Initial thoughts from the Project Sputnik Beta Cosmonauts

October 2, 2012

The Project Sputnik Beta program has been going for several weeks now.  We have an intrepid group of cosmonauts and there have been a bunch of blogs posted, tweets tweeted and a flurry of activity on the forum.

In general the feedback has been very positive with some folks having issues around wifi and the touch pad.

So far four of the cosmonauts have posted detailed entries around their Sputnik experiences.   Here are excerpts from the postings.

The Sputnik Out of Box Experience

For a good look at the OOBE, complete with photos, check out Theron’s “#ProjectSputnik – first impressions“.  Here’s the summary at the end:

After initial load and getting my standard working environment up and running, I’ve got to say this little beast is pretty amazing. From the tight OS integration to the feel of the laptop, it looks and feels like a solid build. I’m going to be busy working with OpenStack over the coming months and I’m excited to see how closely integrated I can get my build envionment on this laptop to the ubuntu server I’m using for testing. After watching Mark Shuttleworth talk this year at Oscon about JuJu and #ProjectSputnik, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be amazing. More blog posts to follow.

One man’s journey back to Linux

This next blog kicked off a huge discussion on hacker news around developer laptops, OS’s and the merits of their various incarnations.  Geoffrey Papillion wrote about his odyssey through time and across various OS’s which has led him to the present and Linux once again.

Here is how he concludes his post “Thanks Mr. Jobs, But it seems I can use a linux laptop now

Two days ago I got my Dell XPS 13 as part of a Dell beta progam called project Sputnik. I got a special version of Ubuntu, with some kernel patches, and some patched packages for sleep and hibernation. After an hour of struggling with making a bootable USB drive from my Mac for my Dell(turns out it was an issue with the USB drive), I had a working computer. By 8pm I had my development enviroment setup, I had chef up and running, and even my VPN was working. I was amazed.

So, far its been good; most apps I use are web apps. I spend 70% of my time in a terminal, and 30% of my time in a web browser. Honestly its the perfect computer for me right now. So, I’m waving goodbye to the ecosystem Mr. Jobs built, and moving to the world of linux full time.

On Beyond ThinkPad

Matt Urbanski who is coming from a linux mint based Lenovo ThinkPad x220 that he has been really happy with, gives his initial thoughts in Project Sputnik Beta Day one. He concludes his post with:

I sound much like a crochety old man who dislikes change. I’m going to give this a go and see what happens. I’m now embarking on the always annoying task of getting my homedir and configurations from one machine to the other. I’ll report back after some real usage.

The Woodward Trilogy

The most prolific cosmonaut award goes to Matt Woodward who has been putting his project Sputnik laptop through its paces and written three entries about it.

Dell Sputnik: Initial impressions

Conclusion: The Dell XPS 13 is a huge winner in my book. It’s exceedingly well built, light, quiet, and has all the bells and whistles you need in an ultrabook — particularly one aimed at developers — and Dell made intelligent omissions across the board with the possible exception of the amount of RAM pre-installed.

If like me you’ve had Dells in the past and hadn’t thought about Dell in a while, this machine may well change your mind about Dell. After only a few hours of using it it’s certainly starting to change mine, and I can already see myself gravitating to the Sputnik as my go-to machine.

Dell Sputnik: Battery life test

Results: The results are quite impressive, with a run time of about 8 hours 20 minutes in my usage

A week at a conference with Dell Sputnik

Summary: After living with the Sputnik as my only machine for a week I continue to be extremely impressed. Particularly in a developer conference situation where power isn’t available at every seat and you have to fight for the few outlets that are available, the Sputnik’s fantastic battery life let me focus on the conference instead of worrying about whether or not my laptop was going to conk out.Other than the occasional issues with the trackpad I thoroughly enjoyed using the Sputnik at DjangoCon — it makes a great conference companion!

So that’s the initial round up.  Stay tuned for more!

Extra-credit reading/Resource links

Pau for now…


OSCON: Mark Shuttleworth’s keynote

July 31, 2012

On the Thursday at OSCON, Ubuntu and Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth gave a great  keynote entitled, “Making Magic From Cloud To Client.”   He did the entire keynote and live demo on a project Sputnik laptop (a Dell XPS13 running Ubuntu 12.04LTS)!

Here it is in its entirety:

Some of the ground Mark covers:

  • A fantastic demo on Juju and writing Juju charms showing how you can design a complex topology, deploy that in memory on your laptop and then map the whole shebang to the cloud.
  • How JuJu charms allow for “encapsulation and reuse”
  • The idea of crowdsourcing ops
  • A demo showing how, in realtime, you can map actual running infrastructure from one cloud to the next (in his demo he mapped it from EC2 to an HP cloud)
  • The idea behind Unity and the principle of having one UI that works across phones, tablets, desktops and even TVs.
  • The HUD
  • Project Sputnik going from pilot to product this fall where you will be able to purchase an XPS13 from Dell with Ubuntu preinstalled.

Pau for now…


Project Sputnik to go from Pilot to Product

July 18, 2012

A couple of weeks ago we announced a Beta program for the four-month old Project Sputnik — an effort to investigate creating a developer focused laptop based on Ubuntu and Dell’s XPS13 laptop.

Since the beta announcement we have received thousands of applications from around the world.  This tremendous response, on top of fantastic amount of input we have received on the Project Sputnik storm session, has convinced us to take this project from pilot to product.

This fall we will be offering an Ubuntu 12.04LTS-based laptop pre-loaded on Dell’s XPS13 laptop.

Going from skunk works to mainstream

Back in the Spring, project Sputnik was the first effort green-lighted by an internal incubation program at Dell.  Thanks to the incubation program we got a little bit of funding and some executive advisers.  This incubation program notwithstanding, project Sputnik  has been a pretty scrappy skunk works effort to date.

The idea behind the incubation program is to harness that scrappiness and inventiveness to explore & validate new ideas & products outside mainstream Dell processes. Thanks to the tremendous amount of support both outside (you, the community!) and inside Dell,  with today’s announcement, we will begin making our transition to an official, “mainstream” Dell product.

  I should also mention, if its not obvious, that we have not been doing the work alone. Canonical  has been “scrappin” right besides us, helping to drive the project and doing a ton of engineering on the software side.

Beta program

As I mentioned at the start we have been completely blown away by the number of applications we have received.  We’re currently working through logistics of how to handle the tons of applications, we’ll notify all applicants soon, and intend to keep that process and the future product aligned with the spirit of the program.

To make sure that we are listening to your ideas, please continue to post any thoughts about what you would like to see in a developer laptop on our Storm session.   If you have an XPS13 running Ubuntu and want to share your experience or report a bug or issue, see our forum on Dell Tech center.

For more information on the program see the Project Sputnik FAQ

Thanks everyone for all the interest and passion, stay tuned as we push forward!

Reference: current solution details

Hardware

The solution is based on the high-end configuration of the Dell XPS13 laptop.

Software

Available now

  • drivers/patches for Hardware enablement
  • basic offering of key tools and utilities

Coming soon

  • Profile tool: a software management tool to go out to a github repository to pull down various developer profiles e.g. javascript, ruby, android.
  • Cloud tool: will allow developers to create “microclouds” on their laptops, simulating a proper, at-scale environment, and then deploy that environment seamlessly to the cloud.

Extra-credit reading

  • Press release: Dell Demonstrates Commitment to Open Source Software, Developer Communities
  • Dell Tech Center: Sputnik wiki
  • PC World — Dell’s Ubuntu‬ Laptop Program Enters Beta, ‘Blows Away’ Expectations
  • Initial thoughts on Project Sputnik from O’Reilly’s Mike Hendrickson
  • Transcript from last week’s Sputnik chat on Tech Center

Pau for now…


Announcing project Sputnik Beta program

July 2, 2012

Last week project Sputnik got an official presence on dell.com.  While the project is still a skunk works effort rather than a product, we are rapidly gaining traction within the company.

If you’re not familiar with project Sputnik, its a laptop pilot targeted at developers and based on Dell’s XPS13 ultrabook and Ubuntu 12.04LTS.

The new page points you to where you can buy an XPS13 (unfortunately still pre-loaded with Windows at this time), where you can get the image to load, where you can offer suggestions, read about people’s experiences and where you can sign up for a beta unit.

Be a Beta Cosmonaut

If you are interested in getting your hands on a project Sputnik beta unit we are now recruiting volunteers for the Sputnik Beta Cosmonaut program (and yes we know the original Sputnik was unmanned, we’re taking artistic license here).  A limited number of applicants will be selected to receive a discounted, beta version solution (Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook with Ubuntu 12.04LTS pre-loaded).

If selected, all we ask is that you use the system regularly and give us your honest feedback on the project Sputnik forum.  It will be interesting to see if we get five people applying to be cosmonauts or 5,000.  Stay tuned…

To apply, please fill out this form.

Project Sputnik forum and wiki

Along with a landing page on dell.com, we recently launched a project Sputnik presence on Dell TechCenter.  On TechCenter, you can find a Sputnik wiki as well as the forum I mentioned above to share experiences with Sputnik and file bugs.

BTW both Dell and Canonical will be at OSCON and one of the things we’ll be talking up is project Sputnik.  Stop by and say hi if you’re there.

Key links

Pau for now…


Sputnik update: Profile tool and touchpad

June 18, 2012

I’ve meant to blog more frequently around Sputnik but it’s been crazy busy marshalling resources within Dell for our little skunk works project.

We have captured a lot attention within the company and are trying to leverage that attention to help beef up our core team.  One of the areas outside the company we have gotten a great deal of support from is Canonical, the commercial sponsor behind Ubuntu.

Here are a couple of the areas we’ve been working on with Canonical:

The Touchpad

Probably the area we’ve gotten the most amount of inquiries into is the status of the driver being written for the touchpad to allow multi-touch support.  Last week Dell and Canonical received two code drops from the vendor and they are looking very good.  Its only a matter of time now before we have driver in the XPS enablement PPA.  Stay tuned.

Update June 21: the driver for the touchpad is now available!

The Profile tool

Over the last couple of weeks we had a series of calls with folks from Canonical to scope out the effort around the profile tool.

The basic idea around the tool is that instead of stuffing the system with every possible tool or app a developer could possibly want, we are keeping  the actual “stuff” on the install image  pretty basic.

Instead we are working with Canonical to put together a tool that can go out to a github repository and pull down various developer profiles e.g. Android, Ruby, Javascript…

After our conversations we decided to break the effort into two phases:

Phase I – “System Configuration”:

  • The first phase will focus on installing bundles of packages with a YAML-driven approach. This will allow developers to get installable components of the toolchains they need

Phase II – “User Configuration”:

  • The second phase is focused on automating the configuration of the developer’s toolchain and environment, using a model-driven automation tool like Chef, Puppet etc.
  • The idea would be to create an open community where developers can share these profiles, extend them, etc.
  • We are still figuring out the feasibility of this phase and gauging interest.

We’d be interested in any comments or thoughts you have around the profile tool, or anything else having to do with Sputnik.

I’m hoping to start providing more updates (keep you fingers crossed)

Extra-Credit reading:


Redmonk on Developers and Project Sputnik

May 8, 2012

Today at the Ubuntu Cloud Summit here in Oakland I grabbed sometime with Redmonk analyst Stephen O’Grady.  It was Stephen who originally brought up the idea of creating a Dell laptop running Ubuntu targeted at developers.

I talked to Stephen about how he would characterize today’s world of developers and what he feels project Sputnik needs to deliver on to be successful.

Updated March 22

Extra-credit reading

Pau for now…


Talking about Project Sputnik

May 8, 2012

Last Friday Cote and I took a break from the mad rush getting ready for today’s Sputnik announce and grabbed a conference room to record a short video.  Below we discuss the project, how it came about, what its goals are and where it could go from here.

-> Weigh in on Dell IdeaStorm: Project Sputnik

Extra-credit reading


Introducing Project Sputnik: Developer laptop

May 7, 2012

-> Update 2/18/2013: Sputnik 2 is here: Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition goes 1080p and lands in Europe

-> Update 11/29/2012: Sputnik has landed! Introducing the Dell XPS 13 Laptop, Developer Edition

Today I am very excited, I finally get to talk about project Sputnik!  In a nutshell, drumroll please, here it is:

Made possible by an internal innovation fund, project Sputnik is a 6 month effort to explore the possibility of creating an open source laptop targeted directly at developers.  It is based on Ubuntu 12.04 and Dell’s XPS13 laptop.

To put it in context, Sputnik is part of an effort by Dell to better understand and serve the needs of developers in Web companies.  We want to finds 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.

Why a developer laptop

When we first started setting up the web vertical to focus on companies who use the internet as their platform, we brought in Stephen O’Grady of Redmonk to learn as much as we could about the needs of developers.  One of the ideas that Stephen tossed out was a Dell laptop running Ubuntu, targeting developers.  We thought the idea was pretty cool and filed it away.

As we continued talking to customers and developers the topic of Ubuntu kept coming up and we came across a fair number of devs who were asking for a Dell laptop specifically based on it.  To my knowledge, no other OEM has yet made a system specifically targeted at devs and figured it was time to see what that might mean.  When the XPS13 launched we realized that we found the perfect platform to start with and when Dell’s incubation program was announced we knew I had the vehicle to get the effort kick started.

I should also add that Ubuntu was a natural choice not only because of its popularity in the Web world but Dell has quite a bit of experience with it.  In fact Dell has enabled and pre-installed out-of-the-factory Ubuntu on more computer models than any other OEM.

What’s Sputnik actually running?

The install image available for Sputnik contains

  1. drivers/patches for Hardware enablement
  2. a basic offering of key tools and utilities (see the complete list at the end of this entry)
  3. coming soon, a software management tool to go out to a github repository to pull down various developer profiles.

Hardware enablement

In putting together the project, the area that we focused on first was hardware enablement.  As Linux users are all too painfully aware, Linux drivers are not always available for various platforms.  We have been working hand in hand with Canonical, the commercial sponsor behind Ubuntu and identified three main areas on the XPS13:

  1. An issue with brightness
  2. The Wifi hotkey
  3. The touchpad and multi touch support

The first two have been resolved but the last one re the touchpad is still at large.  The issue is a bit of a pain particularly the lack of palm rejection support which can cause your cursor to jump by mistake.  We have contacted the vendor who makes the touchpad and they are sizing the effort to fix this and at the same time we are working with Canonical to find an interim solution.

Update June 21: the driver for the touchpad is now available!

Developer profile management

Hardware enablement is table stakes but where Sputnik starts to get interesting is when we talk about profiles.  No two developers are alike so instead of stuffing the system with every possible tool or app a developer could possibly want, we are trying a different approach.  As mentioned above, the actual “stuff” on the install image is pretty basic, instead we are working with a few developers to put together a tool that can go out to a github repository and pull down various developer profiles.  The first profiles we are targeting are Android, Ruby and JavaScript.

As a one of our alpha cosmonauts, Charles Lowell, explained (we have been working with three local developers in Austin, Charles, Mike Pav and Dustin Kirkland to put together our initial offering together.   And yes I know Sputnik was unmanned but its our project and we wanted to call the testers “cosmonauts.” )

What I’d like to see is not only a gold-standard configuration, but also a meta-system to manage your developer configuration… The devops revolution is about configuration as code. How cool would it be if my laptop configuration were code that I could store in a source repo somewhere?

After we build the management tool and some basic profiles to get the effort started, we are hoping that the community will take over and began creating profiles of their own.

Getting Feedback and UDS activities

The idea is to conduct project Sputnik out in the open.  There is a Storm Session that went live this morning on Dell Idea Storm for people to discuss the project and submit feedback, comments and ideas.  Later today here at the Ubuntu Developer Summit, Dustin, Mario Limonciello of Dell and I will be hosting a UDS session to discuss Sputnik.  Additionally at UDS there is a coding contest that has been kicked off.  The three people who write the best Juju charms will each get an XPS13.

The Vision: a Launchpad to the cloud

As mentioned at the start, Sputnik is currently a 6month project to investigate an Ubuntu laptop.  If successful, we have big plans for the effort. :)

When we initially pitched Sputnik to Ubuntu’s founder Mark Shuttleworth a couple months ago he really liked the idea.  In his eyes however, he saw something bigger.  Where it got really interesting for him was when this laptop was optimized for DevOps.  In this scenario we would have a common set of tools from client, to test, to production, thereby tying Sputnik via a common tool chain to a cloud backend powered by OpenStack.  Developers could create “micro clouds” locally and then push them to the cloud writ large.

We see a lot of potential in Sputnik to provide developers with a simple and powerful tool.  Only time will tell however so stay tuned to this blog, check out the Sputnik Storm session and weigh in on the project, what you’d like to see and how you think it can be made better.

Pau for now…

Extra-credit reading

Links and notes

Basic Install

== standard meta packages ==

ubuntu-desktop^

standard^

== scm ==

git

git-core

bzr

bzr-gtk

bzr-git

python-launchpadlib

== utilities ==

screen

byobu

tmux

meld

juju

charm-tools

charm-helper-sh

euca2ools

puppet

chef (available post install)

== editors ==

emacs

vim

vim-gnome

== browsers ==

chromium-browser

firefox

== common build tools/utilities & dependencies ==

fakeroot

build-essential

crash

kexec-tools

kvm

makedumpfile

kernel-wedge

fwts

devscripts

libncurses5

libncurses5-dev

libelf-dev

asciidoc

binutils-dev


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