Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002


One of the great things about virtual machine software like VirtualBox is that it lets you try a whole range of different operating systems without worrying about damaging your computer, since each OS sits in its own little sandbox. As well as allowing you to run old operating systems such as IBM OS/2 Warp, you can also run under-development operating systems which maybe aren’t quite ready for prime-time.
One of these is ReactOS, which, at time of writing, is at version 0.3.9 – some way off a 1.0 release, then. It’s free and open source, but while this may make you think of Linux the similarities end there. ReactOS is not based on Unix, nor does it aspire to be.
ReactOS is designed to be an alternative to Windows, going as far as replicating the Windows NT architecture. The aim is to allow all Windows programs, utilities and even drivers to work on ReactOS – in other words, you would be able to completely swap out a copy of Windows for a copy of ReactOS and expect everything to work. Well, that’s the aim, anyway.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite the reality. I used my copy of VirtualBox to install and run ReactOS, and while I was able to get it booting, I’ve already crashed it a couple of times. (Some notes on running ReactOS in VirtualBox are here). That being said, I was able to get the Windows version of Firefox running and browsing web pages within ReactOS, as well as being able to install a number of Windows utilities.
Apart from stability, there are also other areas where work needs to be done. Browsing computers on a network hasn’t been implemented yet, although I understand that it’s possible to set up Samba in ReactOS. There were also serious font rendering issues in Firefox that made all web pages look bad. But, the fact that it’s even able to install and run Windows programs with as much ease as Windows itself shows that this project has already come a long way.
It will probably be some years before ReactOS reaches the level of polish that Windows has. But once it does, Microsoft may face some serious competition – after all, ReactOS is completely free, and if it can totally replace Windows while maintaining compatibility with existing Windows programs, then some may find the case to switch compelling.


  1. There is a time issue. Generic Win32 programming would maintain compatibility with NT/XP/ReactOS, but as applications are written to use features only available in post-XP Windows, they will not be candidates for running in ReactOS. The situation will quickly become even more stark when it comes to hardware drivers. I have a laptop delivered with Vista, and getting an XP driver for its wireless card and sound system seems to be impossible.
    I wish the ReactOS project people the best of luck, but I think they need more, as in some group to do for ReactOS what Canonical did for Ubuntu Linux. I think for ReactOS to best benefit from an installed base of WinXP users, they need to deliver their 1.0, user-ready version well in advance of Microsoft’s end of security fixes for WinXP (IIRC, that’s in 2014). The faster that they can get to the 1.0 release the better the chances that they can attract a substantial user community.

  2. I think ReactOS has a very good future in NetBooks. These can run only XP for mem and cpu constraints and with Microsoft trying to push Windows 7 and stopping support for XP, the netbook vendors just might choose ReactOS instead of Linux.