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Turning Windows & Macs into Legitimate Modern Development Platforms

In this article, I discuss the importance of my maintaining a standard Windows desktop background and the advantages of using Linux containers on Windows and Mac. I also talk about the history of Microsoft's NT architecture and the emergence of WSL, Ubuntu 20.04, and the Microsoft Store. I further explore the implications of the Oracle-owned VirtualBox and the Canonical-owned Snap store, as well as the need for a Linux kernel on Macs.

The Iron is Hot So Chase The Rabbit on Down the Linux Hole

By Michael Levin

Saturday, May 20, 2023

I really need to let people see me booting up and starting to journal in a very familiar environment, that being Windows with a standard Windows desktop background. Projecting to the people the proper standardness of it is so important now. I’ve removed my awesome logo, the Alice metaphors and even the Linux, Python, vim & git logo. No need to push that in people’s faces all the time. Get yourself dry and boring and mainstream.

The logos and stuff have deposited the proper “archaeological layer” in my YouTube videos, haha! Now it’s time time to move onto a demeanor prospective Data Scientists and such will be able to tolerate. I can be myself and be a bit wacky with ASCII art in the installer. But when on Windows 11, look it. When on Mac Ventura, look it. And no hearkening back to the good old days of early Windows 10 with the misty-blue haze that nailed it and won me over to Win10. No matter how much I like it, it just screams “old” to everyone else.

Metro and even Windows 8 had me cringing and believing Microsoft finally shot themselves in the foot for the final time. Oh, was I wrong! I have since come to learn more about the NT architecture that still lurks beneath, and understand that Microsoft has contingency upon contingency upon contingency lined-up. What we’re seeing with the WSL, the Windows subsystem for Linux, is today just the one winning card they happened to play in a hand full of choices. It is in its own way as amazing as Apple Mac’s switching CPU-architectures three times; PowerPC to Intel to ARM.

And you know what? It’s just the resource-shuffling and remapping shell-game with both Apple and Microsoft. Memory protection, dynamic resizing and reallocation of resources, machine instruction translation tables and the like. It’s a combination of computers just being that fast these (those) days and direct support for such shenanigans being built-in. Either way, both Apple and Microsoft took bigtime advantage of the ultimate OS-shellgame existing on modern hardware in a way that they never want you to be able to do.

Well, too bad because Linux won. Microsoft knows it so deeply that they all but ship Linux with Windows for developers. Microsoft has a big-time developer bias because of both their history of it, and because the Apple App store is so friggn’ profitable and such a draw for developers, Microsoft has to go all-in on every other form of development like WebDev and Python-support for Data Scientists that the grass doesn’t look quite so green over at Apple. Truth.

That makes Microsoft generous with Dev tools. Full of traps locking you into their own ecosystem, for sure. Meant to get you to use the Azure cloud serves without a doubt. But generous to a fault, especially regarding Linux none-the-less. I know this because I’ve attempted to switch to Linux Desktop a few times over the years, and have fully switched over all development work I do to Linux long ago. Dissatisfied with the state of Linux portability, I wrote my own Linux distro, the still somewhat popular Levinux, to make a portable nomadic tiny virtual Linux that floated between proprietary host OSes like water. But it was old, slow tech I based it on and not long-term viable.

None-the-less, Microsoft (and the rest of the world but Apple) saw what I saw and made supporting Linux virtual machines, and even more importantly: containers, table-stakes for what a modern Desktop OS was supposed to do. Without it, you couldn’t well call yourself a credible developer. Oops, bought the wrong desktop, did you? Well, what choice do you have? 80% of the world is on some form of Windows. So Microsoft having made it’s already-brilliant musical chairs lower-level OS stuff that is NT, it made Linux one of the plug-in OSes for it. NT was around 1993 and WSL was around 2017.

Today, you just hop on over to the Microsoft Store and pull down Ubuntu 20.04 and a whole bunch of heavy-lifting that I don’t have to worry about anymore gets done with the massively resourced juggernaut that is Microsoft behind me. This is mostly turning on the Hypervisor and getting you to reboot a bunch of times. There’s a few things that still aren’t automatically done for people downloaded early versions and are stuck with old drivers, but that’s what my YouTube videos are for.

Oh yeah, there’s like 3 Ubuntu 20.04’s in the Microsoft Store. It doesn’t much matter which. The important thing is that the Microsoft snoopity-snoop… uh, I mean the Microsoft Managed Online License which uses Apple-inspired App Bundles that wrap all your program dependencies in a folder like it’s a single program and hides it all where you can’t find it. Innovative? Not really, Apple copied this concept in-turn from Sun Microsystems who probably copied it from someone else. I myself commissioned a special version called WBScript from the illustrious Howard Harrison for the Amiga Computer back in 1988 or 1989.

I often make the point that there is almost nothing in tech today that wasn’t first on the Amiga. I think about things like ChatGPT, and while probably not, the permutations of the cellular automata like John Conway’s Game of Life, the Mandelbrot stuff, and the music mod demo scene sure made it feel like AI. There were emergent properties in those Copper-chip hacks, for sure. Even the generative transformer stuff is feeling a little passe compared to the Amiga, I shit you not. And so it is with a sigh of relieve I watch the proprietary desktop OSes begrudgingly allow Linux containers to flow through them like water.

Docker, Docker everywhere, and no Linux kernel on Mac. Boooo! Well, the technosnotti elite can’t let that stand. And so the dark horse of the AI-pocalypse to the rescue again! No, no not the Crooked Sorcerer Paul Graham. I’m talking about the space tourist. No, no not Richard Garriott. He’s only worth tens of millions. No, that guy who’s worth hundreds of millions. Yeah, Mark Shuttleworth. That’s the one. He’s behind Ubuntu which is powering what seems like most of the Cloud, and thus AI these days. I could be wrong, but at any rate it’s Ubuntu that put out Multipass so you can deal with that pesky “no Linux Kernel” problem on Macs so they can get over their Docker-envy.

Sure it’s the free and open source VirtualBox that’s powering even that, but VirtualBox has been bought by Oracle, like Oracle bought Sun Microsystems, and where’s Sun today? Java? Legally embroiled. MySQL? A distant backseat to PostgreSQL and anything else but MySQL. Ever hear of Berkeley DB? No, neither has anyone else. That’s because it was NoSQL before NoSQL and Oracle couldn’t have such a thing in the FOSS world and bought it, effectively putting the kibosh on it. See a pattern? Well, VirtualBox isn’t quite dead yet and is a good enough FOSS component to make Ubuntu Multipass possible, and no tech solution is “pure” anyway, so Multipass it is for Mac’s version of WSL.

Got that? You need a Linux kernel… not just *nix OS like Unix, which the Mac already is. That’s not good enough, especially considering the Mac’s totally non-standard top-level OS-paths that breaks everything and a complete lack of an official free and open source software repository. Sorry folks, homebrew isn’t official. Did you notice it’s called home brew? That’s because Apple didn’t brew it, never did, never will. It’s free and competes with the Apple developer program and could, God forbid, let you do something clever and outside the box. Apple is not for people who think differently.

So Ubuntu it is. Still, nothing’s pure and once again Canonical (Mark Shuttleworth’s company that makes Ubuntu), is pushing solutions on us we don’t need and which harms the Linux community by driving divides and fracturing schisms like it did with the Unity desktop. No, not the Unity game engine. The Unity desktop was this GNOME/KDE/Windows/Mac thigie, but different from any of them and undermined GNOME. So Ubuntu finally ditched it and went back to GNOME. Well today they’re doing the same thing with the Snap store when the Debian Package Management System (more often known as apt) is quite apt. It’s so apt for the task, it’s named Aptitude. And it’s used by Raspberry Pi, ChromeOS and a bunch of other things, so it’s no slouch. It’s just not jumping on the Docker bandwagon with enough verve, so FUD must be injected.

As you can tell, I’m no fan of the snap store. I’d be on Ubuntu 18.04 if leaning into the new Microsoft WSL default settings weren’t such a wise thing to do. But I write my Rabbit Hole Linux script exclusively using the apt system. WSL is itself already a container. I don’t want a ziggurat of containers. In for a penny, in for a penny as I always say. In that exact spirit, I tore out another tech called LXD which I started using, an other Canonical extra, but one that has real purpose if you weren’t already on WSL or Multipass (but instead on real Linux hardware), and I’ll get to it later. But for now understand I’m going for the smallest reasonable footprint and the least possible surface area in a Linux container that will happily live on a Windows or Mac machine.

Wow, this has turned out to not be a test-run for my live-streaming session at all, but rather another subconscious dredging-session, getting out what I needed to get out. Saying what needed to be said.

And that’s about it. I do need to start revealing my system to the world with little layering-up steps. Let’s slam out a to-do list.

 _____       ____        
|_   _|__   |  _ \  ___  
  | |/ _ \  | | | |/ _ \ 
  | | (_) | | |_| | (_) |
  |_|\___/  |____/ \___/ 

And above all else, tighten up the Rabbit Hole Linux story. Make it compelling and get a bunch of people chasing the rabbit.

Rabbit Hole Linux, Screen #1

Rabbit Hole Linux Screen 1

Rabbit Hole Linux, Screen #2

Rabbit Hole Linux Screen 2

Rabbit Hole Linux, Screen #3

Rabbit Hole Linux Screen 3

Those screens are going to change many times but that’s all the more reason to document them here. Ironically, it also makes it easy to move it back and forth to my phone for some image editing which has become much easier on the phone since Photoshop has become this bloated hog. Artstudio Pro just keeps getting better and better on the iPhone platform, and perfect for the day-to-day graphics tasks.

What ails the world right now, and the place where I could do the most help, is definitely with journaling and helping people get over the hump of vi/vim/NeoVim.