Loading the Dell XPS 13 with Ubuntu

What follows is a step-by-step look at installing Ubuntu on a new Dell laptop. If that’s not your bag, check out some other posts listed on my About page. 

I purchased the base model XPS 13 from the Dell website and paid the $25.00 for next business day shipping. It was worth it. I ordered the laptop on the 4th of July, an American holiday and it arrived at my door on the 6th. Fantastic.

In the day and a half prior to its arrival, I downloaded the 64 bit version of Ubuntu 12.04 LTS and used the Pen Drive Linux’s Windows USB creator program as suggested by this page on the Ubuntu website. This information was simple to follow and resulted in a USB stick that was ready to install Linux.

When I unboxed the laptop, it was fully charged. As a precaution, I plugged it into the wall charger for the duration of the install. I then plugged in the USB stick to the Left side USB 2.0 socket. This little tidbit was gleaned from a forum on the Ubuntu site. Don’t use the right hand side’s USB 3.0 for booting.

I then turned on the laptop, and pressed down on F2. This brought up the firmware boot loader. I changed it to boot from the USB stick. Otherwise, it would have booted into Windows. It worked flawlessly on reboot. The Ubuntu installer came up and I started the installation. It was fast, both due to the speedy processor and it being 64 bit. Part of the installation was to set the WiFi connection. Easy and it worked perfectly. Before rebooting into Ubuntu, be sure to change the boot loader back to boot from the Hard Drive.

After I rebooted, I started the updates and waited for several hundred packages to download and install. This also went flawlessly and was super fast. The final step was to install the special XPS fixes that Ubuntu and Dell developed as part of their Sputnik project. This also was super easy and went flawlessly. After the reboot, the computer was working perfectly including the track pad. (LINK UPDATED: 13 SEP 2012) Here is the forum post that tells you how to use the PPA’s from Kamal Mustafa Canonical that let the track pad work. The install went off without a hitch and I never had to see Windows. ;-)

I’ll have more to say about the laptop itself and how well it works with Ubuntu in future posts. My initial impression is pretty positive. I like how small it is and I love how fast Ubuntu is on the machine.

Laptop Decision

I’m going forward with purchasing the Dell XPS 13. My Macbook is dying and I leave for vacation next week. I plan on loading the special version of Ubuntu that the Dell project Sputnik has created. My reasoning for this is that they have worked closely with Ubuntu and the hardware manufacturers to guarantee that Linux works with every component of this laptop.

There might be better ultrabook laptops on the market, but none of their OEMs are actively supporting Linux in any meaningful way. I’d have to settle for less than usable components if I put Linux on one of them. I prefer to have my Linux ultrabook actually work with Linux. There are OEMs that make Linux specific laptops, but none of them make a thin, light weight and powerful laptop that doesn’t look like a brick. The XPS is many things, but ugly is not one of them.

This will be my first Dell computer. I’m already dreading the looks I’ll get on the HP campus but you know, HP is not supporting Linux on their ultrabooks. If they were, I’d be getting an Spectre XT laptop. I think it’s important to support venders that support Open Source and in particular, Linux. Without putting my money where my mouth is I can’t really call myself an advocate of Open Source. Right now, Dell is being a responsible vendor, so they get my money and my support.


Maybe in a few years time when this new XPS 13 is ready to be replaced, more vendors will be supporting Linux and I’ll try another vendor’s laptop. But until then, I’m getting a Dell. I’ll be documenting my adventures with this laptop here on the blog. So if you find yourself curious about how my experience goes, do come back and find out.

(I work for a contractor at HP Boise. I do not work for HP.)

Linux Laptop Search

My current writing laptop is an old, first run Intel MacBook. The track pad button is dying and so is the screen. I don’t have very long to search for and replace it with a new laptop. Luckily, I’ve started writing my files to Dropbox; so I shouldn’t lose any data when the HDD crashes.

My search for a replacement laptop has been on for many months now. I keep going back and forth between a MacBook Air and a Windows laptop that I can wipe and run Linux on. The only viable reason for me to go with the MacBook is that I really love using Scrivener. Linux support for that application is pretty much non-existent. I’ve never been an Apple fan and my dislike of Microsoft is legendary. Meanwhile, nothing has given me more pure joy in the past ten years than using Linux.

This weekend I ran across an interesting article while Googling for Linux compatible ultrabooks. Apparently Dell has started a black ops project (now in the white world) with the objective of getting Linux developers to use their laptops, specifically the new XPS 13 ultrabook. The project is known as Sputnik and it involves hardware manufacturers and of course Canonical, who make Ubuntu Linux. You can follow the blog of Barton George the Sputnik leader. Here is a short interview with Barton.

It’s a little odd that they picked an ultrabook to showcase as a developer platform, I think future versions of Sputnik will run on more robust laptops. I love that they did start on the XPS 13, because that’s the type of laptop I was looking to purchase. It’s good to know that Ubuntu 12.04, or at least their image of it, works fine with all the hardware on that laptop. Including the touch pad as of a week ago.

I still have not made up my mind, but as of today, I’m leaning heavily towards the Dell XPS 13 for my next writing laptop. You can check out reviews of this laptop everywhere, but two of the best are here and here.

As for not being able to use Scrivener, well you know, life existed before that program. I don’t really need the hand holding it offers writers. Let’s face it, I use Linux. I’m not going to whimper about much when it comes to software. I’ll probably use a combination of Focus Writer, Open Office and Sigil to get the job done. At this point, I’m really looking forward to using Linux full time again.

You must create a USB boot disc with the Sputnik ISO. Here is a program to assist with that. Also, Ubuntu has a forum dedicated to Dell installations. The later entries have some information about the Sputnik ISO.