Dell has recently kicked off #ProjectSputnik, a beta program to deliver a Linux based laptop to developers featuring a tweaked out version of Ubuntu 12.04 LTS for a Dell XPS laptop with all the drivers ready to go.
Most intriguing was the idea that additional tools for devs specifically cloud tools that enable you to create “microclouds” on your laptop, simulating an at-scale environment, and then deploy that environment seamlessly to the cloud would be provided. Now, I get this is some of the work around Ubuntu juju, but I haven’t had a chance to dig in. I was hooked.
I applied, was accepted to participate as a
beta users cosmonaut in the beta field trial, and ordered up my kit.
I was excited to be selected for the beta program but I wasn’t prepared for the sheer awesomeness that is Ubuntu on this notebook. Before I go any further, a big thanks to Barton George and the rest of the Dell crew for letting me participate. I know there will be more than one segment to this, so this post will cover my first impressions and getting a base working environment up and running.
Someone inside the Dell design group took a note or two from the fruit company and they’ve upped their game for packaging. This was the first Dell product I’ve opened carefully, with concern about ripping the tape (cheesy I know). Seriously well done.
Beta Only Woes
While this goes to market later this year, the intent is to have this XPS notebook sold preloaded with Ubuntu. For us lucky few in the beta we get to load up the customized Ubuntu 12.04 iso ourselves. Interestingly enough for the life of me I couldn’t get the Ubuntu published instructions to work for creating a bootable USB drive on a Mac. I apparently wasn’t the only one. Rather than waste time, I booted the downloaded ISO into a new VM with VMware Fusion, and used the built in Ubuntu tools to create a bootable usb drive. A bit circuitous, but familiar territory.
With a bootable usb drive ready, I powered on the laptop and without any fanfare installed Ubuntu. It should be pointed out here that having a custom build for this hardware made NOT digging in and having to tweak really nice. Once the installation was done, the reboot was fast and EVERYTHING JUST WORKS.
The only thing I’ve had to do was increase the mouse (touchpad) sensitivity to max. Realistically, I could go higher but it’s good. With that done, It was time to actually take a solid look at this beast.
It’s hard to say how thin this notebook is. I wish I had an Air to take some photos next to the XPS. It’s thin. It’s interesting that for how thin it is, it still feels really solid. The keyboard is nice, and inside there’s an Intel i7 quad core processor, 4G of ram, and a 256G SSD drive.
This is going to be an easy migration as most of the tools I use today are cross platform. I can’t think of an app that I use daily (sometimes almost constantly) that I don’t already have a replacement for or in some cases, something better.
Chrome – > Chrome
firefox /w firebug -> firefox /w firebug
Colloquy – > XChat
tweetdeck – > gwibber?
Skype – > Skype
Adium -> unity? ( I was going to fix this note from an earlier draft to Empathy but I left it to point out that chat is so well integrated into unity that I honestly couldn’t recall what client it is. Nicely done ubuntu folks)
n/a – > SFLPhone Holy crap this is the best SIP softphone I’ve ever used. On any platform and I’ve used a lot of them. I’m actually looking forward to using this again. Can’t wait. Stop laughing.
Dropbox – > Dropbox
Sublime Text2 – > Sublime Text2
Vim – > Vim
QuickSilver – > native unity
Terminal (with zsh) – > Terminal (with zsh)
Mail is going to be interesting. Apparently I was in a small camp that LOVED evolution. You can still install evolution, it’s just not the default option. I’m thinking about going all in and buying support for this laptop from Canonical at some point, so I may give the default Thunderbird a go.
The elephant in the room
Windows Office is a sticky point that I’m going to have to tackle at some point. This isn’t hopefully an issue in most dev shops, but it’s certainly an issue for my company. I tried hard to not use Office until I had to put together a presentation with meat. Let lightning strike me down, powerpoint is good at what it does. Keynote rocks as well, but working in a mixed platform shop and shipping files around causes some headaches. Hopefully I can get a VDI image somewhere for me to connect to via VMware’s open PCoIP client. Honestly, this may be my biggest hurdle for leveraging this beast as a “Company” laptop. If you’re lucky enough to work in a sizable enough company to have a proper VDI or Citrix deployment in place, you’re set.
As we’re in that odd middle size, I’d like to say my company is leveraging google docs, sliderocket, or any next gen presentation products. We’re not.
After initial load and getting my standard working environment up and running, I’ve got to say this little beast is pretty amazing. From the tight OS integration to the feel of the laptop, it looks and feels like a solid build. I’m going to be busy working with OpenStack over the coming months and I’m excited to see how closely integrated I can get my build envionment on this laptop to the ubuntu server I’m using for testing. After watching Mark Shuttleworth talk this year at Oscon about JuJu and #ProjectSputnik, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be amazing. More blog posts to follow.