Reactos – The Next Windows? (Part 1)

5/19/2012 3:31:43 PM

We are often regarded as the true techies of the computer magazine world, portrayed almost as alchemists, bent over a seething caldron of technology, as if forever in search for the computing equivalent of the philoshophers’ stone, or the transmutation of lead into gold. So when a project comes along that piques our interest, it’s little wonder we go all gaga at what the potential could be. ReactOS is one such project that has turned our heads


Description: Description: ReactOS


About ReactOS

As the developer states, ‘ReactOS is an effort to create a Free Software replacement for Microsoft Windows, which is compatible with existing software and hardware.’

The idea itself is very simple: Linux isn’t always the best transition from a Windows, or non-Windows, operating system for those users who aren’t too au fait with the nuances of technology. True it does an admirable job, but there are times when even the most dedicated of Linux users requires the use of Windows.

Put basically, Windows is really good at what it does, regardless of whether you like it or not. So during 1996 a group of open source developers started a project called FreeWin95. Back the Linux was only for the technical demi-gods of the computing world, and Windows 95 wasn’t anywhere near as intricate as the current version of Windows is today.

Unfortunately, despite high expectations, the project stumbled over itself and fell apart, taking with it the DOS-clone kernel that had been developed, which was summarily dumped and vanished without a trace. But in 1998, with the help of Jason Filby, the project coordinator, a new branch was formed, which sought to duplicate the functionality of Windows NT, and ReactOS was born.

Consider ReactOS as an open-source rewriteof the Windows NT kernel, which in turn would make it compatible with all the Windows kernel-based drivers, application and services. A free version of Windows, which has been stripped down to its bare essentials, making it fast, stable, light yet still powerful enough to accomplish the normal day-to-day tasks that are required from Windows.


‘A question that’s often asked in the face of ReactOS is “Why?”’

Description: Description:  ReactOS wants to become binary-compatible with Microsoft Windows

ReactOS wants to become binary-compatible with Microsoft Windows

A question that’s often asked in the face of ReactOS is ‘Why?’ Why not simply use Wind within Linux, or spend all these resources and effort in further developing Wine? Why should we even use ReactOS? To help, here are some of the answers to those questions, straight from the developers itself:

There are plenty of *nix operating systems out there, this is very good. However, they have different targeting (they perfectly fit server markets, but desktop still isn’t conquered, and several factors work against most Windows alternatives out today).

There is currently no operating system which implements the kernel architecture design of MS Windows NT family (GNU/Linux is the best for comparison here: Linux was started as a ‘clone’ of Minix and Unix (eventually going on to be a Unix replacement), and ReactOS was started as ‘clone’ of Windows NT).

Linux+Wine is never going to be a complete replacement for a full Windows system. It’s not only because it’s Linux (despite there being some really user-friendly Linux distros out there), and not only because many users might find a transition to Linux/BDS difficult, but it’s due to design and implementation decisions of Linux and Wine architectures, which prevent 100% compatibility.

Even though Linux supports many types of hardware, Windows is still the dominant platform for device manufacturers. There are attempts to overcome this situation (like NDIS Wrapper for NT network card drivers, there are rumours about supporting NT video drivers, Captive NTFS for NT file system support), but ReactOS solves them from the first day by its design to be compatible with existing drivers and existing applications.

There are many people who do not like how *nix systems behave or dislike the conventions used. For them, Linux, BSD, and Mac OS X are not options, even before application compatibility and hardware support come into play. An operating system should give the consumers what they want instead of demanding the consumer conform. Even with Wine, you are still running an operating system that behaves quite differently from Windows, at a user and system level.

Backwards compatibility. This is something vital for many people and companies, but the development philosophy of Linux and the GNU project do not consider it a priority. The Windows family has always gone out of its way to ensure a stable API and backwards compatibility. By its design, ReactOS will also follow the philosophy of backwards compatibility with existing and future applications designed for the Windows NT family.

There are no plans for Windows to become released under a GPL-compatible licence (at least, ReactOS team is not aware of them).

Reverse engineering

Description: J:\Online\2012\05\17.05.2012\HTML\Tech_Desktop_Reactos_The_Next_Windows_(Part_1)_files\image003.jpg

Here is the screenshot showing the file create.c containing implementation of CreateProcessA function

Interestingly, a claim was made in 2006 by one of the former developers that ReactOS contained code derived from disassembling Windows. The code, according to the developer, was simply copied and pasted from XP into some unspecified elements of ReactOS. After the claim was made, the developer of ReactOS disabled access to the site, while an internal audit was held to ascertain the truth behind the allegations.

However, as with most allegations, the damage was quite significant, and ReactOS developed a bit of a bad name within certain circles of the open source community, especially within Wine HQ, which barred several of the ReactOS developers from providing contributions to the site. Later that year, the doors to the ReactOS site were reopened, and the project issued a statement citing ‘differing legal definitions of what constitutes clean-room reverse engineering’, as the cause for the conflict.

Wounds within the community healed over and much of the alleged copied code was eventually overwritten or replaced by updated and more functional methods within time, but a lot of the audit was kept behind closed doors and many of the details never made it to the public domain. Still, it wasn’t the first OS developer to ever be accused of reverse engineering, and we’re sure it certainly won’t be the last.

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