by Swapnil Bhartiya

Ubuntu on Windows: What it means and who it’s for

Apr 01, 2016
DeveloperLinuxOpen Source

No, you won't be running Ubuntu desktop apps on Windowsrn

Soon you will be able to run some of the best open source tools that are available for Linux on Windows system, natively. The move is a natural progression of the way Microsoft is bringing the Windows and Linux world closer to each other.

If you are on a Windows 10 system you will be able to open ‘bash’ from the start menu that will open Windows command prompt running Ubuntu’s /bin/bash. It’s more or less like running Ubuntu terminal ‘in’ Windows.

Before you get too excited, bear in mind that this isn’t for ‘regular’ desktop users. You won’t be running Ubuntu desktop apps on Windows. This is not bringing Ubuntu and its apps to Windows; it’s enabling developers and system admins to use Linux tools from within Windows and work on their Linux servers.

Microsoft and Canonical have been working together on it for a while. Microsoft has built a new subsystem within Windows called the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). Ubuntu for Windows runs on top of this infrastructure to offer Linux developer tools on Windows.

Mike Harsh, a Microsoft engineer, said developers will be able to run “Bash scripts, Linux command-line tools like sed, awk, grep, and you can even try Linux-first tools like Ruby, Git, Python, etc. directly on Windows.”

The most impressive thing is that you can not only access the Ubuntu file system by simply going to /mnt mount point, you can also access the Windows file system. Yes, you heard it right, no more backward slash; just open ‘bash’ in the command prompt and go to /mnt/c/dev to access the Windows file system.

Microsoft is bringing these capabilities to the next major update to Windows 10, codenamed Redstone 1 that will be released this summer. It’s also the anniversary release and will be available for free to existing Windows 10 customers.

Now the why…

The enterprise space is heavily moving towards open source technologies and open source is where developers are. Microsoft needs those open source tools to work on its own platform. It’s not about love for Linux; it’s about survival in a world dominated by open source technologies. 

The good news is that the new leadership at Microsoft is more determined to become part of the Linux and open source movement instead of destroying it as we saw during the Ballmer/Gates era. Microsoft also presumably knows by now that no single company can keep pace with the development of open source technologies; so instead of creating their own tools, they are working on technologies that bring native support for existing open source tools.

That said, Microsoft does have its own tools and they have invested quite a lot in PowerShell, but it’s wise to bring Linux tools natively to Windows. This isn’t the first time they have tried to do it: they used to have sub systems for UNIX applications. It never worked well. Let’s hope this time is different.