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Microsoft Quietly Released Its Own Linux Distro

Steve Balmer
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Someone might need to check on Steve Ballmer. Microsoft has developed its own Linux distro, CBL-Mariner, and released it under the open source MIT License.

Microsoft said in the CBL-Mariner repository on GitHub that it's "an internal Linux distribution for Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure and edge products and services" that was "designed to provide a consistent platform for these devices and services" and "enhance Microsoft’s ability to stay current on Linux updates" moving forward.

ZDNet first reported on CBL-Mariner's existence in November 2020, but earlier this month, Microsoft engineer Juan Rey published an easy-to-follow guide to installing the distribution that makes it easy for anyone with a bit of Linux know-how to use. So now it's finally starting to sink in that Microsoft truly is embracing Linux.

Of course, there were other signs from the release of the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update in August 2016 to the announcement (opens in new tab) that WSL 2 will enable the use of graphical user interface (GUI) Linux apps. But developing a distro is different from assimilating Linux into Windows. 

That's what makes the development and release of CBL-Mariner so interesting. Ballmer said in 2001 that "Linux is a cancer"—though he eventually walked back that comment in 2016—and claimed that open source software shouldn't receive public funding because licensing issues mean it "is not available to commercial companies."

A lot has changed since then. For example, TechRepublic said in 2018 that Microsoft was the world's largest contributor to open source projects, and when the company acquired GitHub, it became an important aspect of many open source projects, even if none of its employees ever contribute a single line of code to the software itself.

So. Yeah. Microsoft has released a Linux distro that anyone can download, install, and use for their server- and edge-based projects. Welcome to 2021.

Nathaniel Mott
Nathaniel Mott

Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.

  • unis_torvalds
    Linux is the future.
  • Matt_ogu812
    It isn't the future until MS comes out with Linux for it end user......dual boot with Windows or Linux.
  • Kiers
    betcha some subtle simple zero day backdoors are in it with the intent for the open source community to clone and copy this MIT License's the end of Linux given enough marketing hype ($$$$) for this distro. Why else would MS take efforts when Linux is fine w/o MS?
  • codetaku
    Microsoft pretty clearly wants to be operating a for-subscription service. It doesn't make sense for an OS to be a for-subscription service. So what would make sense would be adopting a Linux kernel, then offering a 'Windows Experience' on a subscription basis. Or they could go the Apple route and just heavily customize and develop on top of the kernel. For now, though, this makes sense as the cloud is dominated by Linux and not even Microsoft is going to pretend that Windows has a chance there. Also, we should never forget that no one should have ever listened to Steve Ballmer about anything, ever. HE is the cancer. He almost killed Microsoft completely with his ludicrous competition-focused approach to the workplace. He posted leaderboards on every wall where members of the same teams would compete against each other to score points, with the leaderboards updating in realtime. Teams within Microsoft them competed against each other on points as well. It created the most hostile, inhumane, toxic environment imaginable. No one would ever help a coworker because that meant they would be scoring points while you were losing out. You were heavily penalized through the very nature of the system for doing anything remotely cooperative or helpful to the company as a whole. It was disgusting, and should be held up as a prime example of what to never, ever, ever do.
  • retrofitit
    Released under the MIT license.
    The MIT license is not quite compatible with the GPL license which Linux is released under.
    You can relicense MIT licensed software under a GPL license, but you cannot relicense GPL licensed software with the MIT license.
  • mgutz
    Nobody should be suprised. MS is now a cloud company with much, if not most, of its revenue coming from Azure. Last I checked Linux usage on Azure was about even with Windows.