Open Source

Project Sputnik: Dell plans Ubuntu laptop aimed at developers

Dell, in partnership with Canonical, has announced a serious effort to create an Ubuntu-based ultrabook aimed specifically at developers.

Dell Director of Marketing Barton George announced in a blog post this week that Dell has launched a new effort called Project Sputnik that aims to serve a specific audience: developers.

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.

Counter to its spotty efforts of the past to get the general consumer interested in low-budget, Linux-installed hardware, this time around Dell is honing its approach by identifying a group of users who are much more likely to embrace the Linux OS.

The open source laptop is based on Ubuntu 12.04 (which TechRepublic's Jack Wallen gave a stellar review) and Dell's XPS13 Ultrabook. George goes on to point out some of the areas where Dell is currently experiencing some "pain" points and their efforts to resolve them, most notably hardware enablement issues such as drivers for things like touchpad and multi touch support. As Ars Technica writer Ryan Paul points out, this is the area of concern that will make or break this project:

Linux users want computers with known-good hardware configurations that they can continue to support themselves without having to rely on binary blobs from Dell that may or may not continue to work in the future. A major player like Dell has the resources and clout to start addressing that problem in a serious and meaningful way.

George also remarks on the larger vision that Canonical's Mark Shuttleworth has for this Dell partnership effort.

Where it got really interesting for him was when this laptop was optimized for DevOps. In this scenario we would have a common set of tools from client, to test, to production, thereby tying Sputnik via a common tool chain to a cloud backend powered by OpenStack. Developers could create "micro clouds" locally and then push them to the cloud writ large.

At this point Project Sputnik is still just that -- an ongoing project and not a done deal. However, the serious work that has already gone into this six-month-old experiment is a pretty good sign that both Dell and Canonical do, indeed, have big plans for it.

What do you think of this new effort? Is Dell on the right track with this new focus?


Selena has been at TechRepublic since 2002. She is currently a Senior Editor with a background in technical writing, editing, and research. She edits Data Center, Linux and Open Source, Apple in the Enterprise, The Enterprise Cloud, Web Designer, and...


I hope this works out well for Ubuntu. My biggest beef with dell's Ubuntu effort in the past was simple; they wanted us to pay more for less. They took inferior hardware, removed the windows license, installed Ubuntu, and charged more than a similar but more powerful computer that came with a windows license. It just didn't make sense, Linux users now that they can install the OS of their choice on nearly any piece of hardware they come across. Perhaps a webcam might not work. However overall I've had very little trouble with drivers for anything over the last 3-5 years.


Well, this is a great idea on paper & it's good to see what appears to be a sincere commitment to Linux from Dell this time around. I'll be a beta tester!


As a long time Dell notebook customer I've seen the best and worst of Dell's support for Linux. The worst was a Dell XPS 17" notebook with an Nvidia 550 graphics card that simply refused to work with Linux. This was a very expensive mistake for me. So, once burned, twice shy. Let's see what they actually deliver to the market and maybe, just maybe I might buy Dell again.

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