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Is System76 Going to Drop Gnome for a Home Brewed, Scratch Made Desktop?

System76’s CEO told FOSS Force that the company is in the early stages of putting a desktop project together, and cited 2023 as a potential release date.

System76's Thelio desktop and Launch keyboard
System76 Thelio Major desktop and configurable Launch mechanical keyboard.

On Sunday, Phoronix’s Michael Larabel reported on a rumor that Linux hardware vendor, System76, is developing a homegrown desktop environment that won’t be based on Gnome or any other existing DE, presumably for its Ubuntu-based Pop!_OS distribution.

This came after System76 engineer and Pop!_OS maintainer Michael Murphy purportedly wrote in a thread on Reddit that the company is developing its “own desktop.”

“There are things we’d like to do that we can’t simply achieve through extensions in GNOME,” he said. “Extensions in general feel like a hack. And what we want to do with our desktop differs from GNOME, so it’s not like the option to merge pop-shell and COSMIC into GNOME Shell would be a welcome thing.”

Big news, if true, eh? It’s true all right.

FOSS Force has been able to confirm that, yes that was Michael Murphy posting on Twitter, and yes, System76 is strongly considering developing its own desktop.

However, nothing is written in stone yet.

“Probably,” Carl Richell, System76’s founder and CEO told FOSS Force in a private message when we asked if the company is working on a new scratch built DE, “but it’s early and we’re at the project development/ramping up, hiring, and expertise phase. Should it move forward, I’d expect a product around mid 2023.”

This news comes less than five months after the company replaced the modified version of Gnome that it had been using in the Pop! distro for its own Gnome-based desktop, COSMIC, that modifies the Gnome user experience with an added custom dock, shortcut controls, and other changes. The new DE premiered in Pop!_OS 21.04, and has been well received by both users and the Linux press.

“COSMIC puts a dock on the desktop; separates workspace and applications into individually accessible screens; adds a new keyboard-centric app launcher (that isn’t trying to search all the things™ by default); plumbs in some much-needed touchpad gestures; and — as if all of that wasn’t enough — makes further refinements to its unique window tiling extension (which you’re free to toggle on/off at any point),” Joey Sneddon wrote in OMG Ubuntu the day after the desktop was released.

“Pop!_OS 21.04 is sort of what Ubuntu could — some might say ‘should’ — be: a distro that doesn’t patronize its potential users by fixating on an idealized use case drawn up in a meeting,” he added. “COSMIC wants to help its users work more efficiently on their terms, not impose a predetermined workflow upon them.”

With that sort of praise, no wonder the System76 team has been seriously considering tossing Gnome altogether and going out on its own.

These expansions on the software front aren’t the only way that System76 has been broadening its horizons. The past several years have also seen it expanding its operations on the hardware side. In November 2018, the company released the first of its popular Thelio line of Linux desktops, in which the electronics are enclosed in a furniture-like cabinet the company designed and manufactures itself.

The company has indicated it will soon also manufacture the cases for its lines of laptops.

Additionally, in May System76 began manufacturing and selling its own configurable mechanical keyboard, Launch, which has also been well received.

5 Comments

  1. DocB DocB November 8, 2021

    Well, IMHO this is plain stupid, but at least consequently following the Canonical-way, who were always thinking they were better than the community (Mir, upstart,..) just to bin the home-brew developments later on (One of the reasons why I’m not using any X/K/L-Ubuntu…)

    Better support and enhance (upstream) existing DE and customize them – there is simply no ‘patronizing’ if one ships 10 Desktops, that can be installed in parallel if desired (as in openSUSE Tumbleweed/Leap for example).

  2. James James November 8, 2021

    I bought a System 76 and after two weeks of a terrible desktop experience wiped it and install Ubuntu Mate. System 76 was very helpful with the transition. I will have to wait and see what they come up with, but hopefully it is a more traditional desktop. I also gave them my opinion on gnome, and are guessing others have to if they feel the need to change. I would love the hardware and software developed together, but just can’t tolerate Gnome. Until then I keep using Mate.

  3. Anonymous Anonymous November 8, 2021

    I do think that Gnome 3/4 as a desktop is more bloated, generally slower, and less inutuitive than either Gnome 2 or Unity. I completely understand the frustrations of System 76, hope their product delivers more user focused approach rather than a ideology promoted by clever coders far removed from mainstream users.

  4. Christine Hall Christine Hall Post author | November 8, 2021

    “I hope their product delivers more user focused approach rather than a ideology promoted by clever coders far removed from mainstream users.”

    Very well put.

  5. James James November 9, 2021

    Very well put.
    I will second that.

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