If you’d prefer a sleeker Linux laptop, you can still pick up an XPS 13 Ultrabook with Linux, and yes, the latest, super-sleek version of the XPS 13—which PCWorld hardware editor Gordon Mah Ung called a MacBook Air killer—will get a “developer edition” with Ubuntu preinstalled soon, according to Project Sputnik lead Barton George.
Rather than fizzling out, Project Sputnik is taking off—and Dell’s Linux laptops exclude the “Microsoft tax” tacked on tonotebooks that include Windows.
Project Sputnik gets a second line of laptops
Dell’s “Project Sputnik” started back in 2012. Dell wanted to create Linux laptops for developers who wanted officially supported Linux systems. These laptops aren’t necessarily just for developers, as anyone can buy them. But many developers do want high-quality Linux hardware that will work without any hassles, and that’s who Dell is targeting with these laptops. After all, even the Fedora is refocusing its Linux desktop efforts on developers.
But not everyone wants a super-lightweight laptop, so Dell’s line of Linux hardware is expanding. Some people want more powerful, capable hardware—a mobile workstation. Dell’s M3800 targets those people, and it’s also available with Linux preinstalled as a “developer edition.” It’s a solid, powerful piece of hardware with 16 GB of RAM, an Intel Core i7 processors, NVIDIA graphics, and an option for a 4K display.
A clean Ubuntu 14.04 LTS system
Like Dell’s other laptops, the M3800 ships with the latest Long Term Support (LTS) release of Ubuntu—that’s Ubuntu 14.04. This does mean the Thunderbolt hardware on the laptop won’t function when it ships, although the Ubuntu 14.04.2 update should add additional hardware support and the newer Linux kernel should enable it. If Thunderbolt is essential to you, you can always upgrade the laptop’s operating system to a newer Linux distribution. The M3800 comes with Ubuntu, but you don’t have to use Ubuntu.
Unlike previous “developer edition” laptops from Dell, the M3800 ships with a clean, bog-standard Ubuntu 14.04 LTS install. There are no additional pieces of software or drivers provided by Dell, which is an ideal situation. Everything the laptop needs is in the standard Linux software, so it should work well with any Linux distribution. You could just reinstall any version of Ubuntu you wanted on the laptop without worrying about installing any extra Dell software.
Dell provided two software tools on the previous laptops: A “profile tool” to quickly install development software and a “cloud launcher” for setting up small cloud instances on the laptop itself. Some developers may find these nice to have, but most potential buyers just want a solid, well-supported piece of hardware that ships with Linux. Dell may release these tools separately later, but the clean operating system is good to see.
Under the Operating System header, you can choose “Ubuntu Linux 14.04” instead of Windows 7 or 8.1. This actually shaves $101.50 off the price of the laptop, so you can get some nice savings by cutting that Windows license out of your laptop purchase. This blog post lays it all out.
Dell isn’t the only game in town, of course. Companies like System76 and ZaReason specialize in Linux laptops, and then there are the crowdfunding projects like Purism’s Librem 15. If you actually want to buy a laptop with Linux, you can. But you won’t find these laptops at your local electronics store for $200 on sale. If you want a Linux laptop that cheap, you might want to buy a Chromebook and install a full Linux system on it.