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Dell's Linux laptop has good hardware, decent toolkit

Katherine Noyes and Dietrich Schmitz | May 3, 2013
Plenty of specialized companies out there sell PCs with Linux, but Dell is one of the very few mainstream contenders to have done so over the years. After some spotty initial offerings, it's taken a different approach with its latest Linux PC. Rather than try to sell Linux hardware to the masses, which the company has said typically requires support, it's focusing instead on developers, a savvy group that tends to need less help.

While it's not a performance issue, the presence of a Windows-specific key on this device underscores the fact that this is still essentially Dell's standard XPS 13 with Ubuntu simply preinstalled. Developers wouldn't have any trouble doing that installation themselves, so we were alert to other distinguishing features that would set this device apart for this Linux-minded crowd.

One such feature is the XPS 13 Developer Edition's full year of included Dell ProSupport and onsite service after remote diagnostics. Also included on the device, meanwhile, are two USB 3.0 ports (one with PowerShare), a mini DisplayPort, and a headset jack. No mouse was included, so we added our own.

Ubuntu, Unity, LibreOffice included

Like many Linux machines, this one featured a nice, snappy startup; it can boot from cold in as little as 13.5 seconds, Dell says.

We did encounter an issue by which the installer crashed the first time around, but on the second attempt it worked like a charm. WiFi connected on the first try, so we got to work installing some extras, including Chrome, GIMP, and Shutter for taking screenshots.

We were both already familiar with Ubuntu and the Unity desktop, so that part was immediately comfortable. Since this machine is aimed at developers, however, we were particularly interested to see what developer tools were included. Those available upon startup were the Bazaar version control system, the IcedTea Web Control Panel, IcedTea Java Web Start, a printing configuration tool, and the UbuntuOne cloud service.

Handy for our review-writing purposes was that LibreOffice was installed and ready to go. Even more joy-inspiring was the absence of the vast array of OEM bloatware you'll typically find on most Windows machines.

Two developer tools M.I.A.

We were surprised, however, to find no sign of two particular developer tools Dell has been talking about since the Sputnik project began. Namely, neither the cloud launcher nor the profile tool that have figured so prominently in the Developer Edition plans were evident on the laptop.

It turns out both are still essentially in alpha form and currently hosted on GitHub.

Some initial work has been done on the profile tool, but Dell ended up taking a break to focus on launching the machine, it said. "We have just started up again," the briefing notes explained.

The cloud launcher, meanwhile, "currently exists preinstalled as LXC + JuJu," Dell noted. "We are working with OpsCode to create a Chef version as well."

In the meantime, the XPS 13 Developer Edition comes with VirtualBox preinstalled as well as Juju, a transitional package for Ruby 1.8, Python, and more.

Specs include BIOS support for virtualization

 

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