Project Sputnik is a six month experiment Dell is undertaking to design a notebook running open source software aimed at developers. While there’s no Sputnik laptop available for purchase yet, Dell has started by creating a custom build of Ubuntu 12.04 Linux designed to run on the company’s XPS 13 ultrabook.

You can download the disk image and try it out today. It includes most of the drivers necessary to let Ubuntu work on the XPS 13.

The folks at Netbook took the disk image for a spin, and aside from lack of support for multitouch gestures on the touchpad, it looks like everything works great.

The video is in Italian, but even if you don’t speak the language you can get a good idea of how Ubuntu performs on the laptop. Everything seems very fast and responsive, and YouTube video playback is smooth.

My favorite part of the video comes at the very end. That’s when you see what happens when you close the lid on the XPS 13, wait for it to fall asleep, and then open the lid again.

The ultrabook springs back to life in just two or three seconds — about the same amount of time it takes to resume from sleep on a good ultrabook running Windows 7 software. Clearly this isn’t a Windows-exclusive feature.

The Dell XPS 13 has a 13.3 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel display, Sandy Bridge processor, and a speedy solid state disk for storage, which is part of the reason the laptop can resume from sleep so quickly.

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9 replies on “First look at Project Sputnik: Dell XPS 13 ultrabook with Ubuntu Linux”

  1. I am a web developer and I already have a Dell 13″ XPS Ultrabook that’s running Ubuntu 12.04. I have it running a LAMP stack with SublimeText 2 as an editor. And Git of course. I love it. It easily outperforms more powerful machines in a lot of tasks because its SSD read/write speed.

    The only thing that doesn’t work is the multi-touch trackpad. I am eager to see that working, I’ve heard that Cypress (the manufacturer) is working on the driver.

  2. Is this offering anything different than what you can get in a laptop provisioned from System76? Even if this is a step-up in the current System76 Ubuntu version offering, I am sure they are prepping whatever version is up next. 

    1. 1 System76 = consumers, this is for developers
      2 System76 has no ultrabooks anymore

  3. I don’t know Italian but that doesn’t seem any different than the default install of Ubuntu from Canonical. Ubuntu has already been working on Sandy Bridge based notebooks.

    As mentioned, the main issues people have with Ubuntu on Notebooks are multitouch trackpad gestures, some hot keys, some indicators LEDs, battery life and general driver support.

    I haven’t tried 12.04 yet but there are issues with 802.11n support on previous releases and it has to be turned off to get a stable WiFi connection.

  4. I hope they get the multitouch trackpad working. That’s one of the consistent things that doesn’t work well or at all with Ubuntu on all notebooks.  There are kludgy workarounds that changes with each Ubuntu release but that’s not ideal.

    Another issue is battery life. Ubuntu usually has less battery life when compared to Windows on the same machine. Maybe Dell can put in better power saving features in there.

  5. That’s awesome. I sincerly hope they write proper maintainable drivers, and don’t just hand over binary blobs, and that they allow these to be merged into the main linux tree. if so, I’ll forgive them for making this for the XPS13 only and not their Vostro’s as well.

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