Microsoft gives unexpected tutorial on how to install Linux

You may need it – Windows 10 is no longer a free upgrade

Microsoft has published guidance on how to download and install Linux. In other news, Hell freezes over and pigs fly south to their winter feeding grounds.

The Seattle-area proprietary OS vendor has published a helpful guide entitled "How to download and install Linux," inspiring reactions from incredulity to amusement.

In the humble opinion of The Reg FOSS Desk, it really isn't bad at all. Microsoft suggests four alternative installation methods: using Windows Subsystem for Linux 2, using a local VM, using a cloud VM, or on bare metal. It almost feels cruel to criticize it, but it seems that this really amounts to two methods. WSL version 2 is a VM. It's right there in the screenshots, where it says:

Installing: Virtual Machine Platform
Virtual Machine Platform has been installed.

So the choices boil down to either on the metal, or in a VM. That leaves only the question of what kind of VM: the built-in one, an add-on VM, or a cloud VM.

Perhaps the subtext of the article is something more subtle. Could it be a tacit admission that you might need a free-of-charge OS for your PC? The Windows 10 upgrade program that began back in 2015 was meant to end a year later. In fact, it didn't. We described a documented workaround in 2016, but the free upgrades continued to work, even in 2020. Which? magazine reported it was still working in July 2023.

Reportedly, as of September, this is – at long last – no longer true, and the free upgrades from Windows 7, 8.0 and 8.1 no longer work.

So if you were putting it off but still hoping for a free copy – perhaps for an unsupported Macintosh, say – it may now be too late. Linux may be your best route forwards. Perhaps recommending Chrome OS Flex as a replacement for macOS is a step too far even for Microsoft just yet.

When is a VM not a VM?

While WSL 2 is a dedicated Linux VM, the original WSL, now termed WSL 1, was an entirely different beast. That line is gone from the article now, but we once referred to WSL as being "distantly related to the POSIX subsystem that came with Windows NT 3.1," and got soundly told off for this on Twitter X.

WSL 1 uses a service called LXSS Manager to translate Linux kernel ABI calls to NT ones. Microsoft's own overview of WSL 1 compares the Linux environment to the earlier POSIX, SFU and SUA ones, saying:

We were able to use the initial investments made in this area and broaden them to develop the Windows Subsystem for Linux.

In any event, we stand corrected. WSL 1 sprang out of Project Astoria, the original bridge intended to run Android apps on Windows. We are not alone in mourning the lost potential here. Linux processes mingled in with Win32 ones, managing Windows services with Linux tools, and much more – without a full VM involved anywhere.

We feel we must ask: couldn't this have been done as a kernel personality instead? Wouldn't that have resulted in better integration? ®

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