Dell Gives Linux Laptops Another Chance

Today Dell announced its official re-entry into the Linux laptop market. Project Sputnik, first announced in May, is graduating from Dell’s internal incubator program into a real product. According to project lead Barton Geroge, Dell will sell a special “developer edition” of its XPS13 Ultrabook starting this fall.

The laptop will come pre-loaded with Ubuntu, a user friendly distribution of the open source operating system Linux (or GNU/Linux to purists). George said the laptop won’t be able to dual boot Windows. But Dell made available an Ubuntu install image customized for the XPS13, so you could buy the Windows version and install Ubuntu yourself if you require dual booting. George says the developer version will be the high end configuration of the XPS13, with 4GB of RAM, an Intel Core i7 processor and a 256GB solid state hard drive. This model currently sells for $1,499, and George says the Linux version will sell for a little bit less than the Windows version.

Dell started offering systems with Linux pre-installed back in 2007, due to popular demand on its online suggestion box IdeaStorm. But the company quietly stopped advertising Ubuntu as an option on its online store sometime in 2010. The Ubuntu option was too confusing to average users. “It wasn’t reaching the right audience,” George explains.

Update: George informs me that Dell actually still sells a lot of Ubuntu laptops outside the U.S.

But the demand from power users never really went away. Since the original announcement of Project Sputnik Dell has gathered extensive feedback on IdeaStorm – enough, George says, to justify bringing a Linux laptop back into production. He says that although Dell hasn’t fully decided how to market the new product, it will be more clear to buyers that this is a computer for power users.

Dell won’t be alone in the Linux laptop market. There are several “white box” vendors offering Linux laptops, but no major vendor is selling fully featured (non-netbook) machines with Linux pre-installed. The closest thing is EmperorLinux, which installs Linux on laptops manufactured by major vendors and sells them along with technical support (check out this site for a round-up of Linux laptop vendors).

With growing concern about locked bootloaders on Window 8 machines possibly preventing users from installing Linux or other alternative operating systems it’s refreshing to see a major vendor promoting computational freedom.