​MS-Linux? Lindows? Could Microsoft release a desktop Linux?

By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols for Linux and Open Source | December 13, 2018 -- 14:49 GMT (06:49 PST) | Topic: Windows 10

I used to say that Microsoft would release a Microsoft desktop Linux -- MS-Linux or Lindows -- when pigs fly. Lately, though, I've been hearing oinking from the sky. Here's why.

First, Microsoft has been embracing Linux and open-source for years now. I mean, on Azure, the top operating system is now -- drumroll please -- Linux. Microsoft now lets Linux companies use its patents for free. And the Redmond giant has already released its own Linux distro in Linux-based Azure Sphere.

Now, you might say, "You've been drinking too much cider, sjvn! Those are all enterprise and cloud moves." True, but remember Microsoft now enables you to run many Linux distros within Windows using Hyper-V and Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). In 2017, we were already seeing what I called the year of Linux on the Windows desktop.

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More recently Microsoft did something even more unthinkable to those who still believe Microsoft is stuck in the 90s. The company dumped Edge, its Windows 10 web browser, codebase for major-rival's Goolge open-source Chromium browser code.

Heck, next thing you know, Ed Bott will write about Ubuntu Linux!

So, would it really be that unthinkable for Microsoft to run out their own Linux distribution? I don't think so.

Consider Windows 10's Fall 2018 disastrous rollout. This release has had one problem after another. Some of the bugs are still with us -- good luck reconnecting to a valid network drive if it goes missing -- and who knows when they'll be fixed. And, as my colleague Catalin Cimpanu noted in the most recent Patch Tuesday, "For the fourth month in a row, Microsoft patches Windows zero-day used in the wild." Microsoft Windows quality assurance has been iffy, to be kind, for ages.

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Linux, on the other hand, despite scare stories, is as secure as houses. Linux is also rock-solid stable. Why not give Linux, which dominates all other computing markets, a try?

True, no Linux desktop, unless you count Chrome OS, has made much of a impression on the market. But that's not because of the technology. It's because in its previous incarnation as The Evil Empire, Microsoft stopped hardware vendors from offering other operating systems. Those days are history and Microsoft has shown itself more than willing to welcome Linux and open-source software.

Why do this? Because Microsoft still invests billions in developing Windows, while it brings less and less revenue to company. Remember when Microsoft claimed Windows 10 would have a billion users in a few years? Not happening. Microsoft could save some serious coin by making the Linux kernel the heart of its desktop operating system.

What about all those Windows programs? Sure, if everyone had to port their applications to Linux that would stop most ISVs in their tracks. But who says they need to port them?

Crossover and Wine have shown for decades you can translate Windows system calls into Linux's respective calls. True, Wine doesn't enable all Windows applications to run on Linux. But it does a good job. And that's even with Wine's developers not having access to the full story on Windows' APIs and system calls. Microsoft's software engineers, of course, have full access to Windows' internals.

In addition, for several years now, Microsoft's WSL developers have been working on mapping Linux API calls to Windows and vice-versa. A lot of the work needed for Windows apps to run without modification on Linux has already been done.

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In short, Windows developers won't have to worry about modifying their applications. Microsoft could, without too much trouble, make it possible for them to keep running on Linux without major changes.

With many applications, no change at all will be needed. For example, Office 365 now brings Microsoft more cash than MS-Office. With Microsoft doing all it can to get customers to move to cloud-based apps from shrink-wrapped programs, the underlying desktop operating system loses its importance.

So, by switching to Linux, or offering Lindows as an alternative to "Classic Windows," Microsoft could save Windows development money and create a more stable and secure desktop operating system. It sounds like a win to me. Let's see if Microsoft agrees with me in 2019/2020.

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