Pengwin: A Linux specifically for Windows Subsystem for Linux

You've been able to run many Linux distros on Windows thanks to WSL for years. Now, there's a Linux distro built to work hand-in-glove with WSL.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

When Microsoft and Canonical first announced they were bringing the Linux shell to Windows 10 in Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) in 2016, people couldn't believe it. Today, on both Windows 10, you can run not only Canonical's Ubuntu, but Debian, Kali, openSUSE, and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES), as well. Now, you can also run a Linux designed to work with WSL from moment one: Whitewater Foundry's  Pengwin.

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The only thing I find surprising about this is that it took so long. WSL will never be popular with the hoi polloi, but sysadmins and developers love being able to run Linux on their office Windows machines.

That said, this isn't Whitewater's first Linux distro for WSL. Earlier, the company released versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and Fedora. Neither have Red Hat's support. But, according to Whitewater, members of the Fedora community helped on their Fedora Remix for WSL -- and they have the support of Fedora leadership. The company is also a Red Hat Business and Technology Partner.

Pengwin, formerly WLinux, though, is all Whitewater's. It's based on Debian Linux and work by Microsoft Research. 

Like other WSL Linux distros, Pengwin primarily provides a shell. That's not to say you can't run graphical programs on it. You can. To do this, however, you must install a Windows-based X server, such as X410.

To help you get up to speed, Pengwin includes a custom Pengwin-setup tool. This enables you to:

  • Change language and keyboard settings.
  • Select optional shells: Csh, zsh (with oh-my-zsh), and fish (with oh-my-fish).
  • Choose text editors: Emacs, neovim, and Visual Studio Code.
  • Unpack your favorite development environment NodeJS (with n, npm, and/or yarn), Python 3.7 (with pip), Ruby (via rbenv), Rust (via rustup installer), and Go.
  • Manage your Microsoft Windows and Azure deployments with PowerShell and azure-cli, command line tools for Azure.
  • Enable/disable Windows Explorer shell integration.
  • Configure experimental GUI settings, including a Windows 10 theme for your Linux applications, HiDPI support, and international input methods.
  • Create a secure bridge to Docker running on Windows.

Once installed, you can, of course, install numerous Debian Linux applications via the apt package management system.

To help Pengwin work well with WSL, it comes with wslu. This is a set of useful open-source utilities for bridging the gap between WSL and Windows 10. This includes tools for converting WSL path to Windows path or creating your Linux application shortcuts on the Windows 10 desktop. Pengwin also claims to have faster patching for WSL-specific bugs than any other WSL upstream Linux distro.

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Pengwin also includes the usual array of Linux programming tools and languages. The latest release, Pengwin 1.2, includes OpenStack command-line interface (CLI) tools, Amazon Web Services (AWS) CLI tools, and TerraForm. With 1.2, you can also back up your home folder, which can be very useful if you must reset Pengwin.

If you want to make the most of Linux on Windows, Pengwin demands a look. To run it, you must be running Windows 10 version 16215.0 or higher. You can buy Pengwin currently for $9.99. Normally, it costs $19.99. Check it out. I think you might like it.

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