New Ubuntu Linux laptop from Dell targets developers

Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) has taken what you might call an on-again, off-again approach to offering Ubuntu-preloaded hardware over the years, but on Monday the company made an announcement that Linux fans are sure to cheer.

Specifically, through an effort known as Project Sputnik, Dell has been working on a prototype open source laptop aimed at developers, based on Ubuntu Linux 12.04 “Precise Pangolin” and Dell’s XPS 13 hardware.

“Sputnik is part of an effort by Dell to better understand and serve the needs of developers in Web companies,” explained Barton George, director of marketing for Dell’s Web vertical, in a blog post on Monday. “We want to find 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.”

The topic of Ubuntu has cropped up repeatedly in discussions with developers, George noted. Not only that, but “a fair number” of developers have specifically requested a laptop based on the free and open source operating system, he said.

“To my knowledge, no other OEM has yet made a system specifically targeted at devs,” George wrote, so Dell “figured it was time to see what that might mean.”

Project Sputnik is a six-month effort made possible by an internal innovation fund. Now available in an install image for the project are drivers and patches for hardware enablement along with a basic assortment of tools and utilities; a software management tool to retrieve developer profiles from GitHub is coming soon, George said.

The project has already been working in collaboration with Canonical to resolve hardware issues involving brightness and the wifi hotkey; still being addressed are touchpad and multitouch support. The video below explains the effort in more detail.

The vision for Project Sputnik is “a Launchpad to the cloud,” George said.

Among the possibilities for the developer-oriented machine is “a common set of tools from client, to test, to production, thereby tying Sputnik via a common tool chain to a cloud back end powered by OpenStack,” he explained. “Developers could create ‘micro clouds’ locally and then push them to the cloud writ large.”

If Project Sputnik is successful, “we have big plans for the effort,” George added, though he didn’t explicitly address the possibility of a consumer-oriented version.

Still, the news is particularly for Linux fans given the report published by OMG!Ubuntu! today suggesting that Ubuntu will be included on fully five percent of the PCs that ship next year.

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