Several months ago, Dell told me about their plans for a killer Ubuntu Linux developer notebook computer, Project Sputnik. The planning is done and this top-of-the-line programmer's laptop, the Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition is ready to ship for $1,449.
What you for get for that is an Intel Ivy Bridge i7 CPU, 8GBs of Dual Channel DDR3 1333MHz SDRAM, and a 256GB Solid State Drive (SSD). For a display it uses 13.3" HD (720p) Truelife WLED Display with 1.3MP HD Web-cam backed up by Intel HD 4000 Graphics.
Behind the hardware, is Ubuntu 12.04.1 Long Term Support (LTS) with its usual assortment of open-source programs. It also comes ready to work with two beta community projects, Profile Tool and Cloud Launcher, that make it far more than just an extremely well-equipped, Linux-powered Ultrabook.
Barton George, Web vertical director at Dell and the man behind this computer, told me, "The profile tool and cloud launcher are beta open source projects that we have recently kicked off on github. These projects are quite nascent at this point and we are looking for more people to get involved (hint, hint :) ."
"The idea behind the profile tool is to provide access to a library of community created profiles on github, such as Ruby and Android, to quickly set up your development environments and tool chains." The plan is to give developers a way to save their lovingly, iteratively, and relentlessly customized shells, editors, editor plugins, syntax highlighters, utilities, languages, language libraries, system libraries, servers, daemons, etc... into a personal development infrastructure under source control. "In this way, your entire environment, from shell colors and preferences to application frameworks, can be built from scratch on any supported operating system and hardware in a matter of minutes and with only a single command:
The XPS 13 Developer Edition isn't just for PC or server programmers though. Cloud launcher, using Ubuntu Juju enables you to create "'microclouds' on your laptop, simulating an at-scale environment, and then deploy that environment seamlessly to the cloud. Today the launcher utilizes Linux Containers to model your environment on your laptop and then uses Juju to jettison that environment to the cloud. The launcher project on github allows for community expansion on this concept using different technologies and approaches."
Juju is a Development/Operations (DevOps) program designed to get rid of the “metawork” of setting up a program on a server or the cloud. On the XPS 13 you can use it to make sure you have not just your programming libraries ready to go, as in traditional software development, but all your other network and server services will be in place for your new cloud application before you actually deploy it to the cloud.
Does all this work? Well, Nnamdi Orakwue, VP of Dell Cloud. Is certainly excited about it. Orakwue told me, "When I learned about project Sputnik I was excited, I have long felt the Linux laptop experience has been weak. This is the first Linux powered laptop that I feel is amazing! It is a very powerful and beautiful machine; I still get people asking me "what laptop is that." Maybe I am vain, but it feels good. When a fellow Linux freak sees Ubuntu running they are very impressed with the whole package."
Orakwue continued, "I am a Ph.D. student and spend massive amounts of time developing software. Currently I am doing lots of Apache, Python, Django, Android development using GIT and all of that nice stuff. This machine has been solid, the experience a pleasure, and months after getting my XPS 13 I am still very very happy…..Overall I would give this system a 9 out of 10, and I really, really, really hope that Dell continues with it. I think targeting developers and creating amazing machines running Linux is a smart thing for Dell to do.”
As you can tell this is not your usual corporate "Our product is the best thing since sliced bread" yadda-yadda. Orakwue is a hacker who clearly loves his new development system.
George hopes that the Dell XPS Developer Edition, which began as a skunk-works project will be "The beginning of a beautiful relationship between Dell and developers." I think his hopes will be realized and any serious open-source programmer should put the XPS 13 on their holiday gift list. Unfortunately, only U.S. and Candian programmers will be able to buy it at first. George assured me though that Dell plans on expanding its availability as soon as possible.