Microsoft embraces its inner penguin with Linux-powered Windows AI Studio

Visual Studio Code extension preview has a bunch of limitations for now

A preview of Microsoft's Windows AI Studio has landed – a set of tools and models from catalogs, including Azure AI Studio and Hugging Face – however you'll need Linux to run it.

The preview was announced at Microsoft's Ignite event and the Visual Studio Code extension requires Ubuntu 18.04 or greater as well as Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) to run. It will also only run on Nvidia GPUs.

The "preview" nature of the extension became apparent when El Reg navigated its features. We made it work after a fashion, but it was hard to escape the feeling that Microsoft's vision for local generative AI app development is very much lashed together, at least in preview form.

Once we installed all the prerequisites, we dodged the "GPU is not detected" error via a driver download from Nvidia, made Ubuntu 18.04 the default Linux distribution in WSL and the studio, and then fired up.

Four actions are available: Model Fine Tuning, RAG Project, Phi-2 Model Playground, and Windows Optimized models. Microsoft has tagged RAG Project and Phi-2 Model Playground as "Coming soon!" in its documentation but we found launching a local fine-tuning session was straightforward enough.

There are further limitations in terms of models – users can't use their own, for example – although Microsoft said it is "working to expand the list of models." Users also can't run the extension in an Azure GPU Virtual Machine due to the nested virtualization needed by WSL.

However, once up and running – do not deviate too much from the path defined in Microsoft's instructions – the Windows AI Studio worked well. We performed some fine-tuning using a Hugging Face dataset and got as far as being able to chat with the model using the samples provided.

We would take issue with Microsoft's assertion that "getting started with AI development locally on Windows is easier and faster than ever," however the Windows AI Studio preview is a good start.

The requirements are a little onerous, and several moving parts behind the scenes – not least WSL – occasionally make their presence felt through odd errors and messages. But then again, it is a preview.

There is, however, a certain ironic deliciousness in noting that Microsoft's local AI development on Windows requires Linux under the hood.

Windows is still needed for the Visual Studio Code extension, but even that might change. Microsoft said: "We are currently planning for other platform support." ®

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