A strong segment of the user community considers Linux the only operating system worth having. They’re the ones who want full control of the OS, with the ability to get down into its innards, use the command line, and install whatever software they like. Ubuntu is the most popular flavor of Linux, but buying a computer and installing Ubuntu on it runs into a lot of hardware compatibility issues.

A simpler way to get Ubuntu is to install it under Windows. Ubuntu 18.04 LTS is now available from the Windows Store. It runs under the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), which takes care of all the compatibility concerns. Nearly any modern x64 machine can run Ubuntu under WSL.

Running Ubuntu

Ubuntu is the most popular distribution of Linux for desktops. It’s optimized for GUI use. Big-name commercial applications generally aren’t available on Linux, but there are free alternatives which provide equivalent capabilities in most cases.

People who install Ubuntu have a choice of keeping it up with the latest version or installing a Long Term Support (LTS) release which will remain supported for years. Ubuntu 18.04 support, in the form of free updates, will be available until April 2023. You can set up automatic updates or run them manually. The previous LTS version of Ubuntu, 16.04, is still available from the Windows Store, though there aren’t many reasons to install it now. The system requirements for both versions are about the same: an x64 machine with Windows 10.

The past few versions of Ubuntu used Unity as the default graphic desktop interface. With Version 18.04 (code-named “Bionic Beaver”), the operating system is going back to the more widely supported GNOME interface. Unity was part of a not very successful effort to push Ubuntu into the mobile market.

Ubuntu isn’t available under Windows 10 S. The S version is designed to keep people from making mistakes, and Linux is designed to let people make all the mistakes they want, so it wouldn’t be a good fit.

Alternative installation methods

There is a performance cost in running Linux under Windows. The best way to get a fast Linux machine is to install it as a bootable OS, either by itself or as a dual boot with Windows. It’s not a tremendously difficult process, but it can run into snags. Wi-Fi and audio are especially likely to run into compatibility issues.

Another approach is to run Linux in a virtual machine, using VMware. This offers more flexibility about what version of the operating system to install, but performance is likely to be poorer than under WSL. According to Microsoft, using a VM requires more processing power, memory, and storage. Running either as a VM or with the Windows Store version puts the OS in its own window.

Since Ubuntu from the Windows Store runs under WSL, it has access to the entire Windows filesystem. This is convenient for sharing files between Linux and Windows. The C drive is treated as a separate volume from the Linux filesystem, addressed as /mnt/c. The filesystem has Linux-native capabilities, including file permissions and names that would be illegal under Windows. It’s real Linux, not a half-hearted attempt at a compatible application.

Even so, true purists will want to install their OS directly. They’ll set up a dual boot, or else they’ll wipe every last trace of Windows from their machines. They’ll get better performance and (if they remove Windows) all the available disk space, and they won’t have to worry about Windows updates. But people who don’t want to spend so much time on experimentation will find Ubuntu under Windows a convenient way to get the operating system they want.

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