I've been following Dell's Project Sputnik for some time now. The developer project began in 2012 and, almost immediately, Dell rolled out the Ubuntu version of the XPS ultrabooks. These were, without a doubt, top of the line machines and Dell did an outstanding job of marrying the hardware with the Ubuntu platform.
At the time, Dell knew Linux was a niche audience. they also knew just how important that audience was. They were right. Now that Linux is the backbone behind nearly every enterprise company on the planet, Linux development is one of the hottest commodities in IT. That was some seriously forward thinking on Dell's part to bring to life Sputnik.
The idea behind the Sputnik program was pretty groovy. Dell would make available different developer profiles on a cloud. Say you were a web developer...you could download the web dev profile from Sputnik and your XPS ultrabook would be geared specifically for that type of development. Or, if you were an Android developer...download the Android dev profile and you're good to go. Dell also worked directly with Canonical to ensure all necessary drivers were available upon release.
It's now 2016 and, to the surprise of some, the program is still very much alive. What shouldn't come as a surprise is that Dell is still offering Ubuntu-based versions of its XPS ultrabooks. However, this year they've really upped the ante by bringing technology that has yet to be seen on a Linux laptop. The latest iteration of the Project Sputnik laptop offers:
- 4K screens
- Intel Skylake chips
- Thunderbolt connectors
It's about time Linux enjoyed these technologies. Anyone that's attempted to run Linux on a 4K monitor (or any monitor with serious resolution), knows it can be an exercise in frustration. Thanks to Dell, Canonical, and Sputnik...that might be a thing of the past.
The main goal
This one is simple...at least in terms of Linux. The goal for Project Sputnik isn't necessarily to sell laptops to Linux users, but to speed up the adoption of new technology for the Linux platform. Technology evolves at an unheard of rate. For years the only way Linux could keep up with hardware development was reverse engineering. That takes time. So Linux always seemed behind the curve with new technology...way behind.
Fast forward and Linux doesn't necessarily have the same lag across the board. In fact, over the last few years, Linux has led the charge for a good amount of the evolution of technology...especially on the server side.
But certain bits of technology have eluded Linux. That's where Sputnik can help. By working with companies like Canonical, Dell can ensure Linux has the drivers for the likes of 4K displays, Skylake, and Thunderbolt.
From develop to user
Clearly Project Sputnik is geared primarily towards developers. These laptops tend to fall on the far side of pricey (starting at $1549.99), making them less than palatable for average end-users. But we all know how this works. The technology comes out on the upper echelon of hardware and eventually rolls down hill. Since Dell is working with Canonical, you know the solutions will eventually make their way into the regular Ubuntu releases. Many of the drivers developed for the XPS machines are "upstreamed" to the Linux kernel, so the benefits derived for Project Sputnik will find their way to the average user's desktop. That is a win all around. Even though many of these drivers are of the "under the hood" sort, the benefits we will enjoy from them are significant.
Dell's approach to Linux has been to "lower the ocean". In other words, level the playing field and make Linux as viable a platform as is Windows and Mac. They've done a spectacular job for developers. Now it's time to do the same for end users. And now that Microsoft has started to fully embrace open source, the timing might be perfect for Dell to allow their love-affair with Linux to spread to their consumer- and business-grade hardware. They've toyed with Linux on desktops and consumer laptops, but seemed to do so half-heartedly. Considering how Linux has started to overtake certain markets, now's the time to embrace Linux across the board.
Keep it coming, Dell
Dell is doing some great things here...not just for Dell, but for end users and Linux as a whole. They've proved their dedication to Linux time and again with Project Sputnik. Hopefully everyone will start seeing the benefits of Sputnik's existence in upcoming releases of various Linux distributions. If not, you can always drop the coin for one of the XPS Developer Editions from Project Sputnik. Either way, the Linux platform is the true winner here.
Keep the support for Linux coming, Dell.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.