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Say hello to Microsoft’s own Linux: CBL-Mariner

Ok, so it’s not called MS-Linux or Lindows, but Microsoft now has its own, honest-to-goodness general Linux distribution: Common Base Linux, (CBL) -Mariner. And just like any Linux distro, you can download and run it yourself. Unbelievable is not it? Why the next thing you know Microsoft lets you run Windows applications on Linux! Oh, wait it has!

Once again feel, listen to you and Linus Torvalds, Microsoft is no longer the enemy of Linux. The enemy of AWS and Google? You can bet on that. Men, Linux no.

Take for example CBL-Mariner. Microsoft did not make a big fuss about releasing CBL-Mariner. It quietly posted the code on GitHub, and anyone can use it. Juan Manuel Rey, Microsoft Senior Program Manager for Azure VMware, recently published a guide on how to build an ISO CBL-Mariner image. Before this, if you were a Linux expert, with a place to work, you could run it, but now, thanks to Rey, anyone with a little Linux skill can do it.

CBL-Mariner is not a Linux desktop. Like Azure Sphere, Microsoft̵

7;s first specialized Linux distro, used to secure edge computing services, it’s a server Linux.

This Microsoft-branded Linux is an internal Linux distribution. It’s intended for Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure and edge products and services. The main task is to provide a consistent Linux platform for these devices and services. Just like Fedora is for Red Hat, it keeps Microsoft on Linux.

CBL-Mariner is built on the idea that you only need a small common core set of packages to meet the needs of cloud and edge services. If you need more, CBL-Mariner also makes it easy to add extra packages on top of the regular core. Once done, the simple build system lets you easily create RPM packages from SPEC and source files. Or you can also use it to create ISOs or virtual hard disk images (VHD).

As you would expect, the basic CBL-Mariner is a very lightweight Linux. You can use it as a container or a container host. With its limited size also comes a minimal attack surface. This also makes it easy to deploy security updates to it via RPM. Its designers make a special point of delivering the latest security updates and fixes to the users. For more on security features, see CBL-Mariner’s GitHub list of security features.

Like any other Linux distro, CBL-Mariner is built on the shoulders of the giants. Microsoft credits VMware’s Photon OS project, a secure Linux, the Fedora project, Linux from Scratch – a guide to building Linux from the source, OpenMamba distro, and yes, even GNU and the Free Software Foundation (FSF). I know some of you may be saying that Microsoft recognizes the FSF, but this is not the 90’s and Steve “Linux is cancer” Ballmer has not been Microsoft’s CEO since 2014.

To try it for yourself, build it on Ubuntu 18.04. Honestly, I would be surprised if you could not build it on any Ubuntu Linux distro from 18.04 and up. I did it on the Ubuntu 20.04.2 desktop. You also need the latest version of the Go language and Docker.

Although the default building system is Ubuntu, CBL-Mariner itself owes a large debt to Fedora. For example, it uses Tiny DNF as its DNF RPM packet manager. For its atomic image-based update mechanism, it uses RPM-OSTree.

So if you want a secure, stable Linux for edge computing or container needs, I suggest – in all seriousness – that you give CBL-Mariner a try. While I continue to have doubts about Windows as a serious operating system, Microsoft did a good job of creating a solid Linux. Who had guessed!

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