Earlier this year Linux PC company System76 announced plans to develop a new desktop environment for the company’s Ubuntu-based Pop!_OS operating system.

The COSMIC desktop environment is designed to be easy-to-use, but also highly customizable. And now you can take it for a spin by trying out Pop!_OS 21.04 Beta, which was released this week.

Keep in mind that this is very much a beta release – System76 notes that “bugs are expected and re-installs are likely,” and when I tried running the operating system in a virtual machine this afternoon, I had to reboot the machine several times because the OS kept locking up.

But it does give us a first look at COSMIC, which is basically a heavily customized version of the GNOME desktop environment with a Mac-like application dock, Workspaces and Applications overviews, and a text-based launcher that you can trigger from any screen by hitting the Windows/Super key and/or the search icon in the dock.

You can use the launcher to open programs, search for files, open settings, or perform actions like rebooting your computer or adjusting the volume.

Most of the features can be disabled or modified – you can open the Extensions menu and completely enable or disable COSMIC, the dock, or other features including the Pop Shell, which lets you toggle the Pop!_OS tiling window manager, launcher, and some other features.

System76 plans to release the stable version of Pop!_OS 21.04 later this month, but if you just want to see what’s new without downloading the beta, you can check out some more screenshots below, or scroll down for a video from YouTuber DorianDotSlash that shows off many of the key features of the COSMIC desktop environment.

via @system76

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  1. It’s a shame that it’s been built on GNOME 3.

    GNOME 3 has some fundamental flaws that make it unusable.

    First, the HIG group is dedicated to making it like MacOS, but more so. And by that, their intent is to remove as many options as possible because their users cannot be trusted to understand anything. As a result, it’s designed from the ground up to marginalise its users to be as helpless as possible. That makes sense for MacOS which is designed to extract the maximum $$$ from its users by making them dependent. It makes zero sense for an OSS ecosystem where its users are ultimately the source of its developer pool.

    Second, its performance is abysmal. This is improving over time, but sadly it is laggy and drops a huge amount of frames in its compositor for a variety of reasons, but mostly because it’s using an interpreted language to implement much of its bloated self, adding latency to operations which push content updates beyond the frame timing window so that they gets dropped or delayed to the next window.

    Third, its multi-monitor support is broken for multiple reasons. #1, the fractional scaling is limited for no good reason, making it impossible to stick a large display next to a small one. #2, it ignores virtual displays entirely, and good multi-monitor is achieved by placing virtual monitors and mapping their regions to physical display devices. #3, it ignores custom modelines, which effectively means that any resolution not in the EDID of a display cannot be used, which prevents using the displays hardware scaling abilities. #4, GNOME insists on doubling the viewport resolution for all displays before enabling scaling even if the only scaling desired is to reduce the resolution of a display by a factor of 2 or more. #5, GNOME triple buffers its output but doesn’t independently time each display’s updates to their vertical refresh interval, resulting in tearing on all but one display. Again that could be fixed if custom modelines were respected, which would allow synchronised refreshes at the hardware level.

    Fourth, the accessibility zoom is hard-coded to large coarse factors, making it impossible to frame content on the display for readability.

    Fifth, as a result of all the above, the zoom accessibility feature is hideously laggy, low framerate, and unworkable for reading blocks of text.

    That’s what happens when you have an HIG team that’s so obsessed with their ideals that they ignore their mandate: creating guidelines for usable human interfaces.

  2. I really like this Cosmic desktop environment/window manager. I’ve read a bit about it, and I really like how they seem to have a good balance between advanced window tiling functionality with power-user keyboard navigation (like i3), but overall it is still a very user-friendly UI with the standard Window Manager navigability that a basic user would expect.

    I’m gonna give this distro a try in a virtual machine, and see if I like it.