System76 was founded by Carl Richell and Erik Fetzer. In 2003, Fetzer registered the domain system76.com to sell computers with the Linux operating system preinstalled. The idea was not pursued until two years later.
In mid-2005, Richell and Fetzer's most important and challenging question in the early stages of the company was that of which Linux distribution to use. Their quest to bring Linux to the mass market required choosing the best distribution for their customers. Red Hat Enterprise Linux, OpenSUSE, Yoper and other distributions were considered and dismissed. Ubuntu was initially dismissed, but Richell and Fetzer changed their mind quickly after giving it a more thorough evaluation. Furthermore, Richell was particularly fond of Canonical's business model: completely free software, which was backed by commercial support as necessary. The first computers sold by System76 shipped with Ubuntu 5.10 Breezy Badger preinstalled.
In response to Canonical Ltd. switching to GNOME for future releases of Ubuntu, System76 announced in May 2017 a new shell theme called Pop. To further their efforts in making Ubuntu fit more with System76's vision, the company announced in June 2017 that it would be creating its own Linux distribution based on Ubuntu called Pop!_OS.
The number 76 in the company name alludes to the year 1776, when the American Revolution took place. The company founders likewise hope to ignite an open source revolution, ultimately leading to a situation in which consumers do not rely primarily on proprietary software.
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The servers sold by System76 were some of the first servers to offer the Ubuntu Linux distribution pre-installed. Recent models, as of 2012, have garnered generally positive reviews, which cite value and hardware compatibility as primary advantages.
Pop!_OS is a Linux distribution developed by System76, based on Ubuntu by Canonical Ltd. and using the GNOME Desktop Environment. It is intended for use by "developers, makers, and computer science professionals". Pop!_OS provides full disk encryption by default as well as streamlined window management, workspaces, and keyboard shortcuts for navigation.