Windows 10 will soon ship with a full, open source, GPLed Linux kernel

Enlarge (credit: Microsoft)

Earlier today, we wrote that Microsoft was going to add some big new features to the Windows Subsystem for Linux, including native support for Docker containers. It turns out that that ain’t the half of it.

The current Windows Subsystem for Linux uses a Microsoft-authored kernel component that provided the same kernel API as the Linux kernel but written from scratch by Microsoft. Essentially, it translated from Linux APIs to Windows NT kernel APIs. That worked pretty well, but the current subsystem had a few shortcomings: there was no ability to use Linux drivers, in particular file system drivers. Its file system performance, layered on top of Windows’ own NTFS, was often 20 times slower than a real Linux kernel. It was also a relatively old version of the kernel; it offered approximately the set of APIs that Linux 4.4 did, and that was released in 2016. Some APIs aren’t implemented at all, and others are only partially implemented to meet the needs of specific applications.

All is changing with Windows Subsystem for Linux 2. Instead of emulating the Linux kernel APIs on the NT kernel, WSL 2 is going to run a full Linux kernel in a lightweight virtual machine. This kernel will be trimmed down and tailored to this particular use case, with stripped-down hardware support (since it will defer to the host Windows OS for that) and faster booting.

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