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"WSL"

Posted: 24 May, 2020

I wrote a few years back about my drift away from OSX, an OS I'd very much enjoyed using, due to cost and, what I felt, was a slow but serious decline in engineering quality.

Because I like a lot of command line stuff -- yeah, I'm that guy -- I basically want a better Unix, and OSX was exactly that. All the commercial apps that I wanted/needed, with BSD underneath it all. Now, Linux is great, I use it a lot. I have KDE Neon on my Thinkpad, and Umbongo on the media PC in the lounge, but I do need those commercial apps for game development so since leaving OSX my dev-rig has been resolutely Windows 10.

Recently I've been leaning pretty heavily on the Windows Subsystem for Linux, running Umbongo's LTS, and I'm amazed to say that it's taken over 90% of my Linux usage. All my server admin is now done from a shell on Windows, along with a lot of little things like IRC. It's been way more responsive than a Virtual Machine, and it seems to take less resource. It is, honestly I'm saying this, close to perfect. It's kind of made Windows whole.

So I wanted to take it a little bit further and see what it was like to do programming work on, and Klog, being C, seemed like the perfect test.

I tried a couple of things while doing it: First, the usual tmux/nvim setup that I'd use on my laptop, which presented no problems except the clipboard being a bit janky. The second, and slightly more interesting (hence the post), was JetBrains' CLion running on Windows, but configured to use the GCC and CMake installed in the WSL. Amazingly, this worked flawlessly. Like, I'm genuinely impressed at how fast and smooth it was, even when debugging. (And apparently Visual Studio Code has some plugins that allow a similar thing, but I've yet to try them...)

This whole course of integration is fascinating to me. Microsoft are going to be shipping an enhanced WSL, with a proper kernel, at the end of the month. Removing the translation layer currently present in WSL1 is a big deal. Having third party companies start relaying on WSL for their Windows apps? Now that opens up a few interesting possibilities. What upside-down universe have I landed in?!

Microsoft also announced that DirectX is being integrated back into the WSL, for GPU compute, but lets be honest, it's not possibly going to stop there, is it? Maybe MS will stop short, who knows, but it's an intriguing thought.

Could it really be that Windows, of all the things, ends up being the better Unix that I've always been chasing? Could you have ever imagined Microsoft making a package manager? Or a proper terminal?

These are strange, but very interesting days. Days where I'm doing the majority of my Unixing on a Windows PC.

Twenty year old me would never believe that.