Microsoft switches internally to Linux

Microsoft internally wants to change its systems (servers, but also clients) to Linux in the medium future. So Windows will be phased out in the long run – they are only considering to port a part of the GUI and some essential tools to the development under the project name WiLux.


It's really an exciting story I picked up there in a background conversation – where all this doesn't really come as a surprise. Those with eyes to see it have been able to spot this for some time. When I reported in September 2015 that Microsoft was developing its own Linux operating system, it was still a sensation – I had titled the German blog post Wenn die Hölle zufriert: Microsoft macht in Linux. Insiders already knew then that Microsoft is actively involved in many Linux projects.

Microsoft's Miracast receivers all run a Linux kernel as their operating system – so Microsoft offers devices with Linux. And I've reported within my German blog, that Microsoft was using an own maintined Linux kernel for the Azure Cloud Switch (ACS). The developers had come to the conclusion at the time that their own solutions were not suitable for the use case (data center) and turned to Linux.

What was still a sensation in 2015 is now the norm. Sayta Nadella is turning to other platforms with the realignment of the Microsoft business model. Linux is no longer a no go and hell is no longer freezing over. In 2016, I reported in the post Azure: 1/3 der VMs laufen mit Linux that Microsoft is officially offering Linux as a guest OS for their VMs on Azure.

And I'm pulling another post out of the vault. In 2018, in the post Microsoft kündigt Azure Sphere OS auf Linux-Basis an , I had reported that the next Azure Sphere OS for Internet of Things (IoT) will no longer be Windows-based, but will use Linux. And in 2018, I had thrown some hard facts into the debate in the post Microsoft: Linux dominiert auf Azure VMs, hat Windows fertig? Linux is the preferred choice on Azure in VMs. For 2018, it was true that now second VM in Azure runs Linux.

In the meantime, every Windows 10 user in the enterprise environment virtually already has a Linux machine under his nose: With the WSL (Windows Subsystem for Linux), that gives this operating system on the relevant clients. When I published the article Windows: Soon only an emulation layer on a Linux kernel? here in the blog in September 2020, I was gazed at "like the man in the moon" and my conclusions were doubted. But the users are migrating to Linux. 


Linux is coming – no doubts

Often I was not allowed to publish here in the blog what I learned – as MVP I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) – and I was often annoyed when I learned things "under NDA" that I had already blogged a week before. I've had a few run-ins with the Microsoft people in this regard. Well, shortly before the end of 2020 I "cracked it" and there is no NDA for me anymore. Therefore, the Microsoft people can no longer put pressure on me, if I talk about the secrets. 

Internally, as my sources report, the Windows developers have been rumbling for quite some time. The people are caught between all chairs. On the one hand, there is Satya Nadella's claim that apps and applications should be available on different platforms – even SQL is available for Linux. On the other hand, the controllers are breathing down the necks of the developers: After all, marketing has released Windows 10 as "free", so to speak – as long as a machine can be updated, it will always get the latest Windows 10 build – and for free. The developers have the thankless task of constantly developing new builds, but they get pressure to do it as cheaply as possible. "The Windows developer pile is a useless cost pool that hardly generates any more revenue in the long run" is said to have fallen out of business management once. Because the controllers can't book any income for the free function updates.

We also hear behind closed doors that "the things are burning because of the success of the Chromebooks" – because Microsoft can't really compete with its systems. I had once hinted at this here in the blog (see Microsoft: Chromebooks are cheaper and faster than Windows machines). Since Chromebook demand increased 4-fold in COVID-19 pandemic and it was announced that Chromebook sales will surpass Mac numbers in 2020, top executives must be getting slightly nervous. 

The trouble with the regularly flubbed updates must have caused something like "the barrel to overflow". In any case, the decision seems to have been made to phase out the development of the Windows substructure (kernel, etc.) and to use Linux there. So one can save the developers concerned and the so caused costs in this area. One wants to rely on the work of the Linux community and the stability of the Linux kernel.

The master plan is to really slim down parts of the Windows 10X interface and then graft it onto Linux as a superstructure (I can't think of a better word right now). The customers would then continue to get a product that looks like Windows, but is a Linux under the hood. Here, the Redmond company wants to borrow from Apple, which has been propagating this for years with macOS.

Internal test run planned

However, Microsoft's management is already aware that such a detour could cause unrest among users, according to my sources. The management is mainly worried that the customers see the products from Redmond as "without alternative" (I haven't found a better translation). And the administrators, whose knowledge is suddenly obsolete, would not jump enthusiastically on the new solution either.

Therefore, they thought about a strategy, which they copied from IBM (IBM offered Macs instead of Windows to their employees years ago, first on a voluntary basis and then changed the entire computer landscape – see my article IBM: Macs sind über ihre Lebenszeit 543 $ günstiger als Windows-PCs). For a certain period of time, Microsoft employees are free to decide whether they want to continue working with a Windows desktop or the new Linux-Windows version (WiLux), according to the current idea. If the whole thing is successful, they can show it off (look, it works for us).

Later, however, the use of the software internally will become mandatory – the controlling department expects greater savings in terms of licensing costs (which have to be settled internally between the cost centers) and a less frequent need to switch to more powerful computer hardware (because the Linux kernels already tested internally use fewer resources and are more efficient than their Windows counterparts).  In addition, this will also release a number of developers, who will either continue to work on other projects or leave the company. In any case, it is planned to freeze the further development of Windows in all places where a port to WiLux does not seem possible.

As soon as internal experience with the new approach is available, the whole thing is to be rolled out to customers – with larger pilot customers first being considered as the target group. Controlling also hopes to be able to clear up the tiresome story of license keys are no licenses and the sale of "used software". For Linux, a license key would no longer be necessary – Apple also gives away its macOS for free.

My attempt to get an official confirmation via a press inquiry didn't get me anywhere (as expected). A Microsoft spokesman said: "We don't comment on such things – when the time comes, we will officially announce it, as before. Also my teasing, if these are already first plans for the "New Windows", was dismissed with "no comment". In any case, it remains exciting and I hope that I still have enough time to experience it.

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4 Responses to Microsoft switches internally to Linux

  1. Chris Pugson says:

    A very wise decision. I wondered if the ever increasing complexity of Windows was prompting an adjustment of the Microsoft business model and here we are. Your website is always my first port of call when seeking insights on present and future issues with information technology. It is a most valuable source of intelligence to help me to better anticipate and understand problems in order to provide good support of the systems of my friends and relatives.

    • guenni says:

      Wise words – but hey dude "watch the date" ;-)

      On my German web site I was joking "hope, I've enough time so see that my predictions becomes true" …

      but as a guy, who has threaded core memory cells for Apollo Command computer (ok, that's a shameless lie – in 1969 I laid electrical cables as an apprentice) we have to know, things are coming to an end, sooner or later.

      Woody Leonhard is in paradise (enjoying Thailand) – I'm still waiting for my pension notice since March 1st 2021, but intend to blog a bit further – because the daily satire show is priceless and keeps me still young ;-).

  2. Chris Pugson says:

    If that's an April Fool joke, I have never seen a more plausible one because I am sure that Microsoft must be finding upkeep of Windows 10 very onerous. Its complexity is growing like Topsy and an update disaster threatens every Patch Tuesday.

    My gorgeous second cousin's late husband created the video signal transmission system for the moon landing frolics of Armstrong and Aldrin.

    Apple turned to Linux/Unix so why not Microsoft also?

    • guenni says:

      Yes, it was my April Fool joke 2021 ;-)
      But on German Facebook groups somebody wrote: Born, don't fool and joke about that, in 10 years it's true …

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