What's in HP's sack? Pre-built Ubuntu machines for the little data scientists in your life

Certain ZBook Studio G7 and Book Create G7 models ready to get number crunching out of the box

Christmas might have come early for data scientists and analysts as HP is to start selling a selection of its laptops pre-installed with Ubuntu 20.04 and everything you need to crunch numbers and build AI models.

The snappily named Z by HP Data Science Software preload will ship select ZBook Studio G7 workstations and Book Create G7 notebooks with a highly customised version of the latest Ubuntu LTS spin. This includes out-of-the-box GPU support, as well as a smorgasbord of pre-installed libraries, developer tools, and native support for the three major cloud platforms – AWS, Google Cloud, and Azure.

On the machine learning front, Z by HP touts support for Keras, Tensorflow, PyTorch, XGBoost, and Scikit-learn. Also included is the Rapids data science library, Git, Microsoft Visual Studio Code, PyCharm, and Docker.

These are things you can, for the most part, install with a single "apt-get" command and a few hours of configuration. HP is betting there's demand for machines that spare the inconvenience, and will allow them to start working from the get go.

"For the data scientist, preloaded software tools mean they can be training data models in minutes after booting their PC, instead of spending days finding and installing all the required tools," said the PC maker.

HP added that it "manages the software packages by testing and confirming key dependencies when delivering future updates. This represents a significant time-saver for the end-user, ultimately allowing data scientists to focus valuable time on their data science workflows."

The US business isn't close to being the first major vendor to ship a workstation-class computer pre-loaded with Linux.

In 2012, Dell began selling its XPS laptops with Ubuntu pre-installed to cater to developer demand. It had previously toyed with the idea of pre-installed Linux, and in 2007 introduced three consumer laptops running Ubuntu, only to swiftly change its mind after limited success.

This second stab proved more popular as it targeted the demographic most likely to be comfortable with the command line, and less distracted by frivolities like gaming. In 2017, Dell claimed it had sold "tens of millions" of these Linux-powered Project Sputnik machines. It has since expanded the number of machines that are configurable with Linux, encompassing its XPS, Precision, and Precision Tower lineups. It has also added RHEL support on certain models.

Lenovo's flirtations with Linux stretch back further. In 2008, it offered Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) as a pre-configuration option on its ThinkPad T61 and R61 notebooks. This was short-lived, and within a year Lenovo changed its mind.

Fortunately, it has since seen the error of its ways. Earlier this year, it announced Linux as an option across all its ThinkPad and ThinkStation machines by the end of 2021. This followed an earlier announcement in April, where Fedora Linux would come as an option on certain developer-oriented computers.

And let's not forget the other smaller Linux vendors that actively target the hefty developer pound; from Purism and System76 in the US, to Entroware in Blighty.

HP differs from these vendors by honing in on another target: data scientists and analysts. For comparison, these other vendors have largely taken a broader approach, and have avoided specialising in one particular area. But is the promise of an out-of-the-box development environment enough to tempt data science professionals?

Tempted punters can get their hands on a Z by HP machine at the end of December, with more models expected to be supported by the end of 2021. ®

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