Dell’s ‘Sputnik’ Ubuntu Linux

Linux fans may recall the excitement that greeted the launch of Dell‘s “Project Sputnik” earlier this year.

Made possible through an internal skunkworks effort, the project aimed to create an Ubuntu-preloaded laptop targeting developers, in particular, with what Dell has called a “client to cloud” solution.

By midsummer, Dell said the associated beta program was exceeding expectations, and today the resulting ultrabook officially launched in the U.S. and Canada.

I spoke earlier this week with Barton George, director of the Web vertical at Dell, along with Michael Cote, its director of cloud strategy, about Dell’s strategy and goals for the new release.

Deploying to the cloud

First, some specs: Dubbed the XPS 13, Developer Edition, the new device sports an i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB memory. Pricing is $1,549, which includes a year of professional support. International availability will be extended early next year, Dell says.

Ubuntu 12.04 LTS “Precise Pangolin” is the operating system, of course, and on the software side it’s accompanied by a basic set of drivers, tools, and utilities along with the cloud launcher and profile tool that have been a big part of the project’s focus all along.

“The idea behind the profile tool is to provide access to a library of community-created profiles on GitHub, such as Ruby and Android, to quickly set up your development environments and tool chains,” George explained. The cloud launcher, meanwhile, lets developers create “microclouds” on their laptop, simulating an at-scale environment, and then deploy that environment seamlessly to the cloud.

Both tools were also recently launched on GitHub. The video below provides a brief introduction to the new machine.

Since the launch of the Sputnik project, Dell’s goals have stayed essentially the same, though a few tactics have changed, George told me.

During the testing process, for example, “at least half the people wanted more RAM,” he noted, resulting in the full 8GB in the product launching today. 4GB is the base standard in the XPS 13 line.

Another thing Dell learned through feedback is that “it’s critical for developers that the overall packaging works out of the box,” Cote pointed out. “We’re trying to make everything as open as possible and provide a good Ubuntu experience for developers.”

‘Something we’re looking at’

Then, too, there’s the “big pent-up desire for this outside the U.S.,” George said. “We’re working on how to do that.”

Meanwhile, developers with “beefier work” to do frequently requested a “big brother version” of the device launching today, he added. “That’s something we’re definitely looking at.”

Given that the new machine is marketed toward developers, I asked if Dell would be making any effort to ensure that only developers get to buy it. In fact, Dell has set it apart slightly from the rest of the XPS line on its site “so people don’t get confused,” George said, and will be promoting it primarily through developer-oriented publications.

‘We have struck a nerve’

At least in theory, however, anyone–regardless of their skills–could purchase one.

In fact, “if this inspires use cases that are different, that’s one of the things we’re hoping for,” George concluded. “We have struck a nerve and found something people are very interested in and passionate about.”