Windows to become emulation layer atop Linux kernel, predicts Eric Raymond

Happening in plain sight with Proton, WSL and Edge-for-Linux, says open source advocate


Open-source software advocate Eric S Raymond has penned an argument that the triumph of Linux on the desktop is imminent because Microsoft will soon tire of Windows.

Raymond's argument, posted to his blog late last week, kicked off with some frank admiration for Windows Subsystem For Linux, the tech that lets Linux binaries run under Windows. He noted that Microsoft is making kernel contributions just to improve WSL.

Raymond is also an admirer of software called "Proton", an emulation layer that allows Windows games distributed by Steam to run under Linux.

Raymond rated Proton as "not perfect yet, but it's getting close".

His next item of note was Microsoft's imminent release of its Edge browser for Linux.

That collection of ingredients, he argued, will collide with the fact that Azure is now Microsoft's cash cow while the declining PC market means that over time Microsoft will be less inclined to invest in Windows 10.

"Looked at from the point of view of cold-blooded profit maximization, this means continuing Windows development is a thing Microsoft would prefer not to be doing," he wrote. "Instead, they'd do better putting more capital investment into Azure – which is widely rumored to be running more Linux instances than Windows these days."

Raymond next imagined he was a Microsoft strategist seeking maximum future profits and came to the following conclusion:

Microsoft Windows becomes a Proton-like emulation layer over a Linux kernel, with the layer getting thinner over time as more of the support lands in the mainline kernel sources. The economic motive is that Microsoft sheds an ever-larger fraction of its development costs as less and less has to be done in-house.

If you think this is fantasy, think again. The best evidence that it's already the plan is that Microsoft has already ported Edge to run under Linux. There is only one way that makes any sense, and that is as a trial run for freeing the rest of the Windows utility suite from depending on any emulation layer.

Over time, Raymond reckoned, Windows emulation would only be present to handle "games and other legacy third-party software". And eventually Microsoft will get so focused on Azure, and so uninterested in spending money on Windows, that it will ditch even the Windows emulation layer.

"Third-party software providers stop shipping Windows binaries in favor of ELF binaries with a pure Linux API … and Linux finally wins the desktop wars, not by displacing Windows but by co-opting it."

The end. ®

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