A developer has different priorities than a general user when selecting a laptop, especially for work. Right now IMHO the most exiting option is the Dell m3800 in developer edition trim. Here is a picture of my new m3800 in developer edition trim at the coffee shop!
For the last several years I’ve had a MacBook Pro as my primary workstation and like most recent Apple products, it is quite polished. The main issue is that I generally don’t write software designed to run on OS X. I write software designed to run on Linux. A bunch of options like Vagrant and more recently Docker have cropped up to help provide a Linux environment on OS X. And of course there is always the option of simply running a plain old virtual machine.
These solutions are fine and work well for many things, but one place they fall short is debugging. Does anyone like using a remote debugger? They are better now than ever, but the experience still isn’t great and that might push a developer toward using Linux as their primary desktop OS rather than something like OS X.
I probably don’t need to mention the host of other reasons that Linux makes a nice desktop OS but the other main issue for me is that as nice as MacPorts and Homebrew are, they really don’t compare to the package managers available in Linux.
As much as I would like to think that the good folks at Dell are working on providing machines like the m3800 with Linux pre-installed because they just love developers so much, I have to think that the real reason the suits green-lighted the Sputnik program is because they smell blood in the water due to Apple’s tendency to move OS X closer and closer to the idiot proof experience provided in iOS. With each new release, OS X has added behaviors clearly targeted at getting iOS users to buy a Mac.
That’s not a bad business decision on Apple’s part, but improvements that power users would like seem to be ignored. There are basic things missing from the OS X experience like window management because the average OS X user doesn’t have multiple large format external displays on their desk. Additionally Apple doesn’t seem to trust outside developers with reasonable access to the bug reporting system. Let’s not kid ourselves, Darwin is not really an open-source project. And with basic features like Window management and package management missing from OS X, developers often look to Linux as an alternative.
That’s what makes the Sputnik project at Dell so exciting to me. Linux has always suffered from a rough user experience on laptops because the integration work is not trivial to get a desktop environment running well, with reasonable battery life, and working track-pad drivers. Let’s not even get started on suspend/resume functionality or getting the graphics stack working properly.
The m3800 experience is not like that. It’s not rough at all. It’s not the padded room experience like OS X, but it’s very nice. The experience with the m3800 is the experience I hoped I would have the last time I tried to install Linux on my MacBook Pro.
My only suggestion to Dell is to make sure enough resources are allocated to maintain and improve the user experience with Linux. With the business support structure already in place it’s easy to imagine 75 of these m3800 laptops provisioned for our engineering group. The m3800 developer edition does not need to be less expensive than the Windows version of the same laptop. I would gladly pay the extra $100 for the computer without the windows license if that extra money could be reinvested into the Sputnik Project.
If the developer edition laptops run a higher profit margin for Dell that would hopefully provide a good incentive for them to produce the very best laptop for running Linux. Who knows they might even design laptops from the ground up to run Linux rather than just making sure it runs properly on the most suitable variants of the machines designed to run Windows. I know not everyone may agree with that, but if your reasons for using Linux are strictly financial, your priorities are different than mine.
Anyway, kudos to Dell for a great job bringing this product to market!