Dell is doing something cool… Wait what? (it’s a Linux Laptop!)

So wow it’s been a really, really, really, really long time since I have thought that Dell was doing something cool.  Today they surprised me in a good way with the coolest thing I have seen in a long time: A Linux Developer Laptop – Codename: Sputnik

Dell's XPS 13 Ultrabook

Dell’s XPS 13 Ultrabook

Click the above image to have a look at the hardware Dell proposes to transform into the ultimate developer laptop. It isn’t clear to me if there is a specific hardware set that will be provided for the “developer laptop” or if you will be able to configure the system anyway you wish. I suspect the latter, but on a 3lb ultrabook like this there aren’t too many options.

CPU Options:
Intel® Core™ i5-2467M processor (1.60 GHz with Turbo Boost 2.0 up to 2.30 GHz)
Intel® Core™ i7-2637M processor (1.70 GHz with Turbo Boost 2.0 up to 2.80 GHz)
Storage Options:
128gb Solid State
256gb Solid State
Fixed Hardware:
13.3″ HD display (1,366×768)
4GB Dual Channel DDR3 1333MHz
Intel® HD Graphics 3000
USB 3.0, A/B/G/N WiFi, Bluetooth 3.0
Operating System:
Windows® 7 Home Premium, 64bit, English
12.04 LTS release of Ubuntu

It’s a good package and arguably one of the very best laptops Dell has ever made. My only disappointment in reading the specs was with the display. It has a native resolution of 1,366×768 and that is pretty low given what we have become used to here. However, when you read that last line, you’ll understand the importance of this project. This laptop is no longer going to run Windows 7, but the LTS release of Ubuntu. For those not familiar, the “LTS” flavored Ubuntu means that there will be long term support for that release. You won’t have to worry about building an environment based on something that Ubuntu will have forgotten about in 6 months.

I once tried to build a Linux based laptop to develop software on. I figured, “Hey I deploy my projects to Linux servers, why not develop on a Linux box and test on the exact same build of Apache and MySQL that I’ll be deploying on!”

I’m sure that I’m not the only one to attempt this, and like all the ill fated attempts before me to make this work, I discovered that there is no driver support for laptop hardware. Ok, it’s not fair to say there is zero support, but there is precious little, and no major laptop manufacturer really offered any sort of “Official Linux” support for laptops. Never the less, I made a valiant attempt with an IBM Thinkpad R32 a few years back. And it didn’t work.

Just last month I tried again with a Dell Vostro 3350. It also failed (though not as badly). The reality is that laptops are much more of an appliance that desktop computer hardware, and that is becoming more true every day. There are some small companies trying to offer Linux on laptops, but for enterprise customers (and people that don’t want a shitty white-box laptop that someone installed a live CD on) those aren’t really an option.

Small companies don’t have the resources to produce a beautiful computer like the XPS 13, and as much as I would like to buy one of those machines, I know that it would just end in tears… my tears.

So, I have always really wanted a Linux laptop (a good one), but I find myself typing this post on a MacBook Pro, and why is that?  Really the Mac is the only mainstream *NIX computer that offers a good user experience and the goodness of built in UNIX, in the form of a laptop.  So for the last 5 years my software development computer has been the same one that sorority girls use to sext or whatever (technically my MBPr with 16GB of RAM and 5125GB SSD kick the panties off of the sorority girls 11″ MacBook Air, but no one can really tell the difference).  I mean really, what is a geek to do?  How am I going to be taken seriously?

So now along comes Project Sputnik.  It is the Linux laptop that everyone (ok, just software geeks) have been waiting for.  No more will we be oppressed by uncooperative wifi drivers.  No more will we curse 2 hour battery life.  Now due to Dell’s attention on getting the integration right, we can bask in the glory of Ubuntu at Starbuck’s instead of being chained to a desktop machine in some basement (that some jock nicknamed the “Dungeon”, thinking himself the first to come up with the name).

I have to admit that I was so taken with the prospect of actually getting to have an ultrabook with Ubuntu on it that I have signed up to be part of their beta program.  I hope they let me in because I am looking forward to a future where I can get a cool Linux laptop if I want one.  Power to the Geeks!

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