Using Xming for GUI apps in Ubuntu on Windows 10 Home Edition

To get Ubuntu GUI applications to work under Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) I installed the X server Xming in Windows 10. Assuming that I've actually installed some GUI apps, such as xterm or chromium-browser, I can then start them from the Ubuntu bash prompt.

First of all, Xming needs to be started in Windows, and you need to set the DISPLAY environment variable: export DISPLAY=:0

You can then run xterm & to start a separate terminal window. I got a warning about Xming not finding the font it looks for, but I can live with that. The more serious problem is that I don't get my Swedish keyboard settings. To fix that, I adjusted the Xming shortcut in Windows. To find the shortcut file, I went to XMing in Windows 10 start menu, right-clicked, selected "More" and "Open path" as shown below:

I then right-clicked on the Xming shortcut in the explorer windows that appeared, and changed the path to the following:
"C:\Program Files (x86)\Xming\Xming.exe" :0 -clipboard -multiwindow -xkbmodel pc105 -xkblayout fi -xkboptions grp:ctrl_shift_toggle
I actually used Finnish keyboard settings, since I read that some Xming versions have problems with the (identical) Swedish keyboard settings. If you already had Xming running, you probably have to exit it before you restart it:

Having restarted Xming, and started an xterm again, the keyboard had all the keys in the right places! :-)


Running docker in Ubuntu on Windows 10 Home Edition

With Ubuntu running in WSL on Windows 10, I want it to be as close to a "real" Ubuntu installation as possible. One of the shortcomings with WSL is that it doesn't allow you to run docker. apt install docker works as expected, and running docker will give you the familiar menu, but docker ps is sufficient to break the spell.

$ docker ps
Cannot connect to the Docker daemon at unix:///var/run/docker.sock. Is the docker daemon running?

It turns out that you can run the docker client commands in WSL ubuntu, but you can't run the docker service through WSL. The trick is to run docker in Windows, and get your client in WSL Ubuntu to talk to that.

These days, there is Docker for Windows which uses Microsoft Hyper-V in Windows 10, but since my laptop only run Windows 10 Home Edition, I installed the older Docker Toolbox, which is based on VirtualBox. At first, I installed a brand new VirtualBox, and then intalled Docker Toolbox (which also includes VirtualBox). This caused a networking problem, but after I deinstalled both Docker and VirtualBox, and ran the Docker Engine installer again so that it could install its preferred version of VirtualBox, it worked fine. I didn't include Kitematic, marked alpha, in the install.

The trick now, is to get the WSL Ubuntu docker client to communicate with the server in the VirtualBox. To do this, you need to define three environment variables:

export DOCKER_HOST=tcp://XXX:2376  
export DOCKER_CERT_PATH=/mnt/c/Users/XXX/.docker/machine/certs/

 Of course, you should replace the XXX part in the host and cert variables. DOCKER_HOST should be the same as you have in Windows. I assume you know your Windows home directory...

Having done this much, enables me to do:

$ docker run -it alpine sh/ 
The obvious remaining problem is mounting volumes. Even if I run this in WSL Ubuntu, the docker service runs in a different environment, with a different view of the file system. I assume that provided directories must be avilable from the Windows system, and presented with paths that make sense in Windows...

I suspect there will be more complications, but there is basic operation at least. :-)

Running Linux directly in Windows 10

Tools like Cygwin and Babun has made Windows somewhat bearable for people used to the power of Unix, and VirtualBox has enabled us to run a full Linux system in a virtual machine if we want that. Despite all this, I still have a dual boot laptop with Windows 10 and Ubuntu on separate partitions. A shell and ported applications is too weak. A virtual machine is too slow and cumbersome.

A while ago, some surprising new "apps" appeared in Windows App Store: OpenSuSE Leap 42SLES 12 and Ubuntu 16.04 LTS! They all use the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) which allows you to run native ELF binaries on a Windows 10 kernel. So, it's neither ported apps like Cygwin, nor virtualization. It's more like Wine, but in the other direction, and developed by people with full access to the relevant source code.

To install WSL, you need build 16215 or later of Windows 10 on x64, which currently (September 2017) means that you need to join Windows Insider to get a pre-release of Windows 10. No big deal! I went along and installed Ubuntu.

WSL is mainly intended as a developer tool. The idea is not to run Linux production servers on a Windows 10 kernel. I hope it's good enough for me to stop dual booting my laptop, and give the whole disk to Windows.

I now have an "Ubuntu" app in the Windows 10 task bar, which provides me with a familiar bash shell, just like Cygwin and Babun does, but here I can run things like apt install docker and a lot of things I could never do in Cygwin or Babun, without the sluggishness and complications of virtualization.

To run Linux GUI programs, the simplest approach is probably to install Xming in Windows, and export DiSPLAY=:0 in Ubuntu. By default that gives you a US keyboard in X, but I wrote a blog post about fixing that.

WSL does not support the docker server, but with a docker server running in Windows, you can use the docker command to run client tasks in Ubuntu. Something like docker run -it alpine sh works as intended. I wrote a separate blog entry about getting docker working.

Will I drop the Linux partition on my laptop SSD and be happy with only Windows 10 on my laptop? I don't know yet, but I'm optimistic.