Posey's Tips & Tricks

Is Windows 10 Conditioning Us for a Microsoft Linux OS?

Microsoft seems to be trying to reapply a technique that it used to get customers to move to Windows 7 with the current Microsoft OS.

The year was 2009 and Microsoft was preparing to release its latest desktop operating system: Windows 7. There was just one problem -- nobody wanted it. OK, some people wanted it. I wanted it. But most people, it seems, were perfectly content to remain on Windows XP.  So Microsoft's quandary was to figure out how to entice customers to upgrade to a new operating system, even though those customers would prefer to continue using an older operating system.

Microsoft ultimately drove Windows 7 adoption in two ways. First, they loaded up Windows 7 with lots of cool new features. Some of the new features included touch support, limited handwriting recognition capabilities and support for virtual hard disks.

The second, more important thing that Microsoft did was to integrate Windows XP mode into certain editions of Windows 7. Windows XP mode allowed applications that were built for Windows XP and that would otherwise have been incompatible with Windows 7 to seamlessly run in a Windows XP virtual machine.

The big takeaway here is that Windows XP was released in 2001. By the time that Windows 7 was released, the Windows XP operating system was already almost eight years old. That's positively prehistoric in tech years. Microsoft needed to move its customers to something newer that better reflected the current state of technology. But the only way that they were able to make such a move palatable to their customers was to provide full Windows XP backward compatibility.

In a way, I see the same thing happening today. No, I'm not talking about how Microsoft initially gave Windows 10 away for free in an effort to entice customers into taking the plunge, although that is a good example. Instead, I'm talking about something that is going on right now, and that seems to be focused on customers who are already using Windows 10.

Before I tell you what it is that I have noticed, think back for a moment to Windows XP mode in Windows 7. Windows XP mode allowed Windows 7 users to run applications that were designed for Windows XP. It also gave Windows 7 users the option of accessing the Windows XP GUI if they decided to do so. In essence, the Windows XP mode was a crutch. It was designed to get Microsoft customers to adopt Windows 7 and to help them to gradually get used to the Windows 7 way of doing things.

So what does any of this have to do with Windows 10? To find out, let us revisit that fateful day in October of 2014 when Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella so boldly proclaimed to the world that Microsoft loves Linux. Since that time, Microsoft has openly embraced Linux, adding Linux support to a variety of products.

I have long suspected that there are those in Redmond who would love nothing more than to see Microsoft retire the Windows OS once and for all, and move on to Microsoft Linux. There's just one problem. Windows runs on countless computers all over the world. Those who run Windows can't easily switch to Linux because the applications that they depend on every day are native Windows apps. Of course there are also those people like myself who could use just about anything, but greatly prefer Windows over the alternatives.

Even though Microsoft can't very well force their customers to switch to Linux, they can make Windows more and more like Linux so that over time there will be a natural progression toward a Linux migration. My guess is that this is exactly what we are seeing happen right now.

Nobody at Microsoft has said anything to me that would lead me to believe that Microsoft is slowly trying to drive Linux adoption. Even so, the writing is on the wall. Forget about SQL Server for Linux, PowerShell for Linux, and all of the other cross platform stuff that Microsoft has been doing lately. Let's look solely at Windows 10. Windows 10 not only supports Linux virtual machines on Hyper-V, but it also has its own Ubuntu-based Bash shell. Windows 10 also supports Docker containers. In other words, Windows 10 is slowly morphing into Linux.

It's always possible that I am way off with my prediction that we will see Microsoft Linux debut in the next few years. It's possible that Microsoft's efforts are instead intended to drive the open source crowd to adopt Windows, but I doubt it. Most of the Linux users that I know are fanatical about their OS, and I just can't imagine them giving up a native Linux OS in favor of Windows. I think that it is much more likely that Microsoft is laying the groundwork (by adding Linux support to Windows Server and System Center) and preparing its customers (by adding Linux features to Windows) to eventually release Microsoft Linux.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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