ReactOS could be good… much, much later

Many hopeful migrants to desktop Linux expect Linux to be a cost-free version Windows without problems. It’s with that expectation that many of these potential convertees run back to Windows at the first sign of trouble… or just culture shock. Well, there is a free version of Windows called ReactOS. It’s done in partnership with the people who do Wine (the Windows compatibility layer for Linux).

For at least a year since I first heard of the ReactOS project, I’d always wondered how viable it is as a replacement for Windows. In theory, it’s built to have full compatibility with Windows binaries. It’s basically supposed to be open source Windows.

After trying it out, though, I have to say that the warning on the website (Please bear in mind that ReactOS 0.3.3-RC is still in alpha stage, meaning it is not feature complete and is not recommended for everyday use.) is not just a disclaimer. It’s absolutely true. In fact, good luck running ReactOS for more than five minutes without it crashing on you.

The ReactOS download page has several options—an installation CD, a live CD, preloaded Qemu for Windows, and preloaded VMWare virtual machine. I went for the latter, which was only a 21 MB download. I had VMWare Player installed on Ubuntu, so I figured—why not?

Well, the bootup screen is black… looks a lot like Grub.

Then, you get some verbose loading stuff. The entire boot process, even in VMWare is fast. I didn’t time it, but it felt as if the boot time was about ten seconds.

You get a standard Windows-looking screen.

The Start menu looks a lot like Windows’ Start menu. The interface for ReactOS (again, even in VMWare) is snappy and feels like a lightweight window manager (more like Fluxbox than Gnome or KDE).

When you launch Explorer, you get the option for spatial mode and a split window.

Here it is with a split screen.

If you try to browse to the web, you have to install ActiveX first. Weird.

Ah, but if you try to actually visit a website (here I am trying to download Internet Explorer off the Microsoft website… then you get the freeze-up. Mouse cursor won’t move. You don’t even get a “blue screen of death.”

I tried booting it up again in VMWare. Trying to get to the web again gives me this wonderful screen.

So when they say it’s in the alpha stages, they’re not kidding. Stay away from ReactOS unless you’re a developer who can help. I think it’s not even ready for testing and bug reports.

If you want Windows, stick with Windows. If you want something else, then you can try Linux. Open source Windows full compatibility is far, far off.

Further Reading
Linux is not Windows
Here’s an idea – YOU make it more like Windows!


  1. Why anyone would want an exact clone of Windows is beyond my capacity to understand (full binary compatibility means full virus and spyware compatibility, right?). Linux is great because it’s different, even though it has some of the good features of Windows.

    Of course, there could be people who’d like ReactOS for being Free/Open Source. However, that kind of person is better off with Linux or BSD, as most Windows applications worth running are proprietary (or have Linux versions).

    The only advantage I see is being free as in free beer. But if you’re still going to pay for applications, the effect isn’t so great.

  2. Think all the Windows drivers. Biggest application base, not only proprietary but also the free ones. Binary compatibility doesn`t necessary mean cloning the Windows bugs. Some things can be redone better, with increased security.

    Finally, face it. In at least 70% of cases, the only blame on Windows failure is on user himself, not the Operating System (vide running on Admin account, without the proper knowledge).

    Myself, i`m using Win2k3 Standard, as a desktop OS and I couldn`t find a better system. Running 24/7 with both gaming and production tasks, with uptime exceeding 40 days.

  3. They tried to get the BSoD to work, but its still a work in progress.
    But I’d like to see this get finished. A better Windows than Windows, because it contains the BSD Kernel, which has high security, while being open source at the same time, and being able to run some of the best apps ever made.

  4. Well, if ReactOS were functional, it would definitely appeal to a lot of Windows users. It’s light. It’s free. You can install it legally on as many computers as you want. There are no activation keys or “genuine advantages.” And it has compatibility with Windows programs.

    This is all in theory, of course, because it’s still not functional.

    But this wouldn’t appeal to only the Richard Stallmans of the world.

  5. Caemyr, if FLOSS Nirvana were my priority, I wouldn’t use a Windows clone. Windows’ greatest advantage is the vast amount of software available for that platform, but if I were to restrict my choices to the FLOSS world, I’d take Linux any day (the only free app from Windows that I’ve ever used which doesn’t support both OSes is the Ares Galaxy p2p client). The main appeal of Windows, therefore, is being able to run proprietary applications.

    Still, I don’t think it’s going to be as good as the real thing. It’s ALWAYS going to be playing catch-up with MS.

    And again, it’s free… but Windows’ killer apps (MS Office and Adobe CS for most people, although games come close) are more expensive than Windows. So you’ll save some money, but not much (how expensive is an OEM version of Windows?).

    All in all, I don’t see much reason to go from Windows to ReactOS. But I wish the devs luck anyway, I hope I’m wrong.

    BTW, isn’t ReactOS as Windows-compatible as Wine? If that’s so, what’s the advantage of reactos over Linux or BSD + Wine?

  6. I kind of have the same concerns as Alejandro. I don’t see how you’re going to top the compatibility Wine offers without having proprietary code, and if you can, it should just be fed back into Wine

  7. Well, reading the site a little more, they do help develop Wine as they progress, but they’re very ambigious on how their project differs. I wouldn’t be suprised if it is technologically complex and dificult to explain, but it will apparently offer more compatability with it’s “architecture.” Again, not really clear on what this means exactly; I hve my BS in CS, and while I understand the term architecture, how the architecture is supposed to improve compatibility is not mentioned.

  8. Yeah, I don’t know the technical details of it, either, but maybe there’s something about setting up an entire system to emulate Windows that isn’t present in the fake directory structure in ~/.wine

    I’m just speculating.

  9. ReactOS is a wondeful project.

    The advantage of it, sadly if only it was ready sooner, would have been that Dell, HP, Gateway, etc. could simply plunk it on new machines and save 50$-100$ on licensing fees. It’d have binary compatibility, so all your software transitions, and they could fork the project so they can specialise it for their tastes. (And knowing those three companies, slap their ads everywhere)

    But it’s not in cooperation with Wine, at least not in the general sense. Sadly, the Wine team does not accept ReactOS’s code, even though ReactOS has progressed on a lot of things Wine hasn’t. From what I can remember, most programs that can run under Wine can in fact run under ReactOS, but only if ReactOS is stable… Which it isn’t. (Unstable drivers)

    Hate to keep filling up your blog with my useless comments, but the new ReactOS release should be much better than the current ones, and is based off of a newer kernel.

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