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Dell Designing Developer Oriented Laptop 399

jones_supa writes "Barton George, director of marketing for Dell's Web vertical reveals information about 'Project Sputnik', a laptop tailored for developer needs in web companies. 'We want to find ways to make the developer experience as powerful and simple as possible. And what better way to do that than beginning with a laptop that is both highly mobile and extremely stylish, running the 12.04 LTS release of Ubuntu Linux,' George ponders. He also gives a quick list of packages that the default installation could include. The machine will base on the XPS13, assessing a couple of its main hardware deficiencies along the way." According to the article, this is a "6 month project to investigate an Ubuntu laptop. If successful, we have big plans for the effort." It's unclear how closely they are working with upstream, but there's mention of Canonical as a commercial partner so this may mean Dell is working to ensure some of their hardware Just Works (tm) with Ubuntu. The software side is so far just a customized install with developer tools preinstalled. Ars remains skeptical about Dell's strategy for GNU/Linux support, which may be warranted given their track record.
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Dell Designing Developer Oriented Laptop

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  • Resolution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nerdfest ( 867930 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @10:58AM (#39941441)

    The one thing that they (Dell) and pretty much everyone else are missing is a decent screen resolution. 1366x768 and 1440x900 just don't cut it for development. They're barely useable for browsing.

    • Maybe not on a 13" XPS, but my 15" 1920x1080 Latitude does me just fine.
      • Me as well. I just got a "new" laptop, a Latitude e6510, from the Dell Outlet. It has a 15" 1920x1080 screen and I'm very happy indeed. I would have bought a new e6520, but some idiot at Dell decided people want 15" laptops with a numeric keypad, which made it nearly two inches wider than the e6510 with the same screen size.

        I think this system would be much more suited to developers than the XPS 13 - it's very rugged and not very heavy, not all THAT much bigger than the XPS, and has a modular bay that yo

      • by rthille ( 8526 )

        As a developer, I'd prefer 1080x1920 myself.

    • Eh? I regularly browse on a 1024x768 netbook without difficulty. Seems to me that the web pages you are browsing don't scale too well.

      • Re:Resolution (Score:4, Insightful)

        by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @11:15AM (#39941693) Journal

        There is a huge difference between reading a web page and developing.

        • Sure but the claim was: " They're barely useable for browsing".

          • I'm of the opinion that the vertical space is quite lacking for browsing.

      • The expression "If you call that living..." comes to mind.

      • Resolution isn't a problem as any decent browser can seamlessly scale stuff. It's mostly about screen proportions, and you just happen to have the best (barely) available one for about any kind of work other than watching cinema movies. I'd take a 4x3 (or 3x4!) screen of a shitty resolution over something 16x10 or worse.

        Certain extensions, and a good deal of programs other than browsers fail to obey size scaling settings, though, so resolution is still nice to have (besides less eyestrain). It's almost a

      • by hxnwix ( 652290 )

        I find that
        320x200 is
        more than
        for all my

    • Re:Resolution (Score:5, Informative)

      by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @11:08AM (#39941601) Homepage
      I agree with this. Also, most of the other important developer friendly things would be in the hardware, not the software. Many developers are likely to wipe the thing and start over from scratch anyway. Important things for developers are good screen resolution. Standard keyboard layout. this includes ensuring that function keys (F1-F12) always act as function keys, and also that pgup ins and the like are located in an easy to reach place Depending on the developer, you might be better off dropping the numeric pad so that you can fit the pgup/arrow keys in the correct arrangement. Also of importance is plenty of USB ports to hook up additional hardware without a hub, as well as outputs for a couple different kinds of monitors HDMI/DVI and possibly VGA. Developers don't care about what packages are included by default, because they can install whatever they want after the fact. The things they can't change later, like hardware, are the things to focus on.
      • by mrops ( 927562 )

        I would like to see a xeon based laptop to be honest. and give me cores, there is no such thing as too many cores when compiling code. i would love to cut my build time from 20 min to 2 min if possible.

      • Re:Resolution (Score:4, Insightful)

        by nine-times ( 778537 ) <> on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @12:01PM (#39942393) Homepage

        Also, most of the other important developer friendly things would be in the hardware, not the software. Many developers are likely to wipe the thing and start over from scratch anyway.

        Still, I think the idea of having the computer ship with Linux is important. Even if you want to wipe the computer and start over, the fact that it shipped with Linux means that Dell is truly supporting Linux. That means that they're going to have to choose Linux-friendly hardware, and have stable/optimized drivers for all the hardware they're using.

        There are also probably sensible choices that they can make for packages for developers, depending on what kind of developers they're targeting. For example, if you're a serious developer, there's a good chance you're going to want some kind of compiler. Picking a particular set of packages may not make all developers happy, but you could possibly start with a normal set of "lowest common denominator" packages and save the user a little bit of setup time.

        Aside from that, the summary mentions that this is targeted for developers for "web companies". If you're talking about "web developers", I could definitely see them selecting a set of packages that an HTML/PHP monkey would be happy with and not want to wipe and start from scratch.

      • by ADRA ( 37398 )

        Really, almost all of those pre-requisites are mitigated with a system with a good dock and a healthy set of peripherals. If I want a portable laptop (not really much a concern for most developers who work in a cube 99% of the time) I'd at least like a dock so that I can easily leave the crap behind. My big MUST in a computer is at least decent dual monitor support and enough RAM / horsepower so that I don't feel bogged down doing day to day work.

    • Re:Resolution (Score:4, Interesting)

      by azalin ( 67640 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @11:16AM (#39941707)
      Let's get through the list what I need from a development laptop: screen size, high resolution, good color representation and the option to hook up at least a secondary monitor.
      Other than that? Speed? Mostly irrelevant though being quiet would be nice. Mobility? Must not be to big or to heavy to carry around in a normal messenger bag or backpack. Disk size and ram? Standard issue. OS? Whatever suits your fancy and provides the tools for the job. Style? Of course we like to have cool machines, but is it needed - No. Battery life? Somewhat but for serious work one needs a desk anyway.
    • Re:Resolution (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ranton ( 36917 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @11:23AM (#39941805)

      Absolutely true. I cannot believe that Apple is the only company still making a 1200 vertical resolution screen. It's annoying having to spend $2700 on the only decent laptop that still exists.

      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        Absolutely true. I cannot believe that Apple is the only company still making a 1200 vertical resolution screen. It's annoying having to spend $2700 on the only decent laptop that still exists.

        I'm pretty sure Dell sells laptops that do 1920x1200 as well, it may not be as a standard feature like Apple, but definitely available as an option.

        Anyhow, there must be some way to cobble something together with say, an iPad. iPad runs an app that just turns it into a screen (2048x1536), while the keyboard part has t

        • I'm pretty sure Dell sells laptops that do 1920x1200 as well, it may not be as a standard feature like Apple, but definitely available as an option.

          This was true, until a few months ago. There were some business only models with 1920x1200 screens. They were not available to personal or SOHO customers. Then they were discontinued, and the highest resolution Dell sells now is 1920x1080, even for business customers.

    • 366x768 and 1440x900 just don't cut it for development.

      Sure they do.

      If you're on a 13" screen, then pushing much beyond 1440x900 starts to give awfully tiny text at the smallest decently readable font size. Of course I'd jump at the chance of such a panel, but I find 1920x1080 to be comfortable on a 17" laptop, and would probably be OK on a 15" one.

      If you're constrained by screen space, get a good quality folding editor and a decent window manager which can switch quickly and efficiently between a lot of vi

    • Re:Resolution (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mepperpint ( 790350 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @11:30AM (#39941911)

      Agreed! The display is very important. I do not understand why the other commenters seems to be asking for a 1920x1080 display. This wide screen is good for watching movies, but crap for development work. I need more verticle screen real estate so that I can see a larger block of code at once. Verticle space is far more valuable than horizontal. I would gladly take a 1600x1200 display over a 1920x1080. If they really want to be innovative, they'll put a 1920x1200 display on the laptop along with a feature where it can be rotated vertical to give me 1200x1920. That's what I do on my desktop and it works great. Duplicate it on my laptop and I'll finally be able to use it for work purposes.

    • I'm in an Emacs terminal session with 80 columns and 30 lines.
      When I'm feeling foppish, I turn on syntax highlighting.
      It's about keeping the pimp hand strong, man.
    • Re:Resolution (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ThePhilips ( 752041 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @11:35AM (#39941989) Homepage Journal

      In particular for development, I personally find the 4:3 screens better than the widescreen ones. And that is one of mine biggest complains with the modern laptops as development goes. I want to see more lines of the source code on the screen. In the end one buys 24" external display - sufficiently tall to fit more lines of code - only to waste 20-30% of the screen space on the sides.

      They should introduce something like "tall screen." And if keyboard is OK, I might even consider buying it.

      • by Rinikusu ( 28164 )

        If you still want an external solution, pick up one of the rotating LCD displays out there that go from landscape to portrait mode to solve this. It would be very interesting to see a laptop with a "portrait" layout, as well (768x1366, for example). The old IBM trackright technology could come in handy to keep keyboard sizes normal.

    • I wouldn't say that's the only thing, but I remember having laptops with better than 900 vertical resolution, and I'd love to see that again.

      Aside from that
      * Options for both low power (energy) and high power (performance) processors - obviously you won't get either at the same time, but an option for whichever would fit your needs best, would be nice.
      * Options for either a simple-low-power-integrated GPU, or a high performance (ATI/nVidia) card. Many developers won't need the latter, many will.
      * Space for

    • Honestly, I can't tell the diference between those resolutions on such a tiny screen (suposing DPI is properly configure so that font size remains constant). I can't really tell if graphics are smoother or not.
      The same would not hold true on a >26" screen, but on a 13" screen, I guess most people don't have such a good eyesight.

  • They've supported it [] just fine for a long time. It's their hardware offerings that have been spotty.

  • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @10:58AM (#39941447)
    That's not encouraging. I jest of course, that's a reasonable time to ensure a support line for the platform. We'll see how it works out, would be nice to have an OEM doing a Linux system that's more then just installing it and forgetting about it.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Could 2012 be the year of the linux laptop? And I might not be completely joking here.

    • by Moheeheeko ( 1682914 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @11:01AM (#39941499)
      Not if Dell is behind it. You saw what they did to Alienware.
  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @11:02AM (#39941501)

    If I am going to be using the laptop outside of a dimly lit room, give me the option of buying a quality matte display. I don't care if it's an extra $200. Just give me the damn option. My comfort and ability to work in public without feeling like I'm staring into a mirror is more important.

    • I don't want to sound like a shill but every time I see people complaining about laptop monitor glossiness and resolution I feel the urge to recommend a Thinkpad.
      Probably not quite as solid as in the IBM days but still pretty good. (at least the T and W models)

  • Shovelware (Score:3, Insightful)

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @11:05AM (#39941545)

    I'm worried about the shovelware. Will ten antiviruses and junk like that be in a removable ubuntu package or will it be too deeply embedded into the OS to remove?

    • by mspohr ( 589790 )

      I don't think you understand Linux.
      No antivirus.
      Everything is configurable.
      Not like Windows and Mac at all.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @11:07AM (#39941589)

    Maybe Dell can succeed where legions of open-source developers have failed: to twist the arm of hardware developers to release the source of their drivers so we can FINALLY use our computers with Linux without ages of pointless driver and configuration file tweaking!

    • Why is this downvoted? It's pretty insightful, if dell starts shipping Ubuntu with success, we might start getting documentation or open source drivers for hardware that is currently supported with reverse engineering in the long run!

  • by realityimpaired ( 1668397 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @11:07AM (#39941597)!facets=16260~0~195640&p=1 []

    Could have surprised me. My laptop is the predecessor to that model, the Vostro V130n, which came with Ubuntu LTS installed on it. They're still selling them, you just have to look for it. The V130n features a Celeron U3600, 2GB of RAM, 13.3" screen (1366x768), and came originally with a 250GB hard drive. The battery life isn't that great (about 2.5h with the factory configuration), but that's because the battery is very small (slightly less than the volume of a CD jewel case). I was able to increase the battery life to 4h by swapping the hard drive with an Intel 320-series SSD. 3.2lbs with the stock configuration, and slightly lighter than that with the hard drive swapped. Total cost (including the hard drive replacement) was under $500. If they can price this ultraportable under $1000 like they're doing with the XPS 13, I would seriously consider it when it comes time to replace my current laptop. (though that'll probably be a few years, it's plenty powerful enough for everything I throw at it).

    It's nice that they're doing this, and more power to them, but it's misleading to claim that they aren't supporting Linux, when you can, today, buy a reasonably nice system with Ubuntu preinstalled on it.

  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @11:08AM (#39941609) Homepage

    The software side is so far just a customized install with developer tools preinstalled. Ars remains skeptical about Dell's strategy for GNU/Linux support, which may be warranted given their track record.

    Call it a "developer laptop" and you've probably scared away 99% of the market, the 99% Dell doesn't want. The ones who think it'll be like Windows or run Windows software or work with all accessories they have on their old PC. The people interested in Linux will know hey it's just an Ubuntu install with a few preloads, the important thing is the hardware is supported under Linux. To me it sounds good, to make it profitable it's just as much about not selling to the wrong people as selling to the right people. Support and returns will very quickly kill your margins.

    • well, maybe they should call it a 'professional' laptop and sell it to businesses - like the majority of their sales.

      if it comes installed with everything you'd want, I doubt anyone would wipe it and start over, there comes a point where you just don't want to play with these things, you want to get work done. If they get a Linux install working (and that really means sorting all the driver issues like power management, and all the cheapest components Dell has a tendency to put in there from version to ver

  • by Danzigism ( 881294 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @11:11AM (#39941643)
    It's almost as if they're just throwing the word "developer" in there just to make it seem like a different machine. I will admit it definitely peaks my interest and I'd certainly contemplate buying one. But every time I try to code on a laptop, especially web development, I get very frustrated with the lack of a good keyboard and mouse. Not to mention the INSERT key is probably the most important key for me to use and they're always in awkward places unlike your standard desktop keyboard. What also concerns me is the simple longevity problem with laptops. Hard drive crashes (maybe not so much nowadays thanks to SSD) and dead batteries seem to be all too common. Therefore relying on such a machine to get your work done is hard to do. I know people make due just fine, but for me personally it will take a lot convincing.
    • by jo_ham ( 604554 )

      This is not a flame, but the phrase is "piques my interest". I don't disagree with the rest of your post.

  • by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @11:12AM (#39941651) Journal

    Keyboard must be easy to clean and resist spills. Test against Cheetos and Mountain Dew.

  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @11:13AM (#39941671) Journal

    I find significant dissonance with their two statements:

    "ways to make the developer experience as powerful and simple as possible" and
    "what better way to do that than beginning with a laptop that is both highly mobile and extremely stylish"

    I was unaware that web designers did most of their work "in the field" away from modern conveniences like desks and dual monitors. I am also surprised that "stylish" is equated with "powerful and simple".

    By the look of their press release, I'd say they are trying to convert all of the metrosexual Apple users to Dell brand users with shiny and an OSX-esque GUI. Function and capability don't appear to play into the equation much.

    • by mcmonkey ( 96054 )

      By the look of their press release, I'd say they are trying to convert all of the metrosexual Apple users to Dell brand users with shiny and an OSX-esque GUI. Function and capability don't appear to play into the equation much.


    • But ... But it's going to be stylish!

      I'd just be happy if the laptop didn't need a power converter that's bigger than a hardback novel. Seriously Dell it's getting out of hand,

  • by Blaskowicz ( 634489 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @11:13AM (#39941673)

    developers. developers. developers. (developers developers developers)

  • by billmil ( 59216 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @11:15AM (#39941683)

    As a developer, I need more vertical screen space: looking at code, looking at debuggers, editing long files.

    I have two monitors at work: an ld 19" and 23". The 23" has less vertical screen space than the 19".

    More vetical screen real estate would make a laptop more dev friendly

    • Turn it to the side...

      Kidding of course, hard to do it with a laptop anyways, but while I was working on a long report recently I decided to rotate my 19" monitor and it was great.

      My laptop has a 12" 4x3 screen and I find it much better than the 13-14" wide screen ones.

    • 16x10 is the best resolution, especially now the docks of your window managers are finding their way to the side (where they used to be, decades ago).

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Well, I'm glad to hear they are at least waiting 6 months before putting anything into the market. It'll take that time for any and all bugs pertaining to Ubuntu 12.04 to be cleared up, I'm sure.

    I want to say Ubuntu would be a terrible platform for development, but I've found that despite its rapidly changing environment its often been the easiest to configure solely from the repositories. I'd be interested if they don't preinstall tons of unnecessary crap and the drivers it comes with are solid.

  • Is not long enough. We use our laptops for 3 (or more) years. Every 3 (2 if I beg) I can have a new one.

    I expect that I can have one of these in 2 years (having just gone through a replacement). Been pushing for an Apple laptop, anyway...

  • by rjlouro ( 651989 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @11:29AM (#39941903) Homepage
    Developers have no problems hacking their favorite environment, linux, windows, whatever. It's the hardware that counts. Personally I'd like a development laptop that would be:
    • - Very high resolution
    • - 4:3 format
    • - mate screen, enough of that bright crap
    • - Powerfull CPU and RAM
    • - No internal DVD drive, swap that for an additional HD or Battery
    • - present that in several options, from 12 to 17 inch. Developers do travel sometimes, and they love to take their gear with them.
    • - a very good keyboard, with decent feedback. IBM M-Type would be great
    • - Button to disable trackpad.
    • - A good docking station to hook up external monitors, keyboard+mouse, etc.
    • - Easily removable everything, battery, ram, HD, etc.

    Do that and I buy one.

  • by CaseyB ( 1105 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @11:34AM (#39941963)

    We want to find ways to make the developer experience as powerful and simple as possible [...] extremely stylish

    Failed, right out of the gate.

    • by jo_ham ( 604554 )

      Why? Style and function need not be mutually exclusive, and the prevailing "wisdom" on /. of late to equate anything that aims to have style as some insignificant toy that automatically means function is compromised is really missing the point.

      Can't a developer aspire to both, or must you relegate them to always having an ugly, clunky machine that is unpleasant to look at and work on?

  • I want standard US keyboard layout with only one thing written on each key, I want high resolution screen (130 DPI and over). I can't buy a PC laptop because none of them have good keyboard and every key has 5 things written on it and for some reason in Canada ALL keyboards have stupid layout where left shift key is split and \ placed next to z. All keys programmers use all the time like brackets, semicolon etc keys are at non-standard locations. Enter key is split and weirdly shaped. I pretty much have to
  • Really, why does having a user-friendly OS make a laptop developer-friendly?
    I think both things are generally mutually exclusive.

  • I almost purchased an XPS a couple months ago but wanted to run multiple monitors. Dell said they don't have a docking station for it so all you get is HDMI. Yeah.... no. I opted instead to build a micro-atx system. Not as portable but I've got dual heads, tons of ram, SSD, 8 cores, 4 VGA Outs, and a water cooled CPU. All for about the same price. If Dell would have offered dual head support through a docking station I probably would have been sold but kind of glad they don't now.

  • Dell has been supporting Linux on servers for well over 10 years. You've always been free to install Linux on your laptop- just don't expect to get (consumer level/any) support.

    The hardware cost is just a fraction of what you pay. In a previous life, when I worked at a little company in Round Rock, TX that rhymes with hell, testing took up the vast majority of development effort, and every additional OS added to that test effort/cost. If/when the analysis says it can make a profit that is similar to the ot

  • ...but a developer machine is a desktop.

    External keyboard, individual to the devs taste of ergonomical. Two monitors, one for IDE/debugger, one for running/reference lookup.
    Preloading any developper tools is pointless, as you will need the ones in use in your company.

  • EL gives good Dell: []
  • Widescreen IPS display with at least 1200 pixel vertical resolution or it didn't happen...

  • That appears to be the underlying message, but wait, what's that on Aren't most well paying developer jobs for, dare I say it, "Windows?"

    FYI, I made my Window laptop adequate for development. I put in 16GB of DDR3 RAM and run two or three dedicated virtual machines to which I can quickly switch via the magic of "Alt-TAB." It's reasonably fast and the VMs act as different desktops. The new laptop and memory came in under $600.

    Thanks Dell, but I'll keep my HP.

  • Is that marketing hype, an actual "must look like an Apple clone" requirement, or just to make it more appealing to developers in appearance. Personally, I'd love to have an Alienware m18 largely for it's looks (and performance). Stylish doesn't mean we're going to get commercials with graphics designers and bike messengers talking about how much they dig Sputnik and what it does for their hip lifestyles.

  • One thing missing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bazman ( 4849 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @11:49AM (#39942219) Journal

    Yeah, every web developer runs Ubuntu up until that moment when they realise they have to make sure the site works with Internet Explorer. So the first thing you'll have to do with this is install Virtual Box and do a Windows Install. You do have a Windows license, right?

Vitamin C deficiency is apauling.