General Discussion

Why Microsoft Won’t Use the Linux Kernel for Windows

Why Microsoft Won’t Use the Linux Kernel for Windows
Written by Modou Sarr

There are a number of reasons why Microsoft won’t use the Linux kernel for Windows. For one there is a huge difference in the technical aspects of the Linux Kernel and the NT kernel.

Another reason would be the issues of licensing involved if Microsoft has to switch over to using the Linux kernel for windows. Thirdly, there are things done on Windows that can’t be done on any other operating system.

In terms of the differences in technicalities, the Linux community doesn’t exactly have a thing for backward compatibility in comparison to the Microsoft users and neither do they develop a stable kernel ABI (Application Binary Interface) to work against.

This being the case, Microsoft’s only choice would be to either emulate the windows API and maintain compatibility with itself going forward so that it can fork the Linux Kernel whilst maintaining compatibility.

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In the end, it would involve lots of challenges that might not be worth it. This is most likely to also place them on opposite sides of the Linux community. They might have to bring forth their own format and rebrand Linux. Again, this would confusing for the average user.

Licenses and other issues involved with UNIX was another reason why when Microsoft needed a replacement for MS-DOS, they couldn’t go for it then. Linux was not what it was now and their requirements were beyond expectations for PC’s of that era.

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In addition, Microsoft needed a new tailored kernel to satisfy and take into consideration both their present and future needs. Presently, Linux is licensed under the general public license which means that even if presently, Microsoft was to consider using Linux, it would have to make it’s source code available. This step wouldn’t exactly favor Microsoft.

Finally, Windows has its own unique features that can only be performed by the windows operating system and none other. No doubts about it, there are also things that other operating systems do better but there are also things done on windows that can’t be done at all on other operating systems.

The only choice would be to write your own software. It would take a team of developers who would be doing something or trying to create something already existing in windows. The backward compatibility which does not favor Linux users is an advantage for windows because, it is this feature that enables hundreds of thousands of outdated programs that are still in use to be able to be run.


In conclusion, there is no doubt about that Microsoft using a Linux kernel for windows will come with some advantages and added benefits. But when it’s all said and done, considering the complications of the technicalities involved, lack of compatibility.

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The fact that their source code would be open to the general public and the loss of some of their own unique features that make windows what it is, using a Linux kernel is probably not worth the trouble for Windows.

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About the author

Modou Sarr

Modou Sarr is from the Gambia West Africa, he loves to read write and is an avid sportsman. He studied International Development studies and also Law and hopes to one day own a successful eCommerce business.

  • brownowl

    Meanwhile, in other news, elephants will never walk on their hind legs either. This must be the most utterly pointless article I have ever read.

  • Clay Janes

    I thought it was an interesting article.

  • Jason O’Connell

    “there are also things done on windows that can’t be done at all on other operating systems” – Did you consider your audience when making that statement? Provide examples.

  • Yuri Budilov

    i wonder if Microsoft Drawbridge technology will make it happen. A Microsoft tailored Linux kernel with Windows UI on top – alternative to KDE, GNOME UI ??

  • Tony Fabian

    There is no reason. Windows already has a perfectly fine kernel and switching to a linux kernel would not provide any benefits what so ever

  • brx

    I remeber of “Xenix” as a Microsoft try on UNIX world. Anyone else?

    • yetanotherbob

      Xenix became SCO (Santa Clara Operation) Unix. Microsoft sold it off because the market wasn’t big enough. SCO Unix was later bought by a Linux vendor from Utah (Caldera) that later decided that litigation was more profitable than selling and supporting a product.
      They have been effectively out of business for several years now. It seems that litigation as a business model doesn’t work well unless you actually have a case.
      The original Xenix was based on the BSD Unix family, just as Solaris was. Just as with Solaris, it’s not 100% compatible with current BSD offerings, but is mostly compatible.

  • Thomas Schmitz

    What about switching to FreeBSD. The BSD license allows various companies to incorporate the OS in their products without ever having to release their source code.
    Apple has ported a lot of code from FreeBSD to macOS and iOS in order to reduce the work required for maintaining the system.

    • MyDisqussion

      Microsoft has broadly used BSD code in Microsoft OS, e.g., the tcp/ip stack. But, driver compatibility is not as good.

  • peterjohn936

    Things tend to die when the cost of maintaining and updating it is greater than the revenue it generates. Most Unix variants will die soon. And most other operating systems will be still borne or will die. But Windows will live on because MS still makes money from it and will continue to make money for the foreseeable future,

    • Sama Vim

      >> Most Unix variants will die soon
      That’s arguably your opinion and is a common statement when you’re in a classroom of Windows enthusiasts but it needs to be noted that your argument is based on Linux ‘distros’ and in very general sense. The article has a focus on the Linux ‘kernel’ however.

      • peterjohn936

        I said Unix and I meant Unix not Linux. The Variants I am talking about are AIX, HPUX, and Solaris. And I am not talking about previous versions of them.

    • yetanotherbob

      Windows 1, Windows 2, Windows 3.0, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows Millenium, Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XT, Windows Vista, that’s rather a lot of Windows that died.
      Also, Solaris, NetBSD, Free BSD, there is rather a lot of competetion out there for Windows, some of those in their niche are doing quite well.
      Red Hat for instance, currently makes around a billion dollars a year competing the socks off of Microsoft in the server and mini- to super computer range. Microsoft doesn’t do well in that space. I don’t know anybody who would use a Microsoft operating system in any but the small end of the server market.
      Besides Red Hat, there is SUSe and Ubunty currently, all selling some version of Linux.
      Then there is Google with it’s Android and Chromebook OS’s that have effectively shut Microsoft down on the smallest scale. I’m not sure that Google even makes any money from those two product lines, but they do make money from the web use of the folks who use Android phones and tablets, and from Chromebook computers.
      Microsoft does indeed do quite well in the desktop and laptop markets, but the world of operating systems is much larger than just those two segments.
      If anything, I would say that the history of computers in the last fifty years in one of the steady rise of Unix and the decline of everything else.

      The internet runs mostly on a Unix backbone, with Linux being the biggest part of that.

      If anything, it’s going forward much faster now. Consider the Internet of Things. Soon, not just your phone and your car, but your refrigerator, your air conditioner and even your light bulbs will be running Linux. You will probably never even know.

      • peterjohn936

        I said Unix and I meant Unix not Linux. The Variants I am talking about are AIX, HPUX, and Solaris. And I am not talking about previous versions of them. As for the development cost of Linux, it is very low since most of the developers are volunteers. So there is a good chance Linux will survive. In fact Linux is the main reason why Unix is dying.

        • yetanotherbob

          Linux is a version of Unix, so no, Unix isn’t “dying”. There are several vendors whose Unix offerings have withered. I would maintain that is mostly due to them having incompatibilities with standard Unix (read fully Posix compliant). Unix looks to be the true future of computing right now.
          That said, Microsoft isn’t going away any time soon. They have a large and captive market. However, the main thrust if future computing is passing them by.

          • peterjohn936

            Linux is not actually a version of Unix. It was written from scratch by Linus. The API might be similar but it is a different product.

  • eparkerii

    “The backward compatibility which does not favor Linux users is an advantage for windows because, it is this feature that enables hundreds of thousands of outdated programs that are still in use to be able to be run.”
    Seriously? You can’t get more ‘backward compatibility’ than Linux.

  • turbor

    Blaming the ABI as backward compatibility problem is only
    true if you only distribute binaries. If you have the source code of
    your programs only the API needs to be stable, and you can recompile
    your programs if the ABI change. This way there is much more backwards
    compatibility on Linux in the open source world then there ever was on
    Windows. Windows user will definitely know the kludge of ‘compatibility
    mode’ when installing older windows programs on a newer windows
    version.. Or as the article states it: microsoft emulates it own (older)
    windows API.

    Also who can give examples of things done on windows that can’t be done at all on other operating systems? I guess these are “alternative facts” ?

  • Daniel Cordey

    A unique Windows feature ? Windows is a multi-tasking OS, but still not a truly multi-user system… Linux emulates this feature by claiming all users have ‘root’ privileges 🙂

    • turbor

      Que? Can you elaborate? I may have misunderstood your comment. On the systems here there isn’t a single user who has full root access, even the admins have separate accounts depending an the tasks they need to perform, thanks to a rigid SE ruleset.

    • yetanotherbob

      Wrong. On any vaguely competently administered Linux system, only the primary administrator has root privilege.
      It is possible to install a Linux system such that all users have root. That is something that only a complete fool would do however. There was one Linux vendor that set up their install that way once. They are now long out of business.
      In a typical Linux system there are three basic “permissions” and three basic “users”. Those are User, Group and World for use. There is also Read Write and Execute. if a file is marked as read and user only, then only the user (the account holder who created it) and the root user can read the file, only the root user can write to it, and the system will not allow it to run, even if it is a program or script.
      Windows has about half of those permissions currently. Microsoft has come a long way in security.
      Historically, on a Windows system, any file with an extension of “.exe” would at least attempt to run. That’s how viruses and such get on you system. Download any file, and if the long file name ends in .exe, you’re infected. The file name could even be in characters that are hidden from directory searches too.
      Linux has always been a multi-tasking Multi-user operating system. It did that from the first version back in 1992. That actually comes from Unix way back in 1969. It’s written into the basic kernel and always was.

      • Daniel Cordey

        Well, I just thought my sentence about ‘root’ privilege didn’t need a ‘:-)’, since it’s so stupid that any would know what it really means… I thank you very much for short tutoring, but I was among the first 12 HP-UX specialist in Europe… back in 1982.

  • Daniel Cordey

    Windows is multi-user in the sense that, over time, they’ve grafted
    the concept of separate users and permissions onto the OS. The big
    difference between Unix/Linux and Windows is that the former started
    out expecting multiple concurrent users; the security and management of
    users is integral to the design of the OS.

    Windows started out purely a single-user OS, and even after NT, modeled
    on a multi-user OS, was released, there were–and are–still far too
    many operations that require the user to have administrative access
    to accomplish even the simplest of tasks (e.g., install a program.
    On Unix/Linux, I can install a program for my own use in my own user
    environment–in Windows, I have to have Administrative rights, and
    it’s visible to all users. Printer setup, networking–a whole raft of
    day-to-day operations require elevated permissions.)

    So you should consider Windows an OS that supports multiple user
    environments, but *generally* only one is active at a time.

  • yetanotherbob

    Several misunderstandings in the Article.
    Linux is based on Unix. The Linux kernel is actually a ground up rewrite of Unix. The GNU utilities were then used to make a complete system. A bare kernel is a near useless bit of software. Since then, there have been many many more bits added to make the complete Linux systems we have today.
    Windows was originally a shell run in DOS. After 1995, to get around the severe limitations of DOS, a new operating system (NT, New Technology) was used as the basic kernal under the Windows shell. This was based on the old VMS operating system from the 1970’s. No less a luminary than Richard Stallman is on record as preferring VMS to Unix on purely technical merits alone. All modern Windows systems have that stripped down and highly modified descendant of the old VMS underneath.
    The basic operations of VMS and Unix are simply different. Thus, there are things that each can do that the other must do differently. So, to run Windows on Linux, you have to have a translator layer for many functions.
    That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Microsoft has reportedly done it a couple of times, but never with a product they intended to sell. There are reasons for that, some technical and some business related.
    The well regarded Wine Project is one Open Source example of the same thing. Wine continues to advance in making Windows programs able to be run in LInux. It isn’t a complete solution, but it sometimes works.
    Microsoft also has some limited bits that make Linux programs able to run in Windows.
    The technical limitations mean that there will probably always be limitations on the programs that you can run this way.
    On the business side, things are even more complicated.

    Yes, there are some issues on the terms of the GPL license. The terms of the GPL have been tested in courts in Europe and in the United States. They are quite legally enforceable.

    What it means for Microsoft is that they would have to release any code they write as both Open Source and licensed under the GPL if they compile any GPL licensed code in a product. That Microsoft officially sees as a commercial death knell. The Microsoft lawyers are right too.
    However, that only applies if they compile the code into their product.
    If on the other hand, they simply write code that will run on top of or along side of GPL code, there is no problem. Just keep the programs completely separate. Then there is no need to lose ownership.
    As Oracle found out last year, API’s are open to everybody. Microsoft can use Linux API’s in it’s commercial offerings to it’s hearts content with no legal repercussions. Thanks, Google.
    So, a Microsoft Windows on Linux is not a legal impossibility.
    However, it would never run completely like Microsoft Windows. That would create problems for some applications, and applications designed to run on this theoretical Microsoft Linux might not run well, or even at all on Microsoft Windows.
    That is the real killer for Microsoft. As a commercial vendor, they have to provide support on all the platforms they sell to at any time. It’s the support needs that are the deciding factor there, I believe.
    So, what they have done is to support (somewhat) the efforts of the Mono group and the Wine group, and also work at making Windows run well in Linux and the various Virtual Machines. That gives them the best of all worlds from a support standpoint.
    If your Microsoft application is acting up, Microsoft only has to make it work in Windows. Any other problems must be taken up with the environment vendor.
    And that’s probably as it should be.

  • MJH

    Incredible. It’s easy to write an incredibly intelligent sounding article when you have absolutely no clue what you don’t know…

  • MJH

    1. “Kernel” does NOT equal program libraries. MS can have it’s own.
    2. Source code is NOT required to put proprietary pgms on Linux.
    3. There is nothing that Win can do that Lin doesn’t do 2.5 times faster on the same hardware.
    4. Linux/Unix is an entirely upside-down computing model than MS “experts” are used to. Hence, hysteria.
    5. Linux/Unix is infinitely extensible by design. Extrapolate…..
    6. Get a new lollipop kid, they were telling me Unix was dead in 1998. Then Linux hit. I put a whole IT department out of work the next year.