Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) is a very useful capability that Microsoft added to Windows 10 in 2017. It enables developers to run GNU/Linux environments directly in Windows without requiring virtual machines (VMs) or dual-boot configurations. Of course, the feature is present in Windows 11 too. Previously, the method to enable WSL on your machine was through the "Turn Windows Features on or off" dialog box, but Microsoft has now released a dedicated app for WSL through the Microsoft Store on Windows 11 too.
The WSL app is currently available as a Preview in the Microsoft Store for Windows 11. Microsoft has noted that there are two interrelated advantages of distributing WSL through this method. The first is that you'll get access to features faster as WSL can be updated directly from the storefront. This is also closely linked to the second advantage where WSL is now decoupled from the Windows component, which means that you won't have to update or modify your Windows installation just because WSL is getting new features.
Microsoft has noted that it has already added some new capabilities to its WSL preview in the Microsoft Store. These are:
- WSLg is now bundled as part of the WSL app!
- New wsl.exe --mount features!
- Add --mount --vhd to make mounting VHD files easier.
- Implement filesystem detection for wsl --mount. This change implements filesystem type detection if no --type is specified when using wsl.exe --mount.
- Add --name feature to wsl --mount. This change adds support for optionally naming a mountpoint when mounting a disk through WSL.
- Updated Linux kernel to 18.104.22.168
- Added progress indicator helper function used to show a Please Wait message with animated dots on the conversion process to show users that WSL is still running.
- Switched wsl --install to not require the --distribution argument. This change switches wsl --install to not require the --distribution argument but maintains support to avoid breaking existing scripts.
- Added wsl.exe --version command which displays relevant version information
It is important to note that the in-Windows version and the Microsoft Store counterpart of WSL can both co-exist and will have access to the same distros. However, the Microsoft Store variant will take precedence. WSL 1 distros can be used, but as a pre-requisite, you'll have to ensure that WSL in Windows is enabled too, as the associated driver has not been decoupled from the OS yet.
Interestingly, Microsoft has noted that it will be promoting the Microsoft Store version of WSL as the optimal way to enable the capability on your Windows 11 machine, since it will ensure a faster update cadence. However, those using the Windows version are still supported. The company will be using feedback to determine the viability of including WSL in the Windows image.