Sep 25

Last phase of the desktop wars?

The two most intriguing developments in the recent evolution of the Microsoft Windows operating system are Windows System for Linux (WSL) and the porting of their Microsoft Edge browser to Ubuntu.

For those of you not keeping up, WSL allows unmodified Linux binaries to run under Windows 10. No emulation, no shim layer, they just load and go.

Microsoft developers are now landing features in the Linux kernel to improve WSL. And that points in a fascinating technical direction. To understand why, we need to notice how Microsoft’s revenue stream has changed since the launch of its cloud service in 2010.

Ten years later, Azure makes Microsoft most of its money. The Windows monopoly has become a sideshow, with sales of conventional desktop PCs (the only market it dominates) declining. Accordingly, the return on investment of spending on Windows development is falling. As PC volume sales continue to fall off , it’s inevitably going to stop being a profit center and turn into a drag on the business.

Looked at from the point of view of cold-blooded profit maximization, this means continuing Windows development is a thing Microsoft would prefer not to be doing. Instead, they’d do better putting more capital investment into Azure – which is widely rumored to be running more Linux instances than Windows these days.

Our third ingredient is Proton. Proton is the emulation layer that allows Windows games distributed on Steam to run over Linux. It’s not perfect yet, but it’s getting close. I myself use it to play World of Warships on the Great Beast.

The thing about games is that they are the most demanding possible stress test for a Windows emulation layer, much more so than business software. We may already be at the point where Proton-like technology is entirely good enough to run Windows business software over Linux. If not, we will be soon.

So, you’re a Microsoft corporate strategist. What’s the profit-maximizing path forward given all these factors?

It’s this: Microsoft Windows becomes a Proton-like emulation layer over a Linux kernel, with the layer getting thinner over time as more of the support lands in the mainline kernel sources. The economic motive is that Microsoft sheds an ever-larger fraction of its development costs as less and less has to be done in-house.

If you think this is fantasy, think again. The best evidence that it’s already the plan is that Microsoft has already ported Edge to run under Linux. There is only one way that makes any sense, and that is as a trial run for freeing the rest of the Windows utility suite from depending on any emulation layer.

So, the end state this all points at is: New Windows is mostly a Linux kernel, there’s an old-Windows emulation over it, but Edge and the rest of the Windows user-land utilities don’t use the emulation. The emulation layer is there for games and other legacy third-party software.

Economic pressure will be on Microsoft to deprecate the emulation layer. Partly because it’s entirely a cost center. Partly because they want to reduce the complexity cost of running Azure. Every increment of Windows/Linux convergence helps with that – reduces administration and the expected volume of support traffic.

Eventually, Microsoft announces upcoming end-of-life on the Windows emulation. The OS itself , and its userland tools, has for some time already been Linux underneath a carefully preserved old-Windows UI. Third-party software providers stop shipping Windows binaries in favor of ELF binaries with a pure Linux API…

…and Linux finally wins the desktop wars, not by displacing Windows but by co-opting it. Perhaps this is always how it had to be.

Sep 17

My SubscribeStar account is live

I’ve finally gotten validated by SubscribeStar, which means I can get payouts through it, which means those of you who want nothing to do with Patreon can contribute through it: https://www.subscribestar.com/esr

If you’re not contributing, and you’re a regular here, please chip in. While I’ve had some research grants in the past, right now nobody is subsidizing the infrastructure work I do and I’m burning my savings.

There’s NTPsec, of course – secure time synchronization is critical to the Internet. There are the 40 or so other projects I maintain. Recently I’m working on improving the tools ecosystem for the Go language, because to reduce defect rates we have got to lift infrastructure like NTPsec out of C and Go looks like the most plausible path. Right now I’m modifying Flex so it can be be retargetable to emit Go (and other languages); I expect to do Go support for Bison next.

I’m not the only person deserving of your support – I’ve founded the Loadsharers network for people who want to help with the more general infrastructure-support problem – but if you’re a regular on this blog I hope I’m personally relatively high on your priority list. I’m not utterly broke yet, but the prospect is looming over me and my house needs a new roof.

Even $10 a month is helpful if enough of you match it. For $20 a month you get to be credited as a supporter when I ship a release of one of my personal projects. From $50 a month I can buy my long-suffering wife a nice dinner and afford an occasional trip to the shooting range.

I live a simple life, trying to be of service to my civilization. Please help that continue.

Sep 04

Kyle Rittenhouse and the militia obligation

There’s an angle on the case of Kyle Rittenhouse that I haven’t seen even hinted at in the media.

Section 246 of US Code Title 10, entitled, “Militia: composition and classes” reads:

“(a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.

(b) The classes of the militia are:

(1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and

(2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.”

That is, all males of military age who are or intend to become citizens of the United States are under federal statute the “unorganized militia”, and have the duty of the militia to defend the Constitution of the United States against enemies foreign and domestic (as both naturalizing citizens and members of the armed forces swear to do).

Kyle Rittenhouse is a 17-year-old male and thus a member of the unorganized militia under black-letter Federal law. When he armed up to defend a friend’s business during a breakdown in civil order, he was acting precisely as all members of the unorganized militia have a legal and Constitutional duty to act in like circumstances.

And yes, shooting violent criminal insurrectionists is included in that duty. Rittenhouse would have been justified in doing so even if he had not been acting in self-defense against lethal threats to his person.

So let’s not hear any more nonsense about a teenager having no business being in that situation. Kyle Rittenhouse recognized one of his core duties as an American citizen and performed it with exceptional skill and courage.