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For the last decade, computer makers have tried and failed to market open source laptops as cheaper alternatives to Microsoft Windows-based computers. Now Dell is taking another crack at selling open source machines, by targeting in-house corporate software developers with laptops that run the Ubuntu Linux operating system.

Dell’s new Project Sputnik is designed to appeal to developers who tend to buy Windows-based laptops and customize them with open source operating systems and development tools. The opportunity to skip the customization process should be of interest to CIOs, because it will help them eliminate costs and speed up the development process.

It’s the second major open source deal in the last few weeks. In April, H-P announced it would offer some servers with the Ubuntu operating system.

Sputnik’s XPS13 computer will enable developers to write applications for the Android OS, Ruby and JavaScript programming languages, and push them to OpenStack cloud computing infrastructure software. Developers will have one common set of programming tools on their laptop to quickly bring applications online, Barton George, the director of Dell’s web vertical business, told CIO Journal. “The longer term vision is that we serve as a launch pad for cloud applications,” George said. Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu service provider Canonincal, supports Sputnik, a six-month project, according to George.

Analyst Charles King, of research firm Pund-IT, told CIO Journal that the developer audience is highly valuable to computer makers. “It’s like getting a line into the people who are buying Rolex watches and Lamborghinis,” King said. “From a CIO perspective, you get your hands on a machine out of a box that you don’t have to play around with.”

Once open source operating systems such as Ubuntu are popular among developers, CIOs may feel comfortable introducing them to sales, marketing and other personnel. “It’s this stealth approach, whereas in the past it was ‘let’s sell Linux to that average person on the street’ and it hasn’t been ready for that direct path,” George said.

Because Ubuntu is free–customers pay Canonical for support–CIOs also would save money they would normally spend buying Windows computers and paying Microsoft for licenses and supporting software. George declined to say what Dell will charge for an XPS13 laptop powered by Ubuntu. The current Windows version of the machine starts at $999.

Dell needs a boost to its PC sales, which have been weak of late. Researcher IDC said that while the worldwide PC market grew 2.3% in the first quarter, Dell’s PC market share fell 2.1% to 11.6%, trailing Lenovo at 13.4% and HP at 18%.


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