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Ars Reviewer is Happily Bored With Dell's Linux Ultrabook 181

Posted by timothy
from the best-way-to-be-bored dept.
Ars Technica reviewer Lee Hutchinson says that Dell's Ubuntu-loaded 13" Ultrabook (the product of "Project Sputnik") is "functional," "polished," and (for a Linux laptop) remarkably unremarkable. "It just works," he says. Hutchinson points out that this is a sadly low bar, but nonetheless gives Dell great credit for surpassing it. He finds the Ultrabook's keyboard to be spongy, but has praise for most elements of the hardware itself, right down to (not everyone's favorite) the glossy screen.
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Ars Reviewer is Happily Bored With Dell's Linux Ultrabook

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  • by Gothmolly (148874) on Saturday April 20, 2013 @11:40AM (#43503877)

    "It feels like there is a tiny bit of input lag on the trackpad, which made grabbing Unity's razor-thin window edges an exercise in screaming frustration"

    This does not equate with "Just Works".

    • by egcagrac0 (1410377) on Saturday April 20, 2013 @11:45AM (#43503919)

      I think the problem here is the razor-thin window edges.

      All the UI's I've used with the thin window edges have been difficult for me to interact with, by mouse, trackpad, or touchpoint ("eraser-pointer"), because of the challenges of hitting a particular very small spot.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 20, 2013 @12:13PM (#43504079)

        Then try KDE, where you can adjust the thickness of the window edge for grabbing. About six thicknesses to fatten up or slim down.
        Yes, they buried the setting, but it's under "Workspace Appearance".

        • by manicb (1633645)

          Huh, did not know that.*Increases size*

        • The size of the UI receiving area for window resizing shouldn't be coupled to the pixel size of the actual border. That's stupid. Trade pixels of screen space as a hack to get easier to use UI. No. This is 2013. We should make UI that works -- Hover mouse over the edge of the screen frustratingly? Activate a window resize event then. It's not rocket science.

      • by kwark (512736) on Saturday April 20, 2013 @01:17PM (#43504493)

        What do you need window edges for? Setup you window manager to use a modifier (alt in my case) key to interact with the window itself, eg:
        alt-button1: move
        alt-button2: resize
        alt-button3: lower/raise window
        Beats trying to grab edges, especially with "focus follows mouse" and a high anti focus stealing setting for the wm.

        • alt-button1: move
          alt-button2: resize

          ... which are, in fact, the default bindings in Unity.

          I'm not sure how that Ars reviewer was picked to write TFA, but he seemed a bit dated in his ideas about Linux compatibility. Granted that I do my research on hardware before buying, but it's been a very long time since I've had any trouble using two-finger scrolling (with inertial scrolling), or getting wifi to work, or getting (for crying out loud!) sound to work. Those are issues from a decade ago; they shouldn't be problems now.

      • by frisket (149522)

        I think the problem here is the razor-thin window edges.

        The trouble is that the implementations of X seem to conflate the visible border of the window (possibly 1px wide) with the grabbable area that ought to cause the cursor to change to the "i can move this" double-arrow. That needs to be several pixels thick for most people to grab it. The designers of Unity and other windowing systems appear to place more emphasis on "looking pretty" than on "working well".

      • by Fnord666 (889225)

        touchpoint ("eraser-pointer")

        Also known as [xkcd.com]

      • I think the problem here is the razor-thin window edges.

        All the UI's I've used with the thin window edges have been difficult for me to interact with, by mouse, trackpad, or touchpoint ("eraser-pointer"), because of the challenges of hitting a particular very small spot.

        I too raged against this, even before Unity. The simple answer to please the UI design folks and the usability folks is to decouple the border interaction size from the actual pixel size of the window border. Just make an invisible region that is the clickable border, and it can be as big as needed. I'm no Ubuntu apologist, in fact I switched DEs but they fixed this somewhat in the new version of Unity. Even the scrolling bars have adopted that larger interactive layer and smaller visual appearance. How

    • by tortovroddle (1969948) on Saturday April 20, 2013 @11:57AM (#43503991)
      "Screaming frustration" in Unity means "Just Works".
    • by Arkiel (741871) on Saturday April 20, 2013 @12:16PM (#43504099) Journal
      Every single Ars Technica laptop review complains about the trackpad. No trackpad is sufficient. As a matter of fact, we should all consider the presence of glowing praise about a trackpad in a Ars Technica review a clear signal that they're all being held hostage by crazed gunmen and the authorities need to be informed.
      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        Every single Ars Technica laptop review complains about the trackpad. No trackpad is sufficient. As a matter of fact, we should all consider the presence of glowing praise about a trackpad in a Ars Technica review a clear signal that they're all being held hostage by crazed gunmen and the authorities need to be informed.

        Until you read a Mac laptop review. There it seems they forget to review the trackpad - about the only complaint I found was a news article way back in 2008. I don't think they have any revi

    • by Kenja (541830) on Saturday April 20, 2013 @12:22PM (#43504155)
      Also still 1,500$. I can't find that much money in the hardware, so where did it go?
      • by Kjella (173770)

        Probably in setting this whole thing up, they actually had developers write code and put it in a PPA and have it merged upstream, they apparently include a year of support with their own support staff that at least knows some Linux, they're trying for a few more value-adds but overall I think you're underestimating the overhead in doing a small run compared to selling millions of Windows machines. Also all the crapware they bundle with Windows puts the OS cost at ~$0, here you really get a no-crap standard

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Back in Feb I bought a Dell Vostro 2520 laptop w/ i3, 4GB, 500GB HD loaded preloaded with Ubuntu 12.04 for only $450 (including tax & shipping). I used $220 in spare change at a CoinStar machine to pay for half of it (no fees charged by CoinStar because Dell is one of their "Partners").

        I had trouble ordering it on their site because I couldn't use my CoinStar issued 'Gift Card' on a registered account (GCs are for consumer purchases and this was a "business" computer). I couldn't order it over the phone

        • You choose to ignore that you could have bought it the first way you mentioned BUT you felt the need to pay for half the laptop in coins, using a credit the first order process doesn't recognize.

          Be fair, I you had chosen to use one o two credit cards this would have been a trivial purchase.

      • It isn't expensive and I think it's in line with similar offerings from other manufacturers. If you know of any other ultrabook that sports similar specs (1080p screen, 256GB SSD are the specs that interest me) then please share as I avoid Dell like the plague.
    • The last update to Mac OSX did this too. Drove me crazy until I found a fix.

    • There's a "Unity MT Grab Handles" compiz plugin that can help. Not sure if it's enabled by default, but I'm fairly certain you need to give it a key binding to actually use it. From my install notes....

      $ sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager
      $ ccsm

      Find the "Unity MT Grab Handles" plugin and set:
      "Toggle Handles" binding to <Super>h

      Then you just press windows-key + h to make some nice large resizing handles appear. They should fade away automatically after a few seconds.

    • That's why Mac forced using just one corner for a half-dozen versions. Because trying mouse to a thin outline is just silly. It was silly they put it back now.

      Of course the next gen of UI needs to remove Windo Resizing... Because moving UI elements means I'm not doing whatever task I picked up the device for.

  • glossy screen (Score:5, Informative)

    by blackjackshellac (849713) on Saturday April 20, 2013 @11:42AM (#43503893)

    This is why I will (sadly) never buy one of these.

    • The eternal rift among users. Glossy, or matte; that is the question. I don't care for matt screens as they dull the contrast and bleed colors together. I can tune out the glare as it doesn't bother me much.

      • is that the matte wins in the long run. Shiny new object turn matte, and aging people's eyes can't tell the difference, and Ra's shine is for all practical purposes eternal.

        Long live the matte screen!

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Tweezak (871255)

        The problem I find is that with a laptop of any kind you often can't control the environment where you are using it and the glare can become a real issue. If I'm wearing a light colored shirt in a bright area the reflection in a glossy screen is horribly distracting. If I am using my work laptop instead with a matte screen I never even give it a thought.

      • Re:glossy screen (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Savage-Rabbit (308260) on Saturday April 20, 2013 @01:08PM (#43504423)

        The eternal rift among users. Glossy, or matte; that is the question. I don't care for matt screens as they dull the contrast and bleed colors together. I can tune out the glare as it doesn't bother me much.

        I used to think I cared, then I got a MacBook with a glass screen and joined the 90% of PC users who just don't care either way as long as the display has no stuck pixels.

      • Re:glossy screen (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Osgeld (1900440) on Saturday April 20, 2013 @03:16PM (#43505281)

        interesting, you complain about color sharness and contrast, but dont mind looking at a reflection of a light source that kills contrast and blurs the screen

        • It's usually a moot point as I ensure to position my laptop in such a way to have the source of light in front of me, and not behind. That, and I typically like working in moderate to low lighting environments anyways. But in the event I encounter some reflection, it usually becomes apparent with one eye and not both. I guess that's why I can tune it out. But I absolutely must have sharp contrast and vibrant colors being displayed.

          I can see that a matte screen offers a more practical and utilitarian option

    • by richlv (778496)

      same here. when looking for a laptop, "matte" screen is a mandatory thing (one of a few)

  • Too Expensive (Score:5, Informative)

    by Luthair (847766) on Saturday April 20, 2013 @11:43AM (#43503905)
    Nearly 1600 before tax and no user upgradable components? You'd think it was a macbook
    • Re:Too Expensive (Score:4, Informative)

      by BobCollins (986220) on Saturday April 20, 2013 @12:14PM (#43504085)

      Nearly 1600 before tax and no user upgradable components? You'd think it was a macbook

      Actually 50% more than the new MacBook Pro I bought last summer. The MBP has upgradable RAM, disk (SSD or spinning), and even the ability to swap out the optical drive for a second disk. And believe me, if Apple gets one thing right, it's that "it just works."

      • Yes but some of us do prefer to run Linux than OSX. Granted this laptop is too expensive. I'm going to be shopping for a laptop soon and frankly I'll probably be caught between this and another MacBook Air... sigh.
        • Yes but some of us do prefer to run Linux than OSX. Granted this laptop is too expensive. I'm going to be shopping for a laptop soon and frankly I'll probably be caught between this and another MacBook Air... sigh.

          So... why not just run Linux on the MacBook Air, if that's what you prefer?

          • Yes, that's what I will do if I buy an Air for work. It sure would be nice if the 11" Air had a decent resolution. I don't mind whatever it is for every day use, but it's not nearly enough real estate for development. My original comment probably came across wrong: my point is there aren't enough options, it seems.. or at least not enough options at a competitive price. It'd be nice to have the option of buying a thin laptop with decent resolution with perhaps less under the hood. Not all of us need a core
            • 11" is not enough real estate for development. Doesn't matter what resolution it is. I have a pair of 24" 1924x1200 monitors that I use for development and I find the real estate far more usable than the 1920x1200 15.6" laptop I had a few years ago.

              • Obviously, 11-13" is not ideal. But I'm not looking for ideal in a laptop. I'm looking for something I can take to {somewhere nice to work} for a few hours and get by. No laptop will be able to replace my desktop setup; at least not without several large displays. :) But I'd rather have a small laptop that kind of works that I will actually use than a large laptop that still kind of works that I don't want to lug around. :)
          • by Nerdfest (867930)

            Try the System76 laptops. The Gazelle is a very nice machine for the price, and I think all of their machines come with matte screens, with glossy being an option. The Bonobo is a 17" beast of a machine that is not particularly portable, but makes a great gaming or development machine. Both have 1440x1080 screens.

        • So now that somebody has delivered a product using a mainstream Linux Distro and ironed out all the hardware bugs... You don't want to REWARD THEM for their work?

          What a jerk! This is why "Linux" never took off... Because when there's finally something WORTH paying for people have to be cheap bastards.

          • Can't tell if you're serious or not... I'll bite, though. I'd love to reward them for their work if their work fit my needs/criteria, but it does not. The price tag is simply too steep. As stated earlier, if there were more options as to what sort of processing power the thing had, perhaps the price point would be more flexible but alas, there are not.

            What I want:

            • High resolution screen
            • Small and lightweight form factor, preferably 11-13" screen
            • Affordable (definitely sub $1000)
            • SSD storage (optional, does n
      • by jonnyj (1011131)

        Actually 50% more than the new MacBook Pro I bought last summer.

        The nearest equivalent Apple laptop is the 13" Macbook Air (disclaimer: I have one and it's very good). In the UK, the two machines are almost exactly same price and are effectively dimensionally identical too. But the Air has less RAM (4GB vs 8GB), a slower processor (i5 vs i7) and a lower resolution screen (1440x900 vs 1920x1080).

        I bought my Air to run Linux; I like OS X, but I much prefer Ubuntu. If I were buying today, I'd take the XPS over the Air. Both machines seem good but, for my use case, the

        • by Fnord666 (889225)

          I bought my [macbook] Air to run Linux;

          Any pointers to good articles on how to do this and have everything work?

        • by Arker (91948)

          The slower processor is probably a good thing, that i7 is too much for the battery.

          Both devices have non-removable batteries, however, so both are complete failures by my standards. And the Macbook doesnt even have an ethernet jack!

          That's a meta-fail.

      • You know, I ended up using a Macbook Pro because that is what the standard config was at work. Fine. I'm learned to adapt, even though Ubuntu is my preference. Overall, I'm pretty happy with it, but it isn't the perfect experience I was lead to believe it would be. I find I have to reboot more often than I did with my Ubuntu laptop. I miss my Home and End keys. Installing applications is confusing sometimes because you download the installer, you click on it, and it takes a few seconds to open. Excep

  • by Duncan J Murray (1678632) on Saturday April 20, 2013 @11:44AM (#43503915) Homepage

    for the first time from XP.

    It was a bit of an anti-climax and a slight disappointment at first. Nothing happened. No pop-ups appeared. No first-time guide. No helpful hints. No gnashing hard-drive activity. Just silence and waiting for my command.

    Since then I've come to appreciate this as the #1 reason for using linux - when you actually want to get something done, it just seems to get out the way. It's a shame that more recent distro versions seem to be moving away from this though.

    D

    • by chipschap (1444407) on Saturday April 20, 2013 @02:21PM (#43504943)

      Since then I've come to appreciate this as the #1 reason for using linux - when you actually want to get something done, it just seems to get out the way. It's a shame that more recent distro versions seem to be moving away from this though.

      Mint is pretty good in this regard; that's why I've switched from Ubuntu (and to avoid Unity of course).

      As to the original article, though: yes, the product costs way more than I can spend on a laptop... I would have to buy a cheaper laptop and install Linux on my own. I don't at all mind doing this, but it does take time and patience.

      The article's author saying that the average user will never be able to live with running Linux, though, strikes me as incorrect. Sure, installing and maintaining Linux may be out of reach, as would be doing all the tweaks necessary with sound cards, etc.

      But running it? The average Jane or Joe that mostly needs a browser and little else? I set up a Mint box for my wife; she has no idea she's using a Linux system and doesn't care, as long as she can do email and Facebook and that sort of thing. I know of many such examples.

      To be fair, a key thing is to have someone available to maintain the distribution. But there aren't virus issues and "safe browsing" is just about a given, which I think is A Very Big Deal for the typical user.

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Saturday April 20, 2013 @11:50AM (#43503945)

    "It works" and "it's not riddled with crappy 'trial' ware you can't easily get rid of" has become something worth mentioning when reviewing laptops.

  • by Sloppy (14984)

    I was prompted for my preferred language, then I had to agree to the EULA,

    WTF?

    • by Arker (91948)
      This is Ubuntu we are talking about. Anything that can be screwed up, they will screw up. So yeah, no surprise to hear they have a EULA.
    • by Patch86 (1465427)

      Unless something has changed since I looked into it last, Ubuntu doesn't have a EULA. It obviously has the GPL, which it may or may not prompt you to read and agree to. Other than that, some of the bundled proprietary software has EULAs, which it always prompts you to "agree to" when installing them- Flash, font packs, codecs, etc. If they're installed by default on this ultrabook, it's conceivable that you would be required to view the EULA on first run.

  • So? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by markdavis (642305) on Saturday April 20, 2013 @12:00PM (#43504015)

    Well, my new Lenovo Twist Thinkpad Ultrabook running Fedora 18 also "just works" (including the touch screen) and didn't require any special "project" to accomplish.

    We have heard this line from Dell before. I trust them about as far as I could throw them. Most potential Linux customers don't need a preinstalled Linux laptop from these companies or even a special support division. ESPECIALLY if they plan to charge *MORE* than for their MS-Windows model. For one, many customers won't want Dell's choice of Linux nor the way it was installed.

    What we need is commitment from the vendor that the hardware is not Linux hostile and they won't try to avoid their warranty obligation using Linux as an excuse. Even better, how about a nice support page describing the hardware in detail and the names of the Linux drivers and in what kernel for each component and some install tips. None of that is expensive or complex.

    • by donaldm (919619)

      What we need is commitment from the vendor that the hardware is not Linux hostile and they won't try to avoid their warranty obligation using Linux as an excuse

      Having worked for HP I knew that all their x86 (64 and 32 bit) machines could run Linux although they don't actually wave the flag about it and when I had an overheating problem there was no issue with getting the machine repaired under warranty even with Fedora on it. I actually have two HP laptops which I own, one which is about 5 years old which I use for testing and the other (HP dv7 just over two years old) which I use for personal and corporate use and both run Fedora 18 which "just works" even though

    • Of course it's sort of boring. Having broken drivers, now that's exciting! You'd really hope that Dell would ship a machine where that doesn't happen.

      And most people in the market for a Linux laptop have been running Linux long enough that they expect the operating system to let them do real work.

  • All notebooks (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Murdoch5 (1563847) on Saturday April 20, 2013 @12:16PM (#43504105)
    There is one thing all Ultrabooks, notebooks and netbooks don't have and that is a good keyboard. I have yet to hear of a *book with a mechanical keyboard.
    • by PRMan (959735)
      I LOVE the keyboard on my Asus Zenbook. You'll see complaining online, but that's only because I had to open it up and tape the connector better after it shook loose (which was as simple as removing a few tiny Philips screws). But as far as actually typing, I can fly on this thing. No mushy keys here. This thing has a low key travel but a high feedback that makes it obvious when you have pressed the key.
      • by swilly (24960)

        It depends on the Zenbook. The earlier ones had bad keyboards and even worse trackpads. Apparently, ASUS was embarrassed enough by the reviews that they made a real effort on later models. I have a UX31A and it is just awesome. The backlit keyboard and trackpad are roughly equal in quality to a Macbook Air (which means they're better than everything else I've used) and the display is a wonderful 1080p IPS display with a matte finish that is the nicest 13" display I've ever seen. Throw in an i7 processo

    • by amiga3D (567632)

      The keyboard on the business class Dells used to be good. I have an old D630 that has an excellent keyboard. Trackpads are another matter. I find the apple laptops have pretty good ones but nothing in the "peecee" world seems to match up. I end up using a usb mouse instead.

      • by armanox (826486)

        I have to agree with that - I loved the keyboards on my Latitude D610 and C400, and on Inspiron 7500, 8000, and 8100.

    • by Nemyst (1383049)
      You'd have a hard time fitting mechanical switches in the very small profile of a notebook. The added weight would also be very significant. My mechanical keyboard weights a good few pounds all by itself!
    • by Nimey (114278)

      Sadly, mechanical switches are too heavy and take up too much room to be practical in a laptop.

      • by Murdoch5 (1563847)
        I think it's a great area to get into, well I know right now they are bulky, if someone could invent low profile switches that would be awesome.
    • by arth1 (260657)

      Or one without a Microsoft Windows logo on it, and the control key placed where it belongs.

      The Windows logo key on this laptop betrays it as being a Windows laptop they've just put Ubuntu on. Not a laptop with components chosen to work well with Linux.

  • by Kimomaru (2579489) on Saturday April 20, 2013 @01:04PM (#43504395)
    Dell makes some sweet laptops for Ubuntu and this new model seems to continue that tradition. I use the small form factor Latitude E6320 for work and play (with Ubuntu's 13.04 beta) and I'm happier than a pig in mud. If you're looking to move to a fully functional GNU/Linux distribution on a laptop or desktop, I must say that Canonical seems to have their act together. Just remember to run "sudo apt-get remove unity-lens-shopping". Nasty stuff.
  • by dargaud (518470) <slashdot2@gOOOda ... inus threevowels> on Saturday April 20, 2013 @01:10PM (#43504439) Homepage
    Last week I was looking for a Linux ultrabook after my 8 year old one died (wasn't called that back then but I digress). I spent 2 evenings shopping on various sites and I was sure there were some at Dell because we buy Linux laptops from them at work. After failing to find them on their site, I called them up. The answer: no, we don't make Linux laptops. Well, fuck your lousy customer service, you just lost a sale.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 20, 2013 @01:26PM (#43504555)

    Dell's UK site [dell.co.uk] for the laptop says "Windows 7 or Windows 8 – Choose the operating system that suits you".

    • by arth1 (260657)

      Choose the operating system that suits you"

      Great, that would be UNICOS/mp!

      Can I get it in red too?

  • If a potential user can't manage to install the Linux of their choice onto pretty much any laptop,
    they're going to be pretty disappointed trying to actually *run* Linux, even if it's preinstalled.

    I've had no problems running Fedora on my Samsung UB.

  • I find it interesting that they went to all the trouble of making it 'just work', and promoting it as a Linux laptop, yet it still has a Microsoft Windows logo on the keyboard. Fail.
    • Don't you think the laptop is expensive enough? Making a custom batch would add a premium for no particularly good reason.

  • by Hadlock (143607) on Saturday April 20, 2013 @02:28PM (#43504987) Homepage Journal

    and the laptop's bottom surface is coated in soft checkerboard patterned plastic

    Probably one of the more interesting parts of the chassis as a whole is described as plastic, rather than factory made carbon fiber parts. This piece adds a lot of rigidity, strength and shock absorption (if/when dropped on the corner) without adding much weight, and yet he glosses right over it. Resin infused woven carbon fiber is a wonderful piece of modern material science and it's completely ignored. Dell should be praised for pushing materials like this in to consumer products that cost less than $2000.

    • by T-Bone-T (1048702)

      I researched it so I could laugh at you for falling for the carbon fiber look but quickly discovered it is in fact actual carbon fiber. I did not expect that. That is indeed a very good thing.

  • is a good old 16:10 screen at classic 15" size.

    Don't need no retinas, give me my 1440x900 or 1680x1050. Bonus points for IPS.

    Doesn't have to be razer thin or feather light, just around 2kg. I don't need 8 gigs or 8 cores either. I'd rather have the integrated GPU too. I don't crave an SSD. Don't need no fingerprint reader, 1080p webcam or logo-laden speakers. Keep the internals cheap I just want to pay for a decent screen.

    why is this niche impossible to fill ?
  • It's called a Macbook Air.

    If you don't like OSX, Linux installs just fine.

  • "Linux is not yet "ready for the desktop [arstechnica.com]," and I'm doubtful it will ever be--at least not in the sense that an average person could use it full-time without any assistance. I've struggled before with using Linux as my full-time operating environment both at work and at home. I did it for years at work, but it was never quite as easy as I wanted it to be."

    I disagree, it's no more complicated than installing Windows, how many people have to install an OS on their brand new computer?

    I've been Windows fre

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