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WSL is a great way to learn Linux from the comfort of your Windows PC

WSL
WSL (Image credit: Windows Central)

If you're reading this you're probably very happy with Windows. After all, Windows 11 has just arrived with all its newness, and even if you can't actually update to it, Windows 10 isn't going away.

So why am I talking about learning Linux? Well for one, it's never too late or a bad idea to learn something new. You might not use Linux right now and you're probably thinking it'd be a waste considering you're happy with Windows. But Linux isn't just some other desktop operating system you don't care about. It has plenty of applications out in the big wide world.

Best of all, it's easy to get some basics down from the comfort of your Windows 10 or Windows 11 PC thanks to the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). The seamless integration of Linux and Windows makes WSL a perfect tool to begin to learn Linux without ever leaving the comfort of what you already use.

What is WSL?

WSL

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

WSL is essentially a virtual machine running on Windows. You never leave Windows to run it, you can use Windows terminal apps to access it, and nowadays you can even access its file system from within the stock Windows File Explorer app.

Put simply, you can almost consider WSL like any other app you run on your Windows PC. You can open it up, do what you need to within it, then close it down. It can run alongside other Windows apps, and it can integrate with Windows apps like VSCode, too.

The latest version, WSL2, runs a full, proper Linux kernel, so it's fast, and for the most part, it's like interacting with a native Linux desktop OS. With Windows 11, you can even run Linux GUI apps using WSL. It's really powerful, easy to set up, and, should anything actually break, easy enough to completely get rid of without doing any lasting damage.

Installing WSL is a breeze and on Windows 11 can be done with a single command. It's also now available in the Microsoft Store alongside the various officially supported distributions that run inside WSL.

Great place to get comfortable with Linux basics

WSL

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Because it runs like an app on top of Windows, you don't need to build virtual machines, dedicate portions of your system resources, nor put up with a potentially slow and laggy experience. To use a popular phrase, it just works.

If you use Windows Terminal getting into your Linux distros is as easy as opening a new tab, but you can also interact with or enter WSL using PowerShell. Even though WSL now supports GUI apps, it's a good way to get comfortable using a terminal since there's no included desktop environment. It isn't exactly the same as running a full Linux install on your PC, but for beginners, it's close enough.

There are plenty of memes about Linux users and terminals, but it doesn't exist just to score nerd points. Once you're comfortable it's actually a fast and convenient way to do a number of basic tasks, even mundane things like making folders and moving files around.

WSL

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Linux distros installed with WSL will have their own file system, but thanks to Microsoft's extremely clever engineers you can interact with those in the File Explorer as well. You can also access your Windows filesystem from within Linux. The two live together in perfect harmony.

A few basic commands you'll need to get started include:

sudo apt updatesudo apt upgradesudo apt install

These three commands will look after updating, upgrading, and installing, the absolute basics of getting anything done in Linux. I'm using Ubuntu on WSL, but these commands will also work on some of the other distros such as Debian.

So much documentation, help is always on hand

WSL

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

WSL is a huge project supported by both official and unofficial documentation. If you're interested, the best place to start is Microsoft's own docs pages (opens in new tab), which contain some basic tutorials on using WSL along with other tools such as git.

This might be the best place to start but I'm a firm believer that there's no right and wrong way to learn how to use Linux. It was something I decided to start during the first great lockdown of 2020 and between WSL, Chrome OS, and a spare laptop, along with your search engine of choice, YouTube, and GitHub, there are so many resources available.

Learning Linux can be a bit of a rabbit hole. Once you start falling down it there's no telling when you'll stop. There are a lot of questions you'll ask, but there's almost always a fairly easy-to-find solution. And thanks to WSL, you can live within the warm, cozy confines of your Windows PC while you do it.

And don't forget, the upcoming Steam Deck will run Linux. Even if you're not planning to tinker too much with it, at some point you're probably going to find yourself in need of some basics or some terminal confidence. No better time to start.

Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently you'll find him covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

6 Comments
  • All I got from this article is how enticing it is to run and check out linux on Windows. Yes, some info and installs but nothing that says how to truly do it. Maybe this why most people don't even try because what I got here will not make me try.
    For instance, Now I install WSL from win11 store.... What is next?
    Command lines are for nerds I don't care how it is spinned.
    GUI yes. when Linux can run descent enough in GUI just by installing from windows store, I can guarantee you, the interest to check it out will quadruple.
  • We have a guide for that already which is linked in this post. As for the rest of what you said...IDK feel like you totally missed the point? Linux involves a lot of terminal use. That's just how it is. If all you want is GUI apps then it's not for you in the slightest. But if you'd like to learn some "nerd" stuff, I suggest you actually do some research and you might even like it.
  • Well I used youtube, and I am running ubuntu right now on my machine and android 11. LoL
  • You can run Linux GUI in WSL
    The store app x410 I think enables.
    From memory it’s the same devs who make token2shell (a great SSH terminal app)
  • Learn some Linux? To be honest, Windows 11 is the year of Linux on the Desktop. You can run EVERYTHING (including GUI apps)
  • You could. But they are so ugly.