From the Canyon Edge -- :-Dustin

Monday, May 7, 2012

Project Sputnik: Developer Focused Dell XPS13

I'm absolutely thrilled to have been invited by Barton George to participate in Dell's Project Sputnik!  As of this morning, the gag order has been lifted and I can finally publicly blog about it :-)

I'm writing this blog post from a brand new Dell XPS13, given to me by Dell!  Project Sputnik is a new endeavor from Dell to produce a portable hardware and software platform specifically designed for developers.  Have you been to a conference recently where the predominant hacker platform involved a legion of Mac Airs running OSX?  Well, I think we finally have a contender :-)

I drove clear across Austin on Monday last week to meet Barton at The Domain and pick up the new machine.  Saying this sounds strange, but the experience unboxing this laptop was significantly different than any other computer I've ever opened.  The packaging itself was elegant, even beautiful.

And the hardware -- wow!  Aluminum outer shell.  Chiclet back-lit keyboard.  Thin, light, sexy.  At 13", it's the perfect balance between portability and usability.  The accessories and peripherals are simple, but sufficient.  Two USB ports.  A combination mic/headphones jack.  An external display port (dongle required).  And one very slim and trim AC/DC power adapter.  Oh, and there's a little button that you can press and see how much battery you have left.  There's a quad-core i7 with VT.  Intel video and wifi.  Bluetooth.  256GB Samsung SSD.  4GB of RAM (I really could have used 8GB, and it's soldered onto the motherboard).  With a 46W-h battery at 7.4V, I'm getting 6+ hours of uptime.

I installed Ubuntu 12.04 LTS myself (as the pre-built image didn't actually exist when I received my device as an Alpha Cosmonaut).  Everything worked out of the box, except as mentioned by Barton in his blog post (I had the toggle the hardware wifi kill a few times to get wifi working, and without proper drivers for the touchpad, it's lacking multi-touch support).

From the software side, I'm really excited about the idea of developing a derivative or customized distribution of Ubuntu, precisely tailored for developers.  I've used Linux as my development platform for 12+ years, and Ubuntu for the latter half of that.  In fact at Gazzang, the vast majority of our developers use Ubuntu desktops, and our development largely happens (or starts) on Ubuntu cloud images and servers.

Ubuntu is such a modern platform, with stable, recent versions of thousands of open source software packages.  Partnered with Dell and this breathtaking piece of hardware, I think we're seeing the first glance of an amazing developer platform!

Any downsides?  I'm looking forward to a proper driver for the touch pad (I'm told it's in the works).  And I really want 8GB of RAM (I usually give my VMs 4GB).   Aside from that, this is a truly beautiful machine -- easily the best laptop I've ever seen or used from Dell.  I love the focus and attention they're paying to Ubuntu in this space.  Well done, Dell!!!