React OS

Have you come across React OS? It aims to be an open source version of Microsoft Windows – which sounds like a contradiction in terms until you take a look at it. Let’s let the site tell us a little about it:

The ReactOS® project is dedicated to making Free Software available to everyone by providing a ground-up implementation of a Microsoft Windows® XP compatible operating system. ReactOS aims to achieve complete binary compatibility with both applications and device drivers meant for NT and XP operating systems, by using a similar architecture and providing a complete and equivalent public interface.

Although Free Software advocates agree that free software operating systems improve the state of the art by fostering competition, ReactOS has practical benefit for others, too; ReactOS is the most complete working model of a Windows® like operating system available. Consequently, working programmers will learn a great deal by studying ReactOS source code and even participating in ReactOS development.

ReactOS components are growing more and more compatible with equivalent, closed source alternatives, but ReactOS doesn’t simply stop at an arbitrary line in the sand. ReactOS has and will continue to incorporate new versions of the Win32 API and so will track and sometimes even define the state of the art in operating system technology. Rather than using current technology as a limit on our activities, we are constantly incorporating features from newer versions as well.

In short, ReactOS is aiming to run your applications and use your hardware! Finally, a FOSS operating system for everyone!

Which sounds pretty good. Anyway, how does it look and run? My lovely assistant tonight is the VMWare Player application – which is a free virtual pc app.

I grabbed a prebuilt image from the VMWare site (where they have lots of images) to test this out. I can’t talk about installation as the image booted straight into the OS rather then take me through the install.

On bootup, I was greeted with

ReactOS Desktop

The look of the desktop seems to be a mix of Windows and Linux, or Windows with the PowerDesktop addon – in the bottom left of the screen, you can probably see the 4 workspaces. So far so good.

The main menu is the usual Windows menu with different icons. It’s clear that the developers are being extremely careful to avoid any conflicts with the famously litigious Microsoft. Good luck to them with that.

Here you can see the “explorer”, the file browser. As you can see from all of these screenshots, the look is close to all Windows OSes up to and including Windows 2000. Whether the developers will try to make the OS look like XP or Vista remains to be seen. Personally, I hope not. I’m a fan of functional desktops and, beyond the 10 second thrill you get from seeing a desktop full of eye candy, can’t really see the point of it all.
Anyway, the developers aren’t purely aping Windows. They also have the “IBrowser”. I would guess that’s instead of “IExplore”.
This seems to have been written especially for ReactOS (the browser, not the page). It feels and looks, to me, as though it’s Internet Explorer, without all the unnecessary stuff. Unnecessary, that is, for those of us not running Windows. I’m not overly sure about it, but that may be because I didn’t use it for very long. The Program menu comes with the “Get Firefox” entry, so you really aren’t stuck with just one browser. Choice is everything, after all. Interestingly, the IBrowser downloads the Mozilla ActiveX control, so I guess it’s heavily based on Mozilla.
So, what do I conclude from this? ReactOS was created for those of us who want to run legacy Windows applications which no longer work under Windows. It use Wine heavily – so heavily that you would not be aware you were using it. You simply run the .exe as if you were in Windows. It is not designed or created to compete with Linux or any other free OS. It is designed for those people and companies who will never switch to Linux or away from Windows – despite their being alternatives available for almost all of the Microsoft applications, Windows itself is still ubiquitous.This OS is still being developed, but aims to be extremely consumer friendly when the final release version is ready. If you do have legacy apps you need to use, this could be for you – especially if you no longer wish to spend your money on the latest version of Windows. A great project with a great aim.Links. ‘Cos you love ’em!


Posted on 29 July, 2006, in Computer Stuff, Distro Reviews, Open Source. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. ReactOS could be Microsoft’s most serious problem – not simply because it’s the open source version of their own big seller that Linux will never be.

    But because it might well prove, indisputably, that the win32 API is actually, intrinsically, pretty good – it’s just MS’s own crappy implementation of it that causes all the security problems 🙂

  2. There would be a certain irony in an Open Source, non MS project implementing them more efficiently and just better than Microsoft themeselves wouldn’t there?

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