Saturday, February 27, 2010

ReactOS

Free Windows! Sounds good, right? Well, it actually exists. Partially. The first time I heard about an open-source operating system built like Windows, in a way that allows it to run Windows programs, I thought "Yeah, in a nerd's dreams!" But apparently some nerd decided to take that dream and turn it into a reality. ReactOS is real. It's the result of attempting to reverse-engineer Windows NT (the platform for Windows XP, Vista, and [I think] 7).

The coolest part about ReactOS is that it has a Live CD, which allows you to try it out before even committing to it. The Live ISO is only around 130MB, which says just how small the bugger is (which is good, in my opinion). The OS itself is pretty nifty. It has a linux-ish feel to it (probably because of the GNOME icons), but it's also kind of Windows 2000 as well. It's a wonderful mix. The Live CD boots in a matter of 10 seconds inside MobaLiveCD.

It's funny because I just had to reinstall Windows XP yesterday, and now today I'm installing ReactOS (on a VM) for a refresher, and because I realized that I really would love to keep a VM of it on my PC. But anyway, the Windows install really freakin annoyed me, because it took forever between every step, and that's the point: there's steps. One of my Linux-nerdy friends always likes to talk about how Ubuntu takes 7 clicks to install, and that's it. Windows takes sitting there for an hour making sure you partition the disk, set the time zone, etc.

Anyway, Windows took like 10 minutes to partition a 40GB disk to NTFS. ReactOS took 2 seconds to format a 2GB virtual disk to FAT. (Oh, ReactOS currently uses FAT, which makes sense, since NTFS is proprietary, and EXT* is mostly for Linux [at least, that's my understanding], which, coincidentally, tells you that ReactOS is not Linux.)

So anyway, ReactOS's installer was built to look a ton like XP's. It just took literally 3 minutes to install to a 2GB disk (with 512MB of RAM to work with), then an additional 2 minutes to configure time zones, set up accounts, etc. Tell me that doesn't top Ubuntu's 7 clicks. I mean, going from an unpartitioned disk to a fully functional, Windows-programs-compatible Operating System in ~5 minutes? Sign me up!

But anyway, it looks completely natural, for a person who uses Windows XP classic theme (like me) and is used to seeing GNOME icons like in Ubuntu (like me). I feel like I'm rambling, so I'll wrap it up. It looks like it's going to be great. It can run programs like Photoshop, games like Halo, and other Windows apps. The only downside is development speed.

I understand that reverse-engineering is more complicated than developing a program, or even developing a Linux OS. But it's just poking along. I mean, it was started in 1998, and is still in alpha. And according to the roadmap, version 0.4.0 was supposed to be released in January of this year, and since they've missed that mark by coming on one month, it just kind of worries me. It seems like the project might die out soon, just because it's not as heavily supported and interested in as other OS's like Fedora or Ubuntu.

And that's not a foreboding curse. I really want ReactOS to survive. I think it could literally change Operating Systems and computers as we know it. Most people don't switch to Linux mostly because it's foreign to them and everything is new (with the exception of programs like Firefox, GIMP, etc). But imagine a free Windows alternative that is customizable because it's open source, and feels just like what you're used to. I think that if ReactOS can push through to a stable version, or even a beta, it could be like the appearance of Firefox in terms of OS's. The main thing that is stopping ReactOS from being really popular (in my opinion) is the little "alpha" deal. Nobody wants to put ReactOS on their main machine [excusing nerds] when the website says "not ready for everyday use." But if they can endure and push through to even a stable beta, I think it could go very far.

So that's my dish about the whole matter. I got bored of Windows XP on my netbook, so I installed Ubuntu, but maybe I'll try throwing ReactOS on it for fun. It's honestly the most exciting thing to a nerd (....er, Aspiring Nerd) like me that I can think of. Since I'm heading into Computer Science as a major, it makes me doubly excited. I'd have to say that in the things that I would like to do after learning how to really program, helping develop an open-source alternative to Windows is at spot #1.

-Bry

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