Last month Eric Raymond suggested Microsoft might be moving to a Linux kernel that emulates Windows. ZDNet contributing editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols argued such a move “makes perfect sense”, and open source advocate Jack Wallen even suggested Microsoft abandon Windows altogether for a new distro named Microsoft Linux.
It eventually drew the attention of Canonical’s engineering manager for Ubuntu on WSL, who published a blog post with his own personal thoughts. Its title? “No, Microsoft is not rebasing Windows to Linux.”
The NT kernel in Windows offers a degree of backward compatibility, long-term support, and driver availability that Linux is just now approaching. It would cost millions of dollars to replicate these in Linux. Microsoft has plenty of paying customers to continue supporting Windows as-is, some for decades. Windows is not a drain on Microsoft that would justify the expense of rebasing to Linux for savings, as Raymond has argued… It is unclear if the Windows user space could even be rebased from NT to the Linux kernel and maintain the compatibility that Windows is known for, specifically what enterprise clients with mission-critical applications are paying to get….
Microsoft has doubled down on Windows in recent years. Microsoft has invested in usability, new features, and performance improvements for Windows 10 that have paid off. These improvements, collaborations with OEMs, and the Surface helped revitalize a PC market that at one point looked in danger of falling to iPads and Chromebooks… Internal reorganizations in 2018 and 2020 show that the future of the Surface and Windows are now inextricably linked. Windows powers the Xbox and we are in a resurgence of mostly Windows-based PC gaming. Microsoft also has ideas for Windows 10X, the next operating system concept following Windows 10 (that I think we will get in gradual pieces), with future hardware like the Surface Neo in mind…
The much more interesting question is not whether Microsoft is planning to rebase Windows to Linux, but how far Windows will go on open source. We are already seeing components like Windows Terminal, PowerToys, and other Windows components either begin life as or go open source. The more logical and realistic goal here is a continued opening of Windows components and the Windows development process, even beyond the Insiders program, in a way that benefits other operating systems…
Raymond is correct in one key part of his blog. I do think the era of the desktop OS wars is ending. We are entering a new era where your high-end workstation will run multiple operating systems simultaneously, like runtimes, and not necessarily all locally. The choice will not really be Windows or Linux, it will be whether you boot Hyper-V or KVM first, and Windows and Ubuntu stacks will be tuned to run well on the other. Microsoft contributes patches to the Linux kernel to run Linux well on Hyper-V and tweaks Windows to play nicely on KVM. The best parts of Ubuntu will come to Windows and the best open source parts of Windows will come to Ubuntu, thanks to an increasing trend towards open source across Microsoft.
The key take-away though is that open source has won. And Raymond can be proud of helping to articulate the case for the open source development model when he did.
The post also explores “the reasons why I think this fantasy this keeps cropping up on Slashdot and Hacker News,” calling the idea “a long-held fantasy for open source and Linux advocates.”
But instead he concludes “Neither Windows nor Ubuntu are going anywhere. They are just going to keep getting better through open source.”