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Should the next version of Windows run a Linux core?

September 21, 2019Will Leffert

I recently read an interesting article that posited Windows 11 may run a Linux kernel.

If someone had said that to me 5 years ago, I would've laughed in their face and told them to keep dreaming. Why would Microsoft ditch their investment in the NT kernel for Linux?

Now, however, I'm thinking there is a chance.

When Mac OS made the switch to a BSD kernel, I was surprised, but not THAT surprised. Still, I didn't care too much. At that time I wasn't really a Mac user; I ran Windows for gaming & design, Linux for development, and occasionally FreeBSD for fun and servers.

Eventually, I had to embrace Mac OSX when working in the newspaper industry. I still don't own a Mac myself, and honestly, I don't plan to. There is no need. Everything I want to do can be done with my current setup on Windows, and if not, I also have a Debian server, and just loaded my slightly older laptop with Ubuntu since it wasn't going to get used as another Windows machine.

Plus, I don't want to buy new licenses for some of my software I swear by on Windows.

That's actually an interesting thing to consider; while I'd love a Linux kernel for Windows, what are they going to do about compatibility?

When Mac OSX made it's debut, it basically screwed a bunch of people, requiring them to buy all new software. The biggest difference in that situation, however, was the change from the proprietary PPC architecture to the 32/64 bit arch the rest of the world used.

Microsoft won't have to worry about that, but software compatibility is still something to consider, especially in the business environment.

Software like Wine allows you to run some Windows apps in Linux; sometimes it runs well, but the more niche the software, the more likely you're going to have issues.

The best bet would be for Windows to reverse it's current relationship with Linux; instead of using WSL as a Linux compatibility layer, it should utilize an NT kernel subsystem to help run legacy software while vendors make the transition to the new kernel. Hell, it would probably be easier to do than the current WSL configuration, just because MS has such intimate familiarity with their kernel and source. I mean, I can still run ancient Windows apps on Windows 10 with no issues. Hell, I actually test-ran CuteFTP (an ancient W9x era FTP program) on Windows 10, and it still worked fine.

Compared to getting Linux apps to run on Windows, I feel like MS would have an easier time getting Windows apps to run on Linux.

Still, I'm not getting my hopes up. A massive corporation like Microsoft doesn't just make a change like that. The structure of their operations would make such a transition exceptionally painful.

Not to mention the pains of large-scale change that MS has always encountered. Look at releases like Windows ME, Vista, and 8, and you'll get what I'm talking about. Hell, Windows 10 is still having maintenance issues, and I personally feel like it's one of the better releases by MS (not as good as Windows 7, but a great leap forward).

One can dream, still, and have it seem a little more plausible than it would've been in the past.