Arch Linux for Windows: Now available from the Microsoft Store

Looks like I’m not the only one who noticed

Does anyone else sense the irony?

Yes, Arch Linux is available from the Microsoft Store, and no, I’m not kidding. Go ahead and see for yourself:

My immediate reaction when I saw this was, “woah, really?”, “that’s crazy”, and, “I never thought I’d see this day”, and I wonder if it’s as jarring to other people who haven’t grown up with Microsoft being such a behemoth in the news and in their lives.

I think my dad might have joked once, “if I had bought shares in Microsoft when you were a kid, instead of your Speak n’ Spell, we’d both be retired by now.” I remember being horrified by the suggestion, too. “No, dad! Really? My Speak n’ Spell?”

Most people saw over the years that Microsoft’s success was less of a testament to their ability to innovate, but to engage in monopolistic business practices. And it was certainly effective: Microsoft was ubiquitous, and everyday people across the country fantasized about where they might be had they bought stock in MS while they could afford it.

Having grown up hearing about them choking the competition all my life is certainly one of many reasons seeing Arch Linux in the Microsoft store is really super shocking. 😳

What’s next, Microsoft open sourcing their technologies?


Back in the late ’90s / early ‘2000s, when the internet was still relatively new, Friendster was a thing, and RedHat was the only distro I’d ever heard of by name, there was a palpable sense that nothing would ever disrupt the Windows/MacOS duopoly, or cause them to reexamine their ultra-competitive business models.

The closed-intellectual property business model of Microsoft (and even more rabidly authoritarian monopolistic single-hardware vendor to walled-garden ecosystem Apple) seemed like one constant that would change about as much as death or taxes. Nobody expected Microsoft would start to give up its iron grip on source code, or start to even publish and market its own services using a Linux Operating System. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Azure hosted Kubernetes)

Bill Gates was still CEO, and they’d just had a hugely consequential precedent-setting battle in the courtroom for breaking anti-trust laws.

Microsoft bought or suffocated any decent competition, and leveraged their market proliferation into monopolization wherever it could. They eventually lost their lawsuit after several years of defending their position to achieve defacto omnipotence. It was surprising to see such a large, powerful company actually lose in court, but many saw the loss as a testament to how many bad faith business practices MS had engaged in. You have to be pretty anti-competition in this day and age to get charged by the federal government.

With a reputation like they had at the time, Anyone who knew anything about Microsoft was convinced they’d be going the locked-down software-selling, IP hoarding route forever. And while they’re certainly not perfect, they’re certainly engaging in practices I’ve never expected from them. Not in a million years.

The Microsoft I remember would have attempted to make it harder to run other company’s software. They’d never dream of providing Kubernetes on Azure with Linux containers, they’d make them all run Windows at $149 a pop, and force everyone to keep a copy of “MS Azure Browser” on their desktop.

And while I applaud MS for not pushing the boundaries of price elasticity as much as most other megacorps these days (i.e. Windows is still “only” $149) Linux’s source code is distributed for free in a way everyone can examine, so it’s hard to see how they could use their previously archetypal hoard-and-license IP business strategy.

What’s going on here? Are things actually changing?

To be clear, I know this distribution of Arch Linux for WSL has nothing to do with Microsoft really, other than it’s packaged for their proprietary VM layer on their still-$149-a-license operating system. But how jarring it is for me personally to see Microsoft change in this manner is pretty hard to overstate. I know MS is still making boatloads of money, but it’s amazing that something, or someone, could shake up the paradigm of how Microsoft Makes Money so fundamentally. And whether that was their intention, or it is simplyan artifact, there’s one person I believe we can point to for this eventually occurring (albeit, over the course of about 30-40 years):

Richard Stallman is the creator of the GNU Public License. Seen here playing your friend’s hippy dad taking you both to a cookout, he is the original stalwart advocate for free software distribution.

Stallman and his brainchild, the GPL, have been making the case that developers (and software companies) shouldn’t just release their code so people can know what it’s doing, but if they adopt any code released under GPL they are essentially forced to. Many other types of free distribution licenses allow companies to eventually close their source code and hoard their IP. There are plenty of reasons to do that, like security, competition, and market share. And if I understand correctly, it was an essential reason companies like Nintendo and Apple chose BSD for their OS platforms instead of Linux.

This is not meant to be a bash against companies for being greedy, under capitalism it’s essentially their main job. But it’s possible to be altruistic and make money. I don’t have any empirical evidence to support this suggestion, but I imagine enough developers realized hoarding IP is a barrier to improving technology, and whether for altruism, concerns about long-term self-preservation, or because their program relies heavily on a gzip library, enough people have gotten onboard with open-sourcing technology that it’s even been championed by Microsoft.

I have to pause a second to take that in. Microsoft has been the poster child of IP hoarding since their inception in 1980. By no means was adopting a license that would require developers and software companies to release their source code a fait accompli, but I suppose enough developers understood how much more rapidly we would progress collectively if we all shared information about how to do things. And for the rest of us who don’t make a habit of examining questions of existential importance on a daily basis, we probably just fell into it by proximity and convenience.

But realistically speaking, it also gives me pause to think of how much progress me might not have made if it weren’t for the open source community (regardless of license). What might not have been. Where we’d still be today. If, by 2024, open sourcing hadn’t proliferated so profoundly, we wouldn’t still be searching Alta Vista, trying to make out HTML tables on our flip phones.

And I say this gratefully, and without any sense of irony, that, for one reason or another, we all have Richard Stallman to thank for releasing Arch Linux in the Microsoft Store. Thank you, Richard!

And also probably because of all the parents who had the presence of mind to buy their kids Speak n’ Spells.

Author: Avery Freeman

MBA / Audio Engineering alumnus enjoys taking adjunct courses in data sciences, management, and software development. Passionate about collaboratively improving humanity through open source information ecosystems. Tenaciously solves problems of near-universally intolerable tediousness. Proficient in SQL, Python, Javascript, has forgotten SAS, and misses OpenSolaris. Eminently effervescent about Unix-like operating systems and software defined networks, including an unmistakable urge to Berkeley packet filter all the things. Fanatically fond of zfs and linux volume manager. Has lived in Tokyo, SF, Oakland, and now Seattle. Can't forget cooking, hiking, gardening, and playing with your cat.

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