The Pros and Cons of Using Windows Subsystem for Linux

The announcement that Windows users would be able to run native Linux applications on their machines with the Windows Subsystem for Linux seemed like a real “when pigs fly” moment.

It’s certainly easy to run Linux and Windows under WSL without dual booting or using a VM, but are there any downsides to this setup? This article weighs the pros and cons of using WSL to run Linux on Windows.

Benefits of using WSL

Here are some reasons why you should use WSL to run Linux on a Windows machine.

1. It’s an easy introduction to Linux for Windows users

Ubuntu WSL Terminal Directory List

WSL could be an ideal introduction to Linux for people who don’t know anything about it. They can familiarize themselves with Linux commands without having to completely install a new operating system. It only takes a few clicks from the Microsoft Store to set up WSL. It will also reduce the barrier of Linux adoption.

2. Ideal for developers already using open source tools

The main reason for the development of WSL, according to Microsoft, was to allow developers who used open source tools to continue developing on Windows.

Many open source tools are developed with Linux in mind. Developers migrated to Mac laptops because they have a Unix-like environment. Microsoft hopes to win back these developers using WSL.

3. No need to worry about hardware support

A persistent problem with desktop Linux is hardware support, especially on laptops. WSL avoids this problem. Most PCs on the market are still sold with Windows pre-installed. Just download and install WSL and boom, you have an instant Linux desktop.

In the future, “Linux on the desktop” might just mean installing WSL and a Linux distribution from the Microsoft Store instead of a standalone operating system.


Related: Why buy a computer with Linux preinstalled

4. Windows-Linux interoperability

WSL enables true Windows and Linux interoperability. You can explore the Linux file system from Windows, and vice versa. You can also launch programs from each other’s command lines.

This could lead to some interesting applications, and perhaps a shift in thinking of the two systems as antagonists and more as environments that complement each other.

5. Easier than Dual Boot or Virtual Machines

Since WSL is already running on Windows, you don’t need to reboot or launch a virtual machine. With dual booting, you need to free up hard drive space when installing the system and ensure that you have backup media to boot from in case something goes wrong. If you want to run something in Linux from Windows and vice versa, you need to restart your system.

A virtual machine is easier and faster to set up, but since it’s still a different machine, it’s difficult to share files between Windows and Linux. You often need to configure a file server on the virtual machine. Virtual machines also have a performance overhead.

WSL is much lighter on resources and can easily interoperate between Windows and Linux as mentioned above.

Disadvantages of using WSL

Although WSL is very useful, some members of the Linux community are concerned about some drawbacks.

1. WSL Could Discourage Desktop Linux Adoption

Since WSL runs on Windows, fewer people might feel the need to install a desktop version of Linux. Since they already have a desktop with Windows, they may not see the point of installing a whole new desktop OS, especially since they can now run Linux GUI applications. on Windows.

This could only compound the problems with the Linux desktop, as there might not be as much effort to improve hardware compatibility if only a minority of Linux users were using a full desktop.

2. Remote possibility of Microsoft dominating Linux

While Microsoft made a big show of how the company “loves Linux now,” some people in the Linux community pointed to Microsoft’s historic “embrace, extend, extinguish” approach to competing products.

In other words, Microsoft would “embrace” technologies by offering official support, but “extend” them with options that only work with their products, and then “extend” their competitors when people can’t live without them. improvements. Some people worry that WSL will allow Microsoft to do the same for Linux as a whole.

Related: Signs That Show Microsoft Really Is a Linux Fan

In practice this would probably be difficult as there isn’t really anything you can do in WSL that you can’t do on a standalone Linux system at the moment.

Moreover, Linux is widely used in enterprise servers. On Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing platform, more customers use Linux servers than Windows servers. So when you look at the bigger picture, it looks like Linux is dominating Microsoft rather than the other way around. It was probably this reality that prompted Microsoft to develop WSL in the first place.

3. WSL Might Discourage Native App Development

Steam website showing Linux games

Another annoying issue with Linux is the lack of compelling desktop apps, especially games. It’s a classic “chicken and egg problem”. Fewer developers would consider releasing a game for Linux because the installed base is so small.

People running a Linux desktop could just opt ​​for WSL. Fewer gamers would choose Linux because there aren’t as many games for it. WSL could make the situation worse, as there are far more Windows users than Linux desktop users, so it makes more sense to develop for Windows first.

4. You are still using Windows

For people who are ideologically opposed to Microsoft and proprietary software, using WSL is unacceptable simply because it still means participating in that ecosystem.

WSL would only serve to involve people. For hardcore free software activists, anything less than a PC with truly free firmware running an entirely free software version of GNU/Linux would do.

5. WSL isn’t really designed for servers

Although you can install WSL on Windows Server, the distros aren’t really designed to work as servers. Ubuntu doesn’t run systemd, so it’s more difficult to launch servers like Apache or MariaDB. This might be less of a drawback since most people who need servers will deploy standard Linux servers anyway.

If WSL makes sense to you, use it

Armed with all these pros and cons, you might be wondering if you should use WSL. Even though Linux users would love to keep other Linux users away from Windows, there are plenty of people in the real world who need to use both systems.

If WSL makes it easier to switch from Windows to Linux, you should use it. If you’re curious, it’s easy to get started with Windows Subsystem for Linux.

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Steven L. Nielsen