Tips on how to Run a Linux Desktop Utilizing the Home windows Subsystem for Linux

Running Linux alongside Windows has proven increasingly useful over the years. However, when setting up a virtual machine, it can be difficult to manage dual boot because of some stability issues.


One solution is to use the Windows subsystem for Linux, but this can be done without a desktop environment. So why not just install the Linux distribution you own?

Here's how to run a Linux desktop on Windows using the Windows Subsystem for Linux.

What is the Windows Subsystem for Linux?

In case you didn't know, Windows 10 came with the Fall Creators Update 2018 with the Windows subsystem for Linux. This is an optional feature that is easy to install and aids in installing any of the Linux operating systems available in the Windows Store.

Install Linux on Windows

This basically means that you can open a Linux terminal on Windows and install and run Linux software.

No virtual machine is required and there is no dual boot.

The problem with Windows Subsystem for Linux, however, is that it is just a command line experience. There is no desktop. For power users, this probably won't be a problem, but since Linux has a wide range of desktop environments to choose from, it seems a bit of an oversight.

Fortunately, you can now install a Linux desktop on Windows, provided you've set up the Windows subsystem for Linux first.

Make sure Windows 10 is compatible

Before you proceed, here's the important bit: you need to be running a 64-bit version of Windows.

You can check this in Settings> System> Infowhere to find it System type Entry. It should read "64-bit Operating System" to continue. If not, and you're running 64-bit hardware, you'll need to upgrade Windows 10 from 32-bit to 64-bit.


Check the Windows version

Another requirement is that you have to walk Windows 10 Build 14393 or later. You can check this in the same info screen listed under Windows specifications. search for Create operating system— If it is higher than 14393, then you can use the Windows Subsystem for Linux. If not, just run a Windows Update.

Once Windows 10 is compatible, follow our guide to installing the Windows Subsystem for Linux.

With that setup, it's time to add a desktop.

Install a Linux desktop on Windows

If you have already set up the Windows Subsystem for Linux, click begin and enter Bash. Click the first option (the bash run command) to use Linux. The following steps assume that you have Ubuntu installed as your preferred Linux operating system.

First, do an update and update Ubuntu:

sudo apt update
Sudo Apt Upgrade

During this upgrade, go to Sourceforge to download and install the Windows X Server VcXsrv utility. (Other X servers are available for Windows, including Xming and MobaXterm. For the remainder of this guide, we'll use VcXsrv.)

An X server allows you to access the graphical user interface (GUI) of a Linux application or a desktop environment. Linux systems use X to display the desktop, but can also be used on a network.

Make sure your X Window server is installed before proceeding. The next step is to install your Linux desktop.

Many Linux desktop environments (LDEs) are available. We're going to keep things simple and install a lightweight environment called LXDE. Enter the following to install:

sudo apt install lxde

Enter this command after installing LXDE

export DISPLAY =: 0

This tells Linux to display the desktop through the X server. So when you run the X Server program you downloaded above, you will see the Linux desktop environment.

We used VcXsrv which includes the XLaunch tool. Click here to view them X display settings Window and select A big window or A large window with no title bar. search for Show number while you're there and put it on 0.

Set up an X server in Windows

click Next, then choose Do not start a client To ensure that the XLaunch only starts the server, you can start the Linux desktop later. click Next again, then done. You might want to click first Save configuration to save it.

Configure an X server in Windows

Ready to start your Linux desktop? On the command line, enter the command to start your preferred LDE. For example, for LXDE, use:


The Linux desktop environment should then be displayed!

Linux desktop on Windows

You can now run any pre-installed Linux software and even install new apps and utilities.

Don't want a Linux desktop? Just install an app

In addition to installing a Linux desktop, you can simply install a Linux desktop app on Windows 10. This is useful if you are considering installing a full desktop for an overkill.

For example, use the following to install the Rhythmbox Media Player and run it on Linux on Windows:

sudo apt installs rhythmbox

Make sure you've set the export command:

export DISPLAY =: 0

Then just run the app from the bash prompt:

Rhythm box

The media player will start and you can search for a library.

Run Linux apps on Windows using Windows Subsystem for Linux

In that case, of course, you would need to add some media files to the Linux environment on your computer. You can do this by installing a browser and downloading files, or simply plugging in a USB drive with media files on it.

After connecting the USB drive, be sure to mount it (this example uses D: as the drive letter):

sudo mount -t drvfs D: / mnt / d

When you're done, you'll need to unmount the drive before removing it. This ensures the integrity of the data on the drive.

sudo umount / mnt / d

While it is possible to browse your Windows folders in the Linux apps, actual files cannot be opened. This is a shortcoming of the Windows Subsystem for Linux, although it protects both the Windows and Linux environments from corruption.

Linux on Windows: The Ultimate Convergence!

The Windows Subsystem for Linux makes it easy to run Linux software on a Windows PC. You don't have to worry about virtual machines or the pain of dual booting.

With a Linux desktop installed, convergence is almost complete. It's a great way to get to grips with Linux from the comfort of your Windows desktop.

Would you like to learn more? Here's how to get started with Linux. You may also want to find out why Windows, which ships the Linux kernel, changes everything.

Windows 10 logo feature

What's new in the latest Windows 10 Cumulative Update?

It's time for another Windows update. Fortunately, it's only a small one. It's also the last cumulative update of 2020.

About the author

Christian Cawley
(1423 articles published)

Deputy Editor for Security, Linux, DIY, Programming and Technology explains. He also produces The Really Useful Podcast and has extensive desktop and software support experience.

Christian is an employee of Linux Format Magazine and a Raspberry Pi hobbyist, Lego lover and retro gaming fan.

More from Christian Cawley

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