Dell Linux Ultrabook : Dell releases powerful, well-supported Linux Ultrabook - Ars Technica
Dell is changing that. Earlier this year, they announced a pilot program, "Project Sputnik," intended to produce a bona fide, developer-focused Linux laptop using their popular XPS-13 Ultrabook as base hardware. The program turned out to be a rousing success, and this morning Dell officially unveiled the results of that pilot project: the Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition.
The Dell XPS 13 used in the Developer Edition features a number of upgrades over the pilot Project Sputnik hardware, including an Intel i5 or i7 Ivy Bridge CPU and 8GB of RAM (the pilot hardware used Sandy Bridge CPUs and had 4GB of RAM). The Developer Edition also comes with a 256 GB SATA III SSD, and retains the pilot version's 1366x768 display resolution. The launch hardware costs $1,549 and includes one year of Dell's "ProSupport." Additional phone support options aren't yet available.The laptop comes with Ubuntu Linux 12.04 LTS plus a few additions. Dell worked closely with Canonical and the various peripheral manufacturers to ensure that well-written, feature-complete drivers are available for all of the laptop's hardware. Out of the box the laptop will just work. They also have their own PPA if you want to pull down the patches separately, either to reload the laptop or to use on a different machine.The hardware is solid, but the software is the fun part. The Project Sputnik team cooked up two open source tools which come preloaded on the laptop, aimed at automating setting up development environments and making deployment easier: the Profile Tool and the Cloud Launcher.
To find out more, Ars spent some time with Barton George, Web Vertical Director at Dell and one of the biggest driving forces behind Project Sputnik. The Profile Tool, described here on George's blog, is an application that facilitates the installation of preconfigured development tools, referred to as "profiles." It's originally the idea of Charles Lowell, one of the early Project Sputnik "alpha cosmonauts" (the awesome appellation for those who helped test the project in its early stages). The Profile Tool is almost a "reverse cloud" deployment utility, pulling distributed resources down from the cloud to your local workstation.For example, if you want to develop a specific type of Ruby application, you can use Profile Tool to locate a preconfigured Ruby "profile" on Github that matches what you want to do, then clone that profile to your computer. Profiles can contain all the fiddly bits necessary to actually begin working—libraries, whole frameworks, dependencies, or anything else. Developer Edition users can build and share their own profiles for others to use. Someone who has painstakingly built the perfect environment for developing Node.js and Redis applications, for example, can quickly create a profile out of his setup and share it. Others who clone the profile will wind up with the same set of libraries, binaries, packages, dotfiles, and anything else included in the profile—all neatly contained in a sandbox in their home directory.George even suggests there might be an opportunity for "signature profiles," where high-profile developers can package and share their specific working environments. Forget being able to play basketball like Michael Jordan by wearing his shoes—what if you could code like Matt Mullenweg by cloning his development environment?The other tool, the Cloud Launcher, is designed to let developers quickly and easily deploy projects to a cloud provider. It leans on Ubuntu's Juju cloud service deployment tool, which we touched on in our Ubuntu 12.10 review. Cloud Launcher is intended to let developers model an environment on the Developer Edition laptop, then click a button and have that environment automatically duplicated to a production location at a cloud service provider like Amazon EC2. Hawk-eyed readers will notice the Cloud Launcher GitHub repo is currently empty, but George assures us as the application matures and branches away from Juju the code will appear in the repo.
Both the Profile Tool and the Cloud Launcher are centered around the increasingly popular "DevOps" approach to development, which tries to remove barriers between developers and IT operations personnel. Building applications with a focus on DevOps means linking things together with an eye toward making it easy for developers to go from thinking things to prototyping them to deploying them. This angle is particularly important for a device like the Developer Edition laptop and Project Sputnik in general. The intended customers are cloud-minded developers, and gaining their trust and acceptance is critical for the product's success.I could hear the pride in George's voice as he described Project Sputnik and the Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition laptop, though he quickly points back at the user community. The response to the project has been overwhelmingly positive, unlike some past efforts. The pent-up desire for a well done, well supported Linux developer laptop is clearly there, and George notes that the Linux community is friendly and responsive if approached honestly. "As long as you're open and honest and transparent," he said, "people are very supportive of you. You just never want to over-promise!"
All of the additions Dell is bringing to Ubuntu 12.04 are available for free (as in beer). Dell and Canonical are working with the hardware vendors (like trackpad manufacturer Cypress) to make sure that the code they have written for the Developer Edition laptop makes it upstream so others can benefit. The Cloud Launcher and Profile Tool live on Github, and their base operating system modifications are available in the Project Sputnik PPA. The Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition laptop goes on sale today, directly from Dell.Update: This article originally stated that the source code to the Cypress trackpad wasn't publicly available. Ars was contacted by Kamal Mostafa, the kernel maintainer for Project Sputnik, who pointed out that not only is the code available in the PPA, but that it was submitted upstream several weeks ago and is being reviewed. Further, he stressed that all of the Project Sputnik kernel components are fully open-source. We've modified the article accordingly.
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