Dom.

Linux user tries Windows, in 2020

So I've been using Linux on my devices for 2 years now, including Arch (btw) for the past 6 months. Here is what I think about Windows 10 after using it for a week.

WSL v2

You might've heard, Windows 10 will soon ship a real Linux Kernel with the newest releases. No need for Cygwin or a Linux VM.

It's surprisingly lightweight as it runs on Hyper-V, and doesn't use much RAM or CPU at all. It launches pretty fast and is even integrated into VsCode.

What's the catch then? Is it slow? Well, let's have a look at the performance comparison.

WSL Performance

https://linuxconfig.org/how-to-benchmark-your-linux-system

I tested a few "real world" benchmarks on both my Ubuntu 20.04 and Windows partition (in WSL v2).

Use case WSL Ubuntu
SysBench - CPU 13,840 14,766
SysBench - I/O 79,500 85,260

As you can see the performance is comparable to a native Ubuntu enivonment (average WSL seems to be about 8% slower).

Linux GUI apps on Linux

Microsoft recently announced they'll fully support running GUI Linux apps via WSL, on Wayland, even with hardware acceleration support.

Even NVIDIA announced GPU "passthrough" with CUDA support, coming to Insider Preview in June.

This is huge. Unfortunately though, I can't tell you much more about it since It's not available yet.

Windows Terminal

Ever since Windows 1.0 was released in 1985, Windows hasn't had a good terminal application. Both CMD and Powershell terminals are pretty bad compared to everything else used these days.

Until Windows Terminal came around last year.

Is it better? Well it sure does support a lot of modern features:

  • Emojis 👌
  • GPU acceleration
  • Acrylic blur (including custom themes)
  • TMUX like tiling and multiple tabs
  • Multiple profiles (cmd, powershell, bash, etc)

WinGet - the new package manager

Apple has Homebrew, Linux has (insert your favourite package manager of choice here), Windows has... Well apparently WinGet now. It's 2020 and Microsoft finally decided to catch up with the competition and support their own package manager.

Except it's not that good. Yet. The applications you install, they still often require user interaction with GUI installers, which might somewhat defeat the purpose of a good package manager.

And you would think that a package manager is able to both install and remove applications, but of course you have to uninstall them yourself.

Some more tweaks

PowerToys

I found Windows quite lacking when it comes to organising windows on a bigger screen. Some shortcuts are also missing or inconvenient. PowerToys is yet another Microsoft app that tries to solve this problem.

For example I had to rebind Alt+F4 to Win+W. Unfortunately there's no way of moving a window to a different virtual desktop with the keyboard. It's "tiling" solution doesn't even remotely compare to things like i3 or bspwm on Linux.

Clipboard, Screenshots, and more

Here are some more things that have been added since I last used Windows:

  • Clipboard Manager (Win+V)
  • Screenshot tool (Win+Shift+S)
  • Screen recording without (noticeable) performance impact (Win+G)
  • Search is actually pretty fast now (Win+S)
  • VsCode feels smoother than Linux??

Resource Usage

Of course, it can't be perfect. Everything comes at a cost. In this case it's RAM. Running a few tabs in Firefox, WSL, VsCode, and a simple NPM server costs 6GB of RAM. Running the same workflow on Linux would not exceed 3GB of RAM.

CPU usage is very comparable to Linux, while keeping (in my experience) better battery life and being able to utilize hardware acceleration where needed (watching videos in 4k on Linux sucks). However when it comes to disk utilization, I found Windows to use way more space than Linux. It's to the point where I wouldn't even bother using Windows on a 120GB partition, definitely at least 250GB or preferably 500GB.

Final impressions

Windows (at least to me) used to feel extremely slow in development. I can say that it's not the case anymore. It might be that the upgrade to a 6-core machine with an NVME SSD helps, but it's no secret that a lot of work is done under the hood on Windows to bring developers over to use Windows rather than MacOS/Linux.

Dominik Tarnowski
I write code.