Ubuntu on Windows - The good, the bad and the just plain weird

Ubuntu China
Canonical is working to push out a localized version of its Ubuntu OS for China. Credit: Michael Kan

There's a little bit of good. A little bit of bad. And a big healthy dollup of “what the heck?”.

Yesterday, Microsoft (in cooperation with Canonical) announced Ubuntu... for Windows.

In a nutshell this does for Windows what WINE does for Linux. It provides an emulation layer, on top of Windows, that allow x86 Linux binaries run. The focus, at least at the moment, is the user space, terminal applications that ship with Ubuntu 14.04.

What's cool about that? A few things.

First and foremost, it shows Microsoft continuing its (newfound) trend of working with Linux and Free Software projects. This is a good thing.

Second, it provides Windows users (and Linux users who get stuck using Windows from time to time) with a full BASH terminal with all of the familiar tools – grep, ssh, emacs, etc..

Those are both good things that make the world a better place. So... what's bad about this? In short: Absolutely everything else.

Bad Thing #1 – It's not open source

That's right. The software for running Ubuntu Linux's userland applications on Windows is, at least as of this writing, closed source.

That just plain stinks. Hopefully this gets remedied quickly. It's early enough that I'm willing to give the team behind this the benefit of the doubt that, by the time there is an official public release, there will be source code available under a reasonable license.

Bad Thing #2 – It's not for Linux... just Ubuntu

Having command line tools available from Ubuntu's userland is great. But... why Ubuntu specifically? Why not provide a general Linux compatibility environment that provides the opportunity to use other distributions as well?

This isn't simply a matter of being grumpy about Ubuntu being used – I would have the exact same response if the only option available were openSUSE or Fedora or Debian. No single Linux distrubution is king of all servers and development systems. And supporting only one of them, in this compatibility-layer-esque environment, both hinders developers who need to support multiple distributions... as well as limits future development to a singular environment that may not be best suited for their needs.

Bad Thing #3 – Flies in the face of “Ubuntu Bug #1”

The very first bug ever opened for Ubuntu, by Mark Shuttleworth himself, is titled “Microsoft has a majority marketshare”.

Now, I'm not the type to flat out call Microsoft “the enemy”. I think there's a lot of room for Microsoft to make a positive contribution to the Free Software and Linux worlds. Stop laughing. I really do.

But, for a company who's very first “bug” was to make it so that Microsoft Windows has a smaller marketshare on desktop PCs than Linux, this is a pretty massive shift in priorities and approaches. They've gone from “let's make Linux bigger than Windows on desktop PCs” to “let's make a small, limited version of one distribution of Linux's userland apps available on Windows PCs”.

All-in-all... I'm not sure what to make of all this. There's a little bit of good. A little bit of bad. And a big healthy dollup of “what the heck?”.

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