If 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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