A first look at Dell's 'Sputnik' Ubuntu Linux developer laptop

A first look at Dell's 'Sputnik' Ubuntu Linux developer laptop

Summary: Dell will be shipping a high-powered laptop for developers this fall, and here's what it's going to look like.

Dell Developer Laptop

Portland, OR: Sputnik started, Barton George, Dell's project Sputnik lead and director of web vertical marketing,   told me at OSCon as a six-month exploratory pilot to create an Ubuntu Linux-based developer laptop, It's not just an idea now. Dell is taking Project Sputnik from pilot to product this fall. 

This official developer laptop is based on the Dell XPS 13 with Ubuntu 12.04 Long Term Support (LTS)  This PC will offer developers a complete client-to-cloud solution. The Sputnik will allow developers to create “microclouds” on their laptops, simulating a proper, at-scale environment, and then deploy that environment seamlessly to the cloud. George explained it would use LXC virtual environments containers for the microclouds. These cloud applications can then be deployed to Ubuntu instances running on the Amazon, OpenStack, bare-metal with Management as a Service (MAAS), and, eventually, Microsoft Azure clouds.

A first look at Ubuntu 12.04 (Gallery)

The Sputnik won't be just for cloud developers. George said that there has been an incredible amount of interest in the project. “When I first put the word out I thought it would be a success if I got 4,000 hits on the proposal. It's now over 50,000 hits.” Since then developers have been telling Dell in great detail what they want from a developer's laptop and Dell has been listening.

In addition to supporting cloud developers, the Sputnik will come with profiles that contains all the core programmer tools a developer might need for a particular language or environment.  “Three developer profiles to begin with: JavaScript, Ruby on Rails, and Android. There will  be others depending on programmers' demands, and we're toying with the idea of 'customized' profiles.” So, for example, you could download the Tim Bray, one of Google's Android's leaders, Android developer profile.

Canonical, Ubuntu's parent company, has been working with Dell on the program from the start. Indeed, the project really got going, said George, after Shuttleworth visited Dell's office and gave the notion his blessings... and his own ideas on what he'd like to see in a best-of-breed developer laptop.

The Sputnik, which according to George may eventually be named the XPS 13 Developer Edition or open-source Edition, will be based on Dell's high-end XPS 13 laptop. The Sputnik will have a 13.3 inch screen with edge to edge glass with 1366x768  resolution, i7 2GHz Intel Core2 Duo processor, 4GB of RAM and 256 GB SSD, all in a 0.88 x 12.56 x 9.3 inch frame and weights in at  2.99 lbs.

In the engineering sample I saw the system was, as you might expect, extremely fast. The keyboard, while a chiclet style, had a good response and the touch-pad worked well. The matte screen was quite usable even in a very bright environment. Personally, I would have been happy to walk away with and start work.

George couldn't give me an exact price but said it would be in the ballpark of the current top-of-the-line Dell XPS 13, about $1,500.

The Ubuntu team is excited about it. Jono Bacon, Ubuntu's community manager told me, “I am delighted to see Project Sputnik going to production. We have had a long and positive relationship with Dell, and in Ubuntu we are increasingly focusing on developers and their needs, so Project Sputnik forms an ideal partnership. What excites me about Project Sputnik is that it brings elegance in software and hardware together and empowers developers to do great work on not only a powerful platform, but one underlined with this sleek and enjoyable software and hardware experience.”

Related Stories:

Dell readies Ubuntu Linux laptop for developers

Has Microsoft opened the door to the Linux desktop?

Ubuntu 12.04 vs. Windows 8: Five points of comparison

20-million new Ubuntu Linux PCs in 2012?

Ubuntu 12.04 arrives and it's great

Topics: Linux, Dell, Laptops, Software, Software Development, PCs

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  • Consumer...

    As a writer looking for a Linux Ultrabook, I wonder if the developer disk image currently available will run on one of the less-expensive XPS 13s -- and how much work it will take to whip the thing into writer shape.
    • my lower end xps 13

      I have my new xps 13 that I've been running on ubuntu for 3 months with pretty good luck. I have had trouble when I'm playing Minecraft with it overheating (with either OS windows or ubuntu) but I love it for school and writing. I am currently running ubuntu with LXDE desktop but I only installed LXDE 2 days ago before the ubuntu desktop was very efficient but I needed to try to get minecraft to stop crashing so I decided to try a different desktop environment and LXDE has given me much more luck. Ubuntu is a great Operating System though I prefer fedora it works well on m dell XPS and I love it (again I hope they will find a way to fix the overheating in the next generation because this is my second dell that has had this problem because I get the newest one I can when I buy it so that it will hopefully still be useful in 3 or more years)
      Joseph Abbey
  • No payday?

    Looks like you need to go back to bashing Microsoft to get those clicks happening. Maybe nobody is really interested in Linux news.

    Sorry, couldn't resist.
    • Pot meet kettle

      Yet, you wrote a comment therefore interested.
      Now you regret writing.

      Looks like a great project.
    • trending

      yet it's trending on google+, yea...
  • that is great and all but first thing first!

    After buying this laptop install a better environment like Cinnamon!
    • Cinnamon and MATE

      I like Cinnamon, but it doesn't play nicely with my sucky AMD graphics. MATE does, so I tweaked it to look like the default Cinnamon and it's perfect.
      Of course, the odd time Cinnamon does work, it's a treat to use. I would absolutely recommend it.
      The 24
      • I have the same problem and currently using mate

        How did you tweak it?! it should be interesting!
      • I've had same experiences with Cinnamon vs. MATE

        I've got one pc with AMD Athlon 64 and Nvidia GeForce 9550 GT and both Cinnamon and MATE installed. Surely MATE works better. Cinnamon is nice but it's pitty you can't customize the desktop much. Perhaps it would be could for non-AMD and for newbies who don't wanna change at all the desktop...

        MATE is good one. I've installed it to some pc's of my relatives.
  • Don't tell the Linux Fanboys

    They all say OEMs do not make Linux Powered Computers because of some evil Microsoft Conspiracy.
    • Still true!

      And that was true! Dell uses to sell certain models with Linux that were baptized "crapbooks" for a reason! Now, Dell is thinking twice ;-)
    • Vendor Agreements

      I wouldn't call it a conspiracy, its really just about Vendor agreements. Microsoft is supporting Windows XP until 2014. The manufacturers don't want to get burned. Imagine that your grandmother had to update her Linux OS every two years because her drivers were no longer supported. She would waste literally thousands of hours on the tech support hotline. If the manufacturer could get some reassurance that a Linux OS would be supported for 5 years, I think you would see it on more machines.
  • Can you get one for me Steve?

    Of course I am gonna format it and load it up with Windows 8 Release Preview or Windows 7 Pro. Just kidding, I will dual boot.
  • $1500?!

    That seems just a tad pricey for a 13" laptop. I wonder if all of the interested parties know about the price - me thinks NOT.
    • developer-level

      > That seems just a tad pricey for a 13" laptop.

      It's a development laptop, so it may not be out of bounds for that market. For personal use? Probably more than you need, but again it's not for that market. Just think of it as an inroad to get consumer-level machines in our hands.
      • Still, he's right...

        Still, he's right. $1500 is way too much for a machine like this... Most devs will want to set up their own machines, and could get by with a cheaper machine with similar specs. For a third 0f that price you could get a Toshiba i3 w/ 4GB RAM & a 320GB traditional hard drive ... Sure it's a better machine than that, but I can think of better things to do with the extra $1000.

        I run Linux, exclusively, at home,... But this rig ain't worth the premium for coming from a well known vendor.
  • Dell Hardware is crap

    Only company that manages to nerf the bios so they can sell the same laptop and flip a switch, then still ship the wrong size power adapter.
    • rather dell than some others

      I'd much prefer buying a Dell system than anything from IBM. Of course, ThinkPads don't count anymore, ince the 3-lettered beast of Armonk sold that division because they were too stupid to make a profit on it.
      • Beg to differ....

        Since when do they "not count anymore" I own a thinkpad W series, and the quality is just a good as my old IBM era thinkpad.
  • same game

    Dell has been doing it for years. Announce "another Linux laptop", then sell it with crappier than Windows hardware for the same or higher price. Few people are interested.

    "Linux laptop failed" -- they conclude. But what happens behind the scene? Microsoft gets more open for negotiation to lower the OEM Windows price for Dell.

    In fact, if they wanted to give GNU/Linux a go. No hassle in choosing supporting hardware. Just offer the Windows-less machines or let us return the Windows crap that you can shove to the Microsh*t's face. Screw Dell with another so-called "Linux Ultrabook"!