Microsoft freshens up its in-house container Linux, CBL-Mariner

Homespun companion Linux system distro gets an update, but stays small – and 1.0

Microsoft has released the March-2022 update for CBL-Mariner, but the version number hasn't budged from 1.0.

Yes, the Windows giant has had its own Linux distro since September 2020, but don't get too excited. It's very small, very minimalist and overall not very exciting – which is of course just what you want from something to host your cloudy containers. Some seven months on from the first update, this one fixes a bunch of security holes and upgrades a few components but doesn't add much new functionality.

One change from last year is that there is an ISO file available now, so you can install it yourself with much less fuss. The GitHub README has some more info, or you can grab the ISO directly. At 720MB, it's quite small, and installs in a minute or less.

Slightly oddly, it's not one of the supported options in Windows Services for Linux, but you can enable Hyper-V and install it in that.

CBL-Mariner doesn't come with a graphical desktop and isn't really intended as a general-purpose distro. At one point, it seemed to be the basis of Microsoft's WSLg – the additional tool that added support for graphical apps to Windows Services for Linux. Now, though, Microsoft's instructions on GitHub suggest using Ubuntu for this.

We also found suggestions that the magic incantation wsl --system would install CBL-Mariner into WSL2, but at least on current Windows 11 Pro, this no longer works.

The concept of extremely minimalist distros which focus purely on hosting containers has been growing in popularity for some time, and CBL-Mariner is far from the only one of its kind. Intel's "Clear containers" project in time led to Intel Clear Linux, which is now a standalone distro of its own.

If you run Docker on top of Windows, macOS, or indeed anything but Linux, then you may unwittingly be using Alpine Linux.

The Reg FOSS desk recently had an experimental bash at the most recent version, Alpine 3.15 and it's substantially easier to get it up and running than it was a couple of years ago.

Linux blogger Drew DeVault described Alpine as "the only Linux that fits in my head" in a post – mirrored here – that's now only on the Gemini platform.

In a world of ever-increasing complexity, tiny distros that are easy to understand sound good to us. ®

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