Windows: Soon only an emulation layer on a Linux kernel?

[German]Open  source software advocate Eric S. Raymond predicts the triumph of Linux on the desktop. Microsoft will 'soon bury' its Windows as we know it. Instead, Microsoft would rely on a Linux kernel with a Windows emulation layer.


Windows 10 is outdated

Windows 10 is supposed to be the last Windows, as Redmond said. But with Windows as a Service you have been muddling along for five years without a plan. Trouble with feature upgrades, deasters on every patchday and so on. Eric S. Raymond therefore believes that Microsoft will soon have enough of Windows.

Microsoft supports Linux already

The Register has noticed the blog post Last phase of the desktop wars? by Eric S Raymond. Raymond points out the fascinating developments in the latest evolution of the Microsoft Windows operating system. These are the Windows System for Linux (WSL) and the port of the Microsoft Edge Browser to Ubuntu. WSL enables the execution of unmodified Linux binaries under Windows 10. No emulation, no shim layer, they are simply loaded and started. He also points out that Microsoft developers are already contributing features to the Linux kernel, simply to improve WSL. And this points for Raymond in a fascinating technical direction.

Follow the money

Raymond takes a look at how Microsoft's revenue streams have changed since the launch of its cloud services in 2010. In 2010, Windows was still the cash cow that brought Microsoft money. In 2020, Azure brings in the most money for Microsoft. The Windows monopoly has become a sideshow. In addition, the sales of conventional desktop PCs have been declining for years – and this is the only market that Windows dominates.

Consequently, the return on investment of the expenditure for Windows development is decreasing. As PC volume sales continue to decline, Windows will lose its status as a profit center. At the end of the day, Windows development becomes a burden on Microsoft's business. If you look at this matter soberly, and Microsoft's boss, Mr. Satya Nadella, does, it means that the further Windows development simply mutates into a money burning machine.

A thing that Microsoft should rather not do if they do not want to piss off the shareholders. Instead, analysts will recommend to invest more capital in Azure. But there they hear that nowadays more Linux instances run on Azure hosts than Windows guests.


Proton as a Layer

Raymond is a fan of Proton. Proton is the emulation layer, which makes it possible to run Windows games distributed on Steam under Linux. This is not supposed to be perfect yet, but Raymond uses it to play World of Warships on Linux machines. Since games are the most challenging possible stress test for a Windows emulation layer, much more so than business software, development may already have reached the point where a proton-like technology is sufficient to run Windows business software on Linux. That will apply according to Raymond's opinion in any case soon.

Moving forward

What could a Microsoft corporate strategist look like who is focused on maximizing profits? In view of the factors described above, a fascinating prospect remains: Microsoft Windows will become a proton-like emulation layer running on a Linux kernel. This emulation layer should become thinner over time as more support is integrated into the Linux kernel. This would allow Microsoft to shed an increasing portion of its development costs and transfer that to the Linux community. There will be less to do internally.

If this is dismissed as fantasy, the Microsoft Edge port for Linux should be mentioned. Raymond thinks that this only makes sense at all if you consider it a test run to free the rest of the Windows utility suite from the dependence on any emulation layer. The scenario Raymond designs: The final state is reached when the new Windows consists mainly of a Linux kernel over which an Old-Windows emulation is put. But Edge and the rest of the Windows utilities for users do not use this emulation, but run natively on Linux. The emulation layer is there for games and other legacy software from third parties. These approaches can already be seen in some tools.

The economic pressure on Microsoft might lead to the fact that the emulation layer will have to be discarded at some point. Because this produces costs in development and maintenance. And one wants to reduce the complexity costs for operating Azure. Every increment of the Windows/Linux convergence helps in this and reduces the administrative effort. At some point, Microsoft could then announce the imminent end of the Windows emulation life cycle. Everything would run directly on Linux. Future dreams, but that would be the victory of Linux on the desktop. Let's see if I can still experience that.

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