You may have heard about a software named “Wine”, which is a program designed to run Windows applications & games on Linux and other Unix-like operating systems. Wine is quite marvelous because it helps Linux users run their Windows programs which they couldn’t find good alternatives to on Linux. It has been there for more than 20 years now.
Now, what’s big in today’s news is that Microsoft is building something like Wine, but this time, it is designed to run Linux apps on Windows 10 rather than the other way around.
WSL (Windows Subsystem for Linux) is an embedded Linux system inside Windows 10 that allows users to run their favorite Linux distribution, but from inside Windows. It is not a virtual machine nor a Docker container, but instead, it is a compatibility layer designed to run Linux binaries natively on Windows 10.
WSL has been around for many years and many developers have been using it for building Linux applications via command line tools from inside Windows 10. Which is better for them than launching a VM or dual-booting, because it saves time and resources.
The actual news today is that the Windows 10 team was finally able to run graphical programs of Linux on Windows 10; Nautilus, Gedit and GIMP for example can now run natively on Windows 10 from inside WSL2. A demonstration for this is in the following tweet from a Microsoft developer:
As Craig explained in the tweet replies, the way this work is via launching a Wayland compositor on WSL, and then connecting it through an RDP connection to the Windows 10 system itself; Hence, graphical Linux applications can work through that connection.
The Wayland compositor is a custom one built by Windows developers for WSL, and it is launched automatically whenever a user wants to open a graphical application; Hence, the user will just have to launch the program without doing any further installations or modifications from his/her side.
When Will It Be Completely Ready?
Much more work is needed to finish polishing the new feature.
Both sound and USB detection for example do not work at the moment in the graphical applications ran through this method. There also seem to be some work that needs to be done to run more complex applications such as the ones which depend on libraries from the KDE desktop environment and similar.
Some sharpening for how the GUI applications look (Borders, theme, look… etc) is also needed before the feature can be considered complete.
No specific date is given so far for when the development will be finished. However, Microsoft said that it is expected to land in the Windows Insiders program “in the next few months”.
If you are interested in more deep technical details on how Microsoft is planning to support Wayland and Xorg applications inside WSL2, then you may view this conference presentation which was released just 10 days ago:
Will This Affect Linux Marketshare?
It is definitely a nice feature to Windows users and developers who weren’t planning to use Linux in the first place, but are using it forcefully to make sure their applications can work on it.
Still, it is quite unlikely that it affects Linux marketshare; A Linux user is not a Linux user because he/she are just hooked to one or two graphical applications that can only run on Linux. Instead, most – if not all – users are there for reasons related to performance, security, privacy and open source features in general.
It is unlikely that the average Joe will detach his Ubuntu 20.04 installation for example just because Linux GUI apps can now run on Windows 10. Linux provides more features to the user than just the apps available on it, mainly the relaxed updates methodology and being completely ad-free/data-collection-free.
It would be interesting to see how far Microsoft can go in supporting graphical Linux programs on Windows 10 through WSL2. It is also more interesting to know that they are depending on a Wayland compositor to provide the feature rather than an Xorg connection at the moment, making this technology more bleeding-edge than ever.
For more than 20 years, Linux users enjoyed being able to run Windows apps on Linux through Wine, but now Microsoft is flipping the table back again.
If you have any thoughts or ideas about the matter, or how you may use the newly developed feature for your own usage, then we would love to see you in the comments section below.