Microsoft turns Windows Subsystem for Linux into an app for Windows

WSL will still be baked in if you want it – but Redmond wants you to get it from the Store


Microsoft has revealed a new version of the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) – in the form of an app you acquire from the Microsoft Store. And the software giant will steer WSL users to this new version in future.

Turning WSL into an app may sound a little weird, given that the point of the software was to put Linux right in the heart of Windows so that penguinistas and developers didn't need to mess around with resource-munching virtual machines.

Microsoft's rationale for the change is that WSL and Windows are currently coupled: you can't upgrade the former without first updating the latter.

"Traditionally, WSL has been installed as an optional component inside of Windows," wrote Craig Loewen, a Microsoft program manager on the Windows Developer Platform. "The actual binaries that make up WSL's logic in that optional component are part of the Windows image and are serviced and updated as part of Windows itself."

Logically, then, decoupling WSL and Windows means Microsoft can update WSL more often – and so can you.

"So now once new features like GUI app support, GPU compute, and Linux file system drive mounting are developed, tested and ready for a release you will get access to it right away on your machine without needing to update your entire Windows OS, or going to Windows Insider preview builds," Loewen’s post explains.

To reinforce Microsoft's point, Loewen points out that the preview version of WSL-as-app has added the following features not available in baked-in WSL:

  • WSLg is now bundled as part of the WSL app.
  • New wsl.exe --mount features.
    • Add --mount --vhd to make mounting VHD files easier.
    • Implement filesystem detection for wsl --mount. This change implements filesystem type detection if no --type is specified when using wsl.exe --mount.
    • Add --name feature to wsl --mount. This change adds support for optionally naming a mountpoint when mounting a disk through WSL.
  • Updated Linux kernel to 5.10.60.1
  • Added progress indicator helper function used to show a Please Wait message with animated dots on the conversion process to show users that WSL is still running.
  • Switched wsl --install to not require the --distribution argument. This change switches wsl --install to not require the --distribution argument but maintains support to avoid breaking existing scripts.
  • Added wsl.exe --version command which displays relevant version information.

Loewen makes it plain that Microsoft will steer users to the WSL app.

"Our goals are to make WSL in the Microsoft Store the best way to install and use WSL … and in the long term we'd like to move WSL users to use the store version," his post states.

Unhelpfully, Loewen did not define "the long term". He did, however, commit to Microsoft continuing to support WSL "as we keep developing WSL in the Store".

In the video below, he also addresses some other matters including WSL1 distro compatibility (spoiler: it's limited) and whether it is possible to uninstall WSL the app (yes) and revert to baked-in WSL. ®

Youtube Video

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