A Clone Of Windows. Free And Open Source. Seriously.


React OSIf you want to set up a basic computer to run little more than a web browser, perhaps to repurpose an old slow machine, Windows is probably your first choice. That's the case for most people. Why Windows? Because it's been around for 30 years and everyone knows how to use it.

But then, the doubts start to enter your head. This is an old machine, and it's slow. Maybe the hard disk isn't huge. Windows might not be up to the task. And it might even mean having to buy a new OS license. So how about we try Linux instead? But there are hundreds of versions, and which is the right one? Ubuntu looks good, but so does Mint. Zorin is supposed to be good for people who know Windows. But if we stick with Mint, should we use the Cinnamon or Mate desktop?

If only there was another option.

Actually, there is. It's an operating system called ReactOS. It looks and feels like Windows, but it's free and open source. It's not a version of Linux with some added skins and themes to make it look like Windows, though. This is a ground-up, from-scratch project to build a completely new OS which is basically a clone of Windows. So you instantly know your way around.

There are some downsides to Reactos. It's only at the alpha stage, and it does crash sometimes. Most crucially, it's a clone of Windows NT and Windows Server 2003, so although it resembles Microsoft's product it resembles a very old version of it. Having said that, it's very lightweight and very fast. So if you can make it work, it's a real possibility for re-using an old machine or for experimenting within an environment such as VirtualBox or VMware Player.

If nothing else, it's a curio and a bit of fun to see just what 100 programmers and 9 million lines of code can achieve.

To install ReactOS you'll need the .ISO file, which you can download from https://www.reactos.org. It's around 120 MB in size, which is tiny in comparison to modern Windows versions. You can then burn it to a DVD to boot an old machine, or mount it in a virtual machine to try on your main computer.

And if you want to see what the source code of an operating system looks like, you can browse it online. Or you can even download it and build your own version. See https://www.reactos.org/wiki/Welcome_to_the_ReactOS_Development_Wiki for more.

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So near yet so far. I own a laptop that's not fast enough to run Windows well. I've tried various Linux distros on it and they're OK. But I don't love Linux and at this stage I don't think I shall. Wine isn't the cure for everything - it certainly does not run the programs I want it to. Trying to get a printer to work is a pain in the ass and I had to buy a wireless dongle for the laptop to get wi-fi to work. It seems the one in the laptop doesn't work with Linux. So I don't buy the talk that Linux is the solution to every Windows problem out there.

I installed this on the laptop without any problems. That's when my troubles started. It would appear that my 7 year old laptop is too young for React OS so its drivers didn't work. The display was stretched and when I tried to change the resolution the OS crashed. I couldn't get it online either for love or money. So that was the end of my React OS experience. It is a pity because I liked how well it was running on the laptop. I'll keep an eye on the project but sadly I can't see it going anywhere. Back to Lubuntu I go.

It's difficult to comment constructively because you don't give any details about which Windows programs you need, the printer make or wi-fi card. Suffice to say there is a lot of variation between distros as to which hardware is supported out of the box. Having said that the fix for unsupported stuff is usually only a forum post away. Here for example is the information related to Ubuntu wireless support. MC - Site Manager.

I used ReactOS some time ago, and to be honest while it wasn't that bad, I could never get the network to work. Not sure if it's been improved since then, but that was a deal breaker for me. I must also admit that I just tried it on a VM, so I'm not entirely sure whether that was the problem or not, however, it is very easy to use, and certainly it won't  hurt if you just try it for fun inside a VM. 

I'd be more prone to use https://sites.google.com/site/chaletoslinux/home.

I'm no script kiddie, nor yet a Compleat Coder, but my many-decades interest in Difference Engines shows me that those stalwarts at Gizmo's Freeware are worth encouraging, salted with the occasional pinch of praise. So they have my appreciation.

Sure, some of their 'finds' are more earth-shattering than others.... but, in the interests of 'stripping off the overburden to uncover the occasional gleaming nugget', I'm quite content to hear of a Windows clone which still has one or two 'glitches'.... just like all earlier and later Windows versions.

I'll likely feel quite at home1

The only reason I could see for ReactOS is if you have an old piece of gear that will only run Windows. A medical or scientific gadget perhaps. I had a milling machine that ran on a 386 for years and the driver only worked on Windows 3. (it's long gone.)

Before I'd go through the hassle of ReactOS, I'd see if my PC or gadget will run with Linux. Mint Cinnamon has been my favorite for years because I'm just used to the old XP menus, but Mint's is much cleaner. For old PCs, I like Puppy, Bodhi, or Lubuntu 32 bit. I'm talking 12 years old or more.

Linux has drivers for many of the gear that isn't supported in Windows 7 or newer. A lot of old programs will run on Linux using the Wine program.

I thought that this site doesn't promote alpha software because, among other deficiencies, alpha means that it is not ready for end users.

Twenty years since it started with Windows 95/98 and it hardly looks like delivering a stable platform anytime soon. In the meantime Windows has moved on another decade or so. Windows technology has changed so much that it is hard to see ReactOS every catching up.

"... not ready for end users ..."
Who claimed that and where?

"... hard to see ReactOS every catching up ..."
Well, I admit, I haven't even been on their web site yet, but who claimed that and where?

And, for the love of it, why shouldn't Rob mention something potentially exiting? I happen to know from experience with many thousands of typical home users that something sort of stable that can run a web browser and additionally eventually a word processor is enough for eight out of ten people.

AND: Old computers die 95% of the time because the disk drive dies and/or the OS gets so messed up that there is no hope to fix it. So something like ReactOS may be even better than Linux Lite if you put an SSD drive in the old box.

YMMV indeed.

In the system development lifecycle, one primary difference between alpha and beta software is its release to actual end-users. There is a reason why we don't usually recommend such products and running ReactOS will almost certainly drive most users into a wall.

ReactOS is very interesting but there are far better products for us to recommend. It was exciting at the dawn of the new millennium but most people would be better off just installing an old version of Windows to get the compatibility they need.

As to catching up with Windows The original project aimed for Windows 95/98. Then the target shifted to Windows NT/2000. It made sense to do so but they still haven't hit that target properly. The longer it takes then the larger the gap between modern devices and this museum technology.

I definitely think it's worth promoting, though - and the fact that it wouldn't necessarily be a good daily driver now is slightly beside the point.

Here's the thing: with Windows 95, 98, NT, etc. etc., some versions may have been buggy, while others were fairly stable (in that good-bad-good-bad cycle). But you usually just skipped the bad one - or if you had to use it, it was still decent.

Suddenly, now, we have Windows 10, which some would simply call spyware among other things - and that's really the key here. Microsoft does not seem interested in backtracking - they're doing the opposite, if anything - and they aren't bringing out another version of Windows after this version. Many people don't want to use it because of these privacy concerns.

But let's be honest, as praiseworthy as Linux is, it isn't what some fans claim it to be. Yes, as an OS in and of itself, it's great, and very capable. If you want to use Linux with programs written for Linux, perfect, no problem. But if you want to use it as a Windows replacement, well, it gets complicated. Yes, you have Wine. But it's not seamless, far from it - and not all programs work with it. Every time you want to install a Windows program, you have to start messing around with settings and what not. And yes, I know emulation is a possibility, as well, but that also uses up more power - fine on a desktop, not so fine if you're on a portable device.

Since ReactOS is built to resemble Windows as closely as possible, it's also better suited as a platform for running Windows apps in the long term, and that is really the promise. No twenty-five hacks to get all your Windows programs running, just install ReactOS and your programs, and you're good to go - at least that's the goal. Sure, it isn't as far as Windows itself, but let's be honest, it took a good while for Linux to turn into what it is today. And given what I mentioned about Windows 10, I'm expecting ReactOS to get a good shot in the arm when it comes to development and use, so that while it may not be a viable Windows replacement now, it just may be once Microsoft drops Windows 7 support.

Appreciating that it's all too easy to generalize but mostly the type of user requiring only a browser and word processor is unlikely to have the ability to extricate themselves from system issues. ReactOS is alpha software, is full of bugs and crashes frequently. Support is patchy and often technically challenging. 99% of Linux distros come with both a browser and word processor preinstalled and even the buggiest will be more stable than ReactOS. MC - Site Manager.

I reckon the main reason I avoid Linux, is the incompatibility with all the 'windows' applications.
Shirley, ReactOS must have some similar limitations ?

You shouldn't really say that Linux is incompatible with "all the windows applications". If you run Linux with Wine you can run many Windows applications.

Haven't checked the Winelist lately, but the last i checked, the two apps i really need weren't supported.

Which apps are these? MC - Site Manager.

The real deal-breaker is Serif PagePlus.

I've tried the recommended open-source alternatives (mainly Scribus) and there is no comparison.

What you can or cannot do with Linux as opposed to Windows is relative to individual needs but in general terms for most users Linux has major advantages. All of my daily work, including what I do for this site, is done using Linux. The only time I boot into Windows proper or a VM installed Windows is to check out queries posted about Windows apps. MC - Site Manager.
Some views both ways.

...and, as i said, the majority of my work CANNOT be done on Linux.

Once i get a good emulator or Serif releases a Linux version ...

Uhhh ... nope.

The actual list is here. MC - Site Manager.

The idea behind ReactOS is that it should be able to run standard Windows programs - but since it is in alpha, not everything will work. If you want to know if it works for the programs you would need, the best idea would be to run it in an emulator as suggested, and try loading the program to see if it works or not.

Requirements: 96MB of RAM, 256MB recommended. Too Funny!
This does sound like a great idea for those old laptops I have sitting around. Keep us posted everyone.

I admire the dedication of this lot but it's been in alpha for like 8 years! Also the list of what works is not good for doing very much.
IMO if there is a reason you cannot or don't want to use Windows 7 or 10, using ReactOS in preference to one of the many great Linux distros available doesn't make a lot of sense. MC - Site Manager.