ReactOS: a free Windows?

As a big GNU/Linux fan, I’m always checking up on the latest open source projects. I found that a group of folks is developing a free ‘Windows’ OS (not an emulated Windows on Linux like Wine) that will allow folks to install and run software written for MS Windows in a free OS environment that looks and feels just like Windows.

ReactOS is only at version 0.3 (I realize that decimal release number doesn’t exactly inspire much consumer confidence), but it looks quite promising. There has been some banter back and forth between the folks working on this project and others in the open source movement who feel that their time would be better spent on GNU/Linux, but I’m all for it.

The thing I hate the most about Microsoft is their licensing. To say the least it’s onerous. Frankly, I don’t mind paying for their OS since I use it at work, but jeez – make it easier. …and make it cheaper! For crying out loud, folks figured out how to make an operating system for the x86 platform almost 30 years ago, do we still have to pay through the nose for it? The worst part about it is that it’s only been the last release of Windows that is even on par with the free offerings. Folks don’t know this of course, because Windows is all they know about, but hey – I was using a ‘windowed’ OS years before Microsoft figured out it might be a good idea.

Apple has it (more) right – at least part of their OS is open sourced so folks can poke around and play with it, and when they sell it to you it’s one friggin’ price, done. And they don’t force you to call them to ‘authenticate’ you when your hard drive dies and you need to reinstall it. That alone is enough to make me never use a Microsoft product again (at least at home). That annoying automated telephone voice coaxing you to speak the damn zillion-digit code into the phone… “ok, almost done…”, “…and the next set?”, “good, and the next?” only to be transferred to somebody in India and have to repeat the whole thing again anyway. Arrgh.

Though I love my powerbook, I will probably be buying a PC again next time. I miss running GNU/Linux at home (I still run it for various jobs at work), and the new AMD 64 is calling. With proper partitioning, I’ll be able to check out ReactOS too – though by then I hope they’re at a more respectable release version :)

  • vbgunz

    Hello Nate,

    Although I was always interested in GNU/Linux and tried a few live distros over the span of a few years, nothing in the world got me hooked and completely migrated over to it like Ubuntu. Ubuntu supports 32, 64Bit & Power PC architectures. It is based on Debian and comes equipped with the Gnome desktop (other flavors are optional).

    You can find out more about Ubuntu at Ubuntu Linux . Org

    It took me less than 30 days to migrate over into the world of GNU/Linux and I haven’t looked back. I still work in Windows *but* am so glad I made the switch. After all that I’ve learned about GNU/Linux my only regret is never finding something like Ubuntu any sooner. If you’re by any chance stuck on a slow connection you can also order FREE Ubuntu CD’s ;)

    Btw, thank you Nate for your support. It means very much to me. Good luck with your site and GNU/Linux will one day rule the desktop world!

    • Nate

      I just installed ubuntu at work this week for the first time and loved it. I had had a problem with a Xerox photocopier which doubles as a network fax, and I needed a backup solution. To be honest, I tried to use Winfax first, since I had it and I’m ashamed to admit I thought it would be faster to set up than Hylafax, the open source alternative. Boy, was I wrong! Winfax had incompatibilities with XP2′s firewall, was slower than mollasses and I eventually couldn’t get it to work. Besides, I couldn’t fax from the machine acting as the server with Winfax, which I wanted to be able to do.

      Ubuntu to the rescue! I had ubuntu 5.10 (Breezy Badger!) up and running on an old PII 400MHz Dell with an external US Robotics modem in about 45 minutes. Then I used ‘apt-get’ to install hylafax-server and hylafax-client. I installed samba and shared up the receive directory, and installed WHFC on the windows clients. I also configured ssh so I could mess with the ubuntu box remotely. The only pesky issue was hylafax’s fax cover sheet which requires you to edit a postscript file (and I still don’t have working) but we don’t use a cover anyway.

      Then I saw edubuntu! Excited to get into that, I was disappointed to learn there was no live CD (yet?) I’m looking forward to getting another machine at home to run ubuntu on – perhaps as a media server? Ubuntu was really impressive and proves that linux really is a viable alternative.

  • Nate

    Checking in again at ReactOS, it appears they are at 0.3.0 RC1 (release candidate 1), but I’m not sure if that’s any different from the version I checked out back in October.

    Other folks are mentioning ReactOS in blogs now. I’m not quite sure what’s under the hood, but it’s not based on a Linux kernel, so it seems unlikely that there would be very many people interested in working on the project (being so special and different, interested developers would have to take time to learn about how ReactOS does stuff before being able to participate fully). If it can eventually run windows software well that’s a good thing – once it’s developed and working, there will be little need to maintain it for long anyway since the Windows software it’s being developed to run will be going away (32 bit stuff) soon, right? Some have argued that it would be better to support the Linux/Wine route since there are legions of programmers that can help out with that project, but they miss the point that folks want their OS to look like what they’re used to. Perhaps if a true Linux (or BSD) distro was specifically skinned like Windows with Wine all configured to enable installation and execution of Windows software we wouldn’t need ReactOS? The ReactOS folks claim that several of their developers also work on Wine and that it’s quite similar to that project, and that a Linux/Wine solution will never be able to offer the kind of performance that ReactOS’s approach will. This may be true, but if it means that I have to use an OS as lame as Windows (even if it’s not Windows) it’s not very attractive to me, frankly. I’d personally rather have a Linux/Wine type solution since I would very rarely (if ever) need to run a Windows program. However, I can see where it would have application for folks that want to continue using all the programs they have invested in and as they replace their hardware, they come to realize they don’t have any way to install Windows due to the atrocious licensing scams Microsoft has implemented. If I buy a piece of software, I think of it as MINE, and I should be able to install it as many times (for personal use) as I damn well please, and on whatever hardware I happen to have at the time. To tell me that I can only install it once (or twice) and only on specific hardware is absolutely ridiculous. I feel the same way about CDs I buy – I expect to be able to play them on whatever hardware I happen to have, and as many times as I want as long as the CD doesn’t get destroyed – and that includes copying it (for personal use) on other devices like mp3 players. DRM be damned.

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