Dell readies Ubuntu Linux laptop for developers

Dell is working on an Ubuntu Linux-powered laptop that will be just for developers.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Dell is working on an Ubuntu laptop just for developers.

Dell is working on an Ubuntu laptop just for developers.

Dell has been on good-terms with Linux vendors for ages. The Austin, Texas-based company was the first major original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to ship an Ubuntu Linux PC. Long before that, Dell was shipping Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) on its server lines. Now, Dell is renewing its Linux ties with a new Ubuntu Linux-based developer laptop.

Barton George, director of marketing for Dell's Web vertical, announced that Dell is working on creating an open-source laptop targeted directly at developers. It is based on the brand new Ubuntu 12.04 and Dell’s XPS13 Ultrabook.

A first look at Ubuntu 12.04 (Gallery)

George explained that Dell is doing this “to better understand and serve the needs of developers in Web companies. We want to finds ways to make the developer experience as powerful and simple as possible.  And what better way to do that than beginning with a laptop that is both highly mobile and extremely stylish, running the 12.04 LTS release of Ubuntu Linux.”

Specifically, Dell started this effort, codenamed Project Sputnik, to focus on companies who use the Internet as their platform. Analysts, customers, and developers kept suggesting Ubuntu Linux as their operating system of choice, so since to Dell's knowledge, “no other OEM has yet made a system specifically targeted at devs and figured it was time to see what that might mean.  When the XPS13 launched we realized that we found the perfect platform to start with and when Dell’s incubation program was announced we knew I had the vehicle to get the effort kick started.”

George added “that Ubuntu was a natural choice not only because of its popularity in the Web world but Dell has quite a bit of experience with it. In fact Dell has enabled and pre-installed out-of-the-factory Ubuntu on more computer models than any other OEM.”

System76 and ZaReason would disagree with that. Dell's support for Ubuntu Linux desktops has waxed and waned over the years. At the moment, I am unable to find any shipping Dell laptops or PCs with Ubuntu pre-installed in the U.S. market.

That said, Dell is working hard on this project. An Ubuntu ISO image of this developer release is already available for download. for users who are comfortable with bleeding edge technology.

It's not perfect. Dell had some hardware drivers problems. Most of those have been licked now though. The remaining one, dealing with multi-touch on the touchpad, is proving tougher to knock out. Dell is working with the vendor though for a permanent fix and with Canonical, Ubuntu's parent company, for a temporary patch to deal with the problem.

But, George, continued, “Where Sputnik starts to get interesting is when we talk about profiles.  No two developers are alike so instead of stuffing the system with every possible tool or app a developer could possibly want, we are trying a different approach. As mentioned above, the actual “stuff” on the install image is pretty basic, instead we are working with a few developers to put together a tool that can go out to a github repository and pull down various developer profiles. The first profiles we are targeting are Android, Ruby and JavaScript.”

One goal of the project though is to provide a “meta-system to manage your developer configuration.” With it, programmers could set up their tools just the way they wanted, store them in a repository, and then configure any system with their customized development environment. If they can pull this off, I can see this feature being very popular.

Want to join in on the this project? You can. Dell has set up a wiki for developers to get their say in what should be in Sputnik.

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