Dell may be rethinking its consumer project strategy, but that's allowing the company to explore some new possibilities: it has announced a six-month pilot program aimed at creating a laptop suited specifically for the needs of web and mobile developers. Starting with Dell's XPS 13 ultrabook — we thought the computer had several features going for it when we reviewed it earlier this year — Project Sputnik then adds Ubuntu 12.04 along with a set of general developer tools. Participants can then choose from several specialized software profiles to aid them in their workflow; Ruby, Android, and JavaScript development are the initial targets. Dell will then be soliciting feedback from testers via Idea Storm in order to determine what specs, software, and usability requirements developers would need to make such a product successful in the marketplace.

Dell is quick to note that there is not a commercial product yet, and that this is simply an exploratory project (there are in fact known issues with trackpad functionality at the moment which the company is working to address). Sputnik units will first be going out to "key influencers," but should the six-month trial prove successful, Dell foresees adding a beefier machine to the Sputnik lineup, and eventually weaving in heavy cloud integration to create an all-in-one testing and deployment platform. It's an intriguing business play by Dell, and we'll be keeping a close eye on Project Sputnik to see how users respond to the devices and how the test evolves.