Project Sputnik: Dell greenlights Ubuntu ultrabook for 2012 launch, works on improved drivers

A couple of months ago, Dell announced plans to trial an Ubuntu ultrabook especially for programmers.

After evaluating its commercial potential, they have now confirmed that “Project Sputnik” will go ahead, with an official launch – starting in “select markets” – by the end of the year. It will be Dell’s XPS13 model with Ubuntu 12.04, plus plenty of programmer-friendly tweaks. Dell and Canonical have also been collaborating on improved Linux drivers, including touchpad/multi-touch support, screen brightness, and keyboard shortcuts to toggle wifi.

Project Sputnik emerged from a Dell initiative to highlight and nurture innovative ideas. “The thought was that there are probably a bunch of cool ideas tucked away in the heads of employees at all different levels of the company,” explained Barton George, who is the project lead for Sputnik. As part of the wider initiative, three Dell employees act like the judges on Dragon’s Den, hearing pitches and funding six month pilots.

Details of Project Sputnik first emerged in May.  At the time, George clarified that “Ubuntu was a natural choice” for them. Not only is it popular, but Dell have shipped more Ubuntu systems than any other company of their kind, giving them plenty of experience with it. The idea has been pitched to Ubuntu’s Mark Shuttleworth, who apparently responded very positively to the idea.

It looks like Dell felt the same.  Although the project was first announced in May, they seem to have skipped the rest of the six month pilot to greenlight it now.

Read more at Technoholik and on Barton George’s blog, here and here (you can also follow him on Twitter).

Our comment

This is great news for Ubuntu. The continued interest of a major PC manufacturer like Dell can only be a plus.  It feels like pre-installed systems are a key step towards getting a big userbase for any OS, and the lack of these (certainly in Western markets) seems to be a major limiting factor in Linux uptake.

We just hope that those “select markets” won’t be too narrow!

Equally, we hope that we’ll start to see more Ubuntu systems targeted at the average user. Ubuntu (and Linux in general) have come a long way in terms of usability, and there’s no reason why only geeks should be using it nowadays.

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