Saturday, July 13, 2024

2016: The Year of the (Ubuntu) Linux desktop on Windows

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For over a decade, the running joke in the Linux community was that whatever year you were in, that was the year of the Linux desktop. For even longer than that, Microsoft Windows has been the arch-nemesis of everything that Linux is and represents.

Yet somehow, someway karma has twisted fate such that now in 2016, Microsoft loves Linux so much that 2016 is now the year of Linux on Windows. To be precise, at the Microsoft Build conference this week, Microsoft and Canonical, the lead commercial sponsor of Ubuntu Linux, announced what only a few years ago would have been labelled as an unholy alliance, enabling Ubuntu’s user space and bash shell to run natively inside of a Windows 10 Anniversary edition command console.

To be fair, I’ve personally run Linux on Windows machines in various forms for a very long time. Usually by way of some form of hypervisor, like VirtualBox. Though going even further back, all the way to the Ubuntu 8.04 ‘Hardy Heron’ release in 2008, Canonical had an easy way to get Ubuntu onto Windows. Back in 2008, Ubuntu debuted a technology called Wubi, which is a Windows-based installer for Ubuntu that installed Ubuntu as a large file on a Windows partition, rather than the usual procedure of needing to create and resize partition.

What the new Ubuntu on Windows 10 effort does is something quite a bit more integrated and, shall we say, native. As opposed to a separate partition on the same drive on which Windows exists, or a hypervisor on top that creates a level of isolation, this new approach is an integration with Windows itself. The benefits are that of any sort of native integration: speed, performance better interoperability with other system tools. The risks are also the somewhat the same for Windows in that now the Windows kernel itself is the master kernel over additional processes, in this case, Ubuntu processes.

The Microsoft Build video (posted on YouTube) provides a more detailed and visual explanation of all you can do in a way that words alone cannot.

So how did the Linux industry get to this point? In 2007, a year before Ubuntu first released its Wubi installer, Microsoft loudly proclaimed publicly that open-source software infringes on 235 of its patents. Micosoft, signed and renewed a patent and interoperability deal multiple times with Novell and its successor SUSE Linux. The last time I wrote on a Microsoft patent deal with SUSE was July 2011, at which time Microsoft stated that it had committed to invest $100 million in new SUSE Linux Enterprise certificates in a deal that was set to expire in 2016.

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer stated about the original agreement that, “…This patent deal does not apply to any other forms of Linux other than Novell SUSE Linux, others will still have issue.”

Ballmer is gone, a new CEO has replaced him. Linux is among the most popular operating system running on Microsoft’s Azure cloud. Red Hat works work Microsoft and so does Canonical.

So what happened to the patents?

When I asked Paul Cormier, executive vice president and president, Products and Technology, at Red Hat in 2015 about the patent question in relation to working with Microsoft, he told me directly that Red Hat and Microsoft did not acknowledge the validity or value of each other’s patents as part their working relationship

“This is a commercial deal spurred by strong customer demand for our solutions to work together,” Cormier said at the time.

When I reached out to Canonical about it’s intellectual property position in relation to the Microsoft desktop work it’s doing, I got a somewhat similar reply. Mark Shuttleworth told me that Canonical has never signed any patent pledge with any company.

Times have changed. In 2007 the only way a Linux vendor could work with Microsoft was with a patent agreement. In 2016, customer demand has changed that situation as the biggest names in Linux are working with Microsoft, without the need to compromise on the core principles that define them.

That doesn’t mean that Microsoft has abandoned its patents, cause it hasn’t. Microsoft still has deals in place with all manner of vendors and exerts patent royalties from many Android vendors too. It does mean that for various business, customer and interoperability reasons, Microsoft and the Linux vendors that inhabit Microsoft’s desktop and its’ cloud, don’t have to negotiate or pledge patents like Novell SUSE did a decade ago.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Datamation and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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