves after upgrading to Pop! OS without intervention on my part but just as an example, if I left Chrome open overnight and the laptop went to sleep, it wouldn’t wake up. I tried disabling all plugins, ensuring I had the latest version, downgrading to previous versions, you name it, the only solution I found was simply killing the browser before the laptop went to sleep. This just vanished when I went to Pop. I still have no idea what the issue was.
Pop just stays out of my way when I don’t need it, it’s clean, things just work out of the box, it’s not bloated with things I don’t care about, it’s still super-configurable, and while default encryption may not seem like much it’s definitely important to me. Also, I really like the giant robot mascots.