While Ubuntu, for instance, has made impressive leaps in user-friendliness leading to a simpler GUI, many users, if not most, are more familiar with the Windows environment so not a lot of people wish to go through a potentially steep learning curve with another new OS. There’s been some advancement in the open-source world that Windows users won’t have to completely fear using a new OS.
ReactOS is an effort to provide a Windows NT-like architecture that is compatible with existing drivers and applications. An easy way to look at it would be to say that it is a clone of the Windows OS (which is closed-source so it’s not possible to really clone it), when in reality, it’s an alternative to the Windows OS, with the difference that it’s a collaborative open-source project and it’s in its infancy. While the team behind ReactOS has been heavily developing this young operating system for over a decade, it is still in the alpha stage. However, there is a number of reasons that make ReactOS worth a look.
Why Care About Another OS?
There are a couple of favorable points to ReactOS: Compatibility, familiar interface, speed, and of course, the GNU GPL license. Although the name “ReactOS” suggest a reaction from dissatisfaction with the current dominating OS provider, this system isn’t just another OS. It’s actually based on the Windows NT kernel to provide the most compatibility with hardware and software, which other non-Windows systems may not always achieve 100%.
Take any of the Linux distros, for example, some of the more popular ones even, some of which may have come a long way and gained more fans due to improved user-friendliness. According to ReactOS’s official site, since Linux started as a clone of UNIX, it doesn’t implement the same kernel architecture design of the Microsoft Windows NT series, which means not all software will be completely compatible. The keyword here is all, as we cannot ignore the fact that the WINE (which ReactOS includes parts of in its code) and PlayOnLinux projects have brought pretty great relief (check out WINE’s application database for more information). There are still, many more unsupported Windows-only programs that have yet to port over to Mac or Linux systems.
How It Looks (So Far)
So since this project is a rewrite of the Windows architecture, the ReactOS GUI is familiar to anyone who’s seen Windows 95, as ReactOS did start humble beginnings with the intention of cloning Windows 95. Since it sports a simple interface and strips itself of fancy bells and whistles, it’s lightweight and boots pretty fast.
Note that although the project isn’t ready for everyday use as stated on its website, there are many ways to try ReactOS. The download options include a Live CD, which allows you to test the OS without even installing anything on your hard drive. There are also downloadable packages for you to virtualize in VirtualBox and VMware, as well as emulate with QEMU. In my test, I used a virtual machine (~60MB package for VirtualBox), and while it was a snappy experience at first (bootup lasted between 5 and 8 seconds), things were a bit sluggish even after I tried installing VirtualBox’s Guest Additions.
This video from ReactOSorg and some very promising screenshots from the forum, however, showcases installed applications, such as Mozilla Firefox and SumatraPDF, and fast, overall response from the system.
I wasn’t able to install anything as clicking on software categories in the ReactOS Applications Manager would show me a dialog that would quit without reaching the end of the progress meter. Navigating through the Start menu turned out better and there were quite a few replicated applications built-in on regular Windows systems, such as Character Map, Paint and MineSweeper (WineMine in ReactOS).
As you can see, a lot of the icons are borrowed from Linux. Even the ReactOS Applications Manager is slightly reminiscent of Ubuntu’s Software Center.
There’s been similar but abandoned projects, such as Freedows, but as ReactOS has many years in the making, it shouldn’t be ignored as it shows brilliant potential. With sufficient support from the community, ReactOS may evolve from being a very fascinating project to a more mature, ready-for-primetime system.
What are your thoughts on a potential Windows alternative like ReactOS?
Image credit: ReactOS Foundation