Microsoft to integrate full Linux kernel in Windows 10

For developers it should dramatically improve the performance of Microsoft’s Linux subsystem

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

Microsoft has surprised many in the Linux developer community in recent years. Surprises have included bringing things like the Bash shell to Windows, or native OpenSSH in Windows 10, and even including Ubuntu, SUSE Linux, and Fedora in the Windows Store. Now Microsoft is going even further, with plans to ship a full Linux kernel directly in Windows 10, which would be specially designed to run alongside the Windows kernel.

It means that, at least on paper, a Windows 10 machine will be able to do whatever a Linux system can do — because as far as the software is concerned, it is a Linux machine.

“Beginning with Windows Insiders builds this Summer, we will include an in-house custom-built Linux kernel to underpin the newest version of the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL),” Microsoft Program Manager Jack Hammons explained on Monday. “The kernel itself will initially be based on version 4.19, the latest long-term stable release of Linux. The kernel will be then rebased at the designation of new long-term stable releases to ensure that the WSL kernel always has the latest Linux goodness.”

For anybody who's paid attention to Microsoft for a long time, this announcement represents a big shift, given that the tech titan spent a very long time competing fiercely with Linux in general and open source in particular. Back in 2001, Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO at the time, even called Linux " a cancer." Lately, however, Microsoft gradually warmed up, especially after Satya Nadella took the reins as CEO in 2014 - he even presented a slide that said, "Microsoft Loves Linux," as he announced that developers could run the Linux operating system in the Microsoft Azure cloud. From there, the love affair only accelerated, with Microsoft announcing in 2018 that it would actually distribute its own specialized version of Linux for use in connected gadgetry.

Still, news marks the first time that the Linux kernel will be included as part of Windows and it sounds like the integration will be available later this year, with a Windows 10 update that’s codenamed 19H2. Microsoft is also promising to update the kernel through Windows Update, and it will be fully open source with the ability for developers to create their own WSL kernel and contribute changes.

The aim of all this is Microsoft's appeal to developers to be enhanced says Kevin Gallo, corporate vice president of Windows Developer Platform, and ties into the company's $7.5bn buy of code-sharing service GitHub.

"Satya's (current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella) vision is to meet developers where they're at because that's how the community works," Gallo explained.

He also acknowledged that Microsoft hadn't always been on great terms with Linux, but it's now "serious" about making a complete turnaround and working hard to earn the goodwill of developers.

"We haven't always been embracing that community so we've been trying to earn that trust," he added.

Meanwhile, Microsoft also announced Windows Terminal, a new command line app for Windows. It’s designed to be the central location for access to environments like PowerShell, Cmd, and the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL).

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