Linux 'glued' to Microsoft: Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL)

Microsoft loves Linux, yeah okay we know that bit.

Microsoft loves Linux, because it wants to create a wider transept of interoperability with its core stack, initially perhaps via its well-known personal computer operating system (you may have heard of Windows) and extended services and tools offerings such that all data workload roads ultimately lead to the Microsoft Azure cloud.

Well, that’s a bit strong, Microsoft has done a lot of admirable work in open source and anyway the above is far too long to fit on a t-shirt.

Regardless then, what Microsoft does next with specific Linux distribution (distro) interoperability should make for an interest murder-mystery suspense novel.

Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL)

Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) is a software offering that works as a compatibility layer between Windows itself and the binary executables of a given Linux distro – it is, a glue, essentially.

In terms of form and function, WSL provides a Linux-compatible kernel interface developed by Microsoft, which can then run a GNU-userland (the term userland or user space refers to all code that runs outside the operating system’s kernel) version of a Linux distro on top.

Which Linux distros can you run like this?

Microsoft started with Ubuntu way back in 2016… and now we can also run SuSE, Debian or Kali distros of Linux on top of Windows in the same way.

Fedora is not yet available, although Microsoft has stated openly that it is working to make it so.

As Peter Bright clarifies on Ars Technica, “Theoretically, anyone could take a distribution of their choice and package it for the [Microsoft] Store, but Microsoft says that it will only accept such packages from distribution owners.  The [WSL] tool is aimed at two groups: distribution owners (so they can produce a bundle to ship through the Microsoft Store) and developers (so they can create custom distributions and sideload them onto their development systems).”

Microsoft has also provided an open source tool called Microsoft WSL / DistroLauncher for users who want to build their own Linux package where a particular distribution is either a) not available yet or b) is available, but the user wants to apply a greater degree of customisation to it than comes as standard.

Will all these moves, machinations and monkey business ever lead us to a time when Windows itself is open sourced?

Some argue logically that, one day, it must be… but others argue that Windows inherently lacks the community drive at kernel level that ‘true’ open source distributions have been built with from the ground up.

It is, for now, more likely that Microsoft will continue to use a high degree of open source software to continue to develop Windows itself while also contributing weighty chunks of code back to the community – but the company will still stop short of fully open source Windows for the foreseeable future.

Disclosure: This story was driven by Peter Bright’s initial coverage as linked above.

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