What Is Pengwin Linux?

The first paid-for Linux distro has some advantages but it's not for everyone

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Some time ago, Microsoft released the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). Effectively, it allows administrators to run Linux command line tools on Windows.

For admins, that was a boon. For the average user, however, it didn’t mean much (as average users won’t be working with the command line anyway). Fast forward to now and we have the first Linux distribution designed to run on top of WSL. The distribution in question is Pengwin Linux, by Whitewater Foundry, Ltd. Co.

What is Pengwin Linux?

Pengwin Linux is a full-blown Linux environment, based on Debian Linux and conceived by Microsoft Research. What makes Pengwin special is it is the first Linux distribution designed specifically to run on WSL. Of course, there’s more to it than that.

Pengwin isn’t merely a virtual machine running on top of a Windows 10 host. Thanks to a set of tools, called wslu, Pengwin can seamlessly interact with Windows 10, and much more. With this combination, users can do things like:

  • Easily change the language and keyboard settings for Pengwin Linux.
  • Support for over 27 thousand Linux applications, which can all be installed with native Linux installer tools (aka package managers).
  • Select optional command line tools for the Linux environment (such as csh, zsh, and fish).
  • Select from popular text editors (such as emacs, neovim, and Visual Studio Code).
  • Work with the various development environments.
  • Manage Microsoft Windows and Azure deployments, using PowerShell and azure-cli command line tools.
  • Enable/disable Windows Explorer shell integration.
  • Configure experimental GUI settings.
  • Create a secure bridge to Docker running on Windows.

Why Would You Want This?

The primary target audience for Pengwin Linux is developers. Why? Because a great deal of development depends upon open source tools and Linux. However, Pengwin isn’t just for developers. You may be an average user and want to run one of the thousands of Linux applications natively on Windows. You could do this by installing the likes of VirtualBox and then running a Linux virtual machine, but that takes added resources, plus you must be familiar with the Linux operating system.

To get around that, you could use Pengwin and run Linux apps directly on Windows 10. Because Pengwin Linux is designed to be optimized for running Linux apps. This means the Linux apps will run as if they are native to the Windows environment. And because you’re not running these apps on a virtual machine, you can seamlessly work between Windows and the Linux application.

What’s the Catch?

Screenshot of installing WSL from the Microsoft Store.
What We Like
  • Ability to run Linux apps on Windows.

  • Easy installation from the Microsoft Store.

  • Makes for an outstanding developer environment.

What We Don't Like
  • Not free.

  • Requires installation of WSL.

First off, unlike nearly every Linux distribution on the planet, Pengwin Linux isn’t free. The cost of this WSL-specific Linux distribution is $19.99. Second, you must first have WSL installed on Windows 10. Fortunately, WSL can be installed directly from the Windows 10 Microsoft Store app, so you can point and click your way to success. Once WSL is installed on Windows 10, you can then install Pengwin directly from the Windows 10 Microsoft Store app.

Installing WSL on Windows 10

For instructions on installing WSL on Windows 10, see: How To Run the Bash Command Line in Windows 10