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Making Windows a Unix

I think Microsoft could turn Windows into a really good Unix. It wouldn’t be a piece of cake, but it’s probably not as crazy as it sounds. Let me explain.

Microsoft could do the following:

  1. Keep the Windows kernel, system services, libraries, and GUI. No big changes there.
  2. Add bash/zsh and the BSD userland to PowerShell.
  3. Make a cc front-end to Visual Studio’s compiler.[1]
  4. Bundle a libc to provide support for pthreads, mmap() and other POSIX system calls. It’s probably worthwhile to imitate Android and fork the BSD libc.

The result would be similar to Cygwin or MinGW, but bundled in the default install of Windows and (most importantly) fully supported by Microsoft. The crazy thing is, Microsoft actually got pretty close to building this with Windows Services for UNIX. Unfortunately they didn’t publicize it much[2], didn’t ship it as a default, and now they’re discontinuing it.

That’s a shame, because a Unix-compatible Windows would be a very flexible, powerful operating system. With it, you’d be able to compile and run almost all C programs written for BSD or Linux, and you could run Windows programs just like normal. You could use the same OS to develop your Django app and test on IE, without any battery-sucking VMs. And your laptop would work great. There’d be no messing with X or Unity. No faulty Linux drivers causing issues with suspend/hibernate, trackpad weirdness, backlight brightness, wifi, or sound. The experience would be similar to developing on a mac, but with a larger selection of hardware and software.

I doubt Microsoft will do this, but they could attract a lot of non-Windows developers if they did.

  1. And update it to at least C99. Current versions of Visual Studio only support C89.
  2. I didn’t even know about SFU/SUA until I spent an hour researching this topic.

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