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Friday April 18th 2014

ReactOS – An Odd Bird in Open Source





logo_final_01ReactOS is one of the very few active open source operating systems not based off of Linux or BSD. ReactOS is an open source implementation of Microsoft Windows, entirely written from scratch, and licensed under the GPL. Everything in ReactOS, from the Kernel to the filesystem is created by looking at publicly available technical documentation on the internal workings of Windows. ReactOS is very small, both in the size of the operating system, and the in the size of the developer community, which may be why booting into ReactOS is like stepping back in time ten years.

On Tuesday, February 7th, the ReactOS team released the latest version of ReactOS, 0.3.14. The new release is considered “alpha” quality, and is not recommended for everyday use. However, there are a long list of improvements which might make the new version worth enduring alpha level bugs. Below is a list of important changes from the ReactOS team announcement:

  • ACPI

    • Advanced Configuration and Power Interface support is now enabled automatically when the ACPI Hardware Abstraction Layer is used, providing support for power buttons and full system power off.
  • LwIP

    • A new TCP/IP driver using the LwIP driver has been integrated into ReactOS, significantly improving network performance and stability and also presenting an upgrade path to IPv6.
  • MSVC Compatibility

    • ReactOS can now be built using Microsoft’s compiler to create a working boot or livecd.
  • Scatter/Gather Support

    • Scatter/Gather DMA operations are now supported, significantly improving compatibility with network drivers written for NT5.1 and later.
  • Shell Improvements

    • The shell32 library rewrite in C++ has been merged in and brings with it various architectural improvements that will help serve as a foundation for future work on the new explorer shell.
  • Special Pool

    • A special pool designed to guard against misuses of kernel pool memory has been implemented.
  • Theme Support

    • ReactOS now has the infrastructure needed to theme the user interface and shell, allowing users to install and use something besides the classic Windows theme.
  • WiFi Support

    • ReactOS now supports wireless network drivers and is able to join open and WEP encrypted wireless networks.

I find it interesting that weak WEP wireless encryption is supported, but not the stronger WPA2 standard, but being a little behind protocols is nothing new for ReactOS. The operating system uses FAT32 for it’s filesystem, and plans on implementing NTFS. However, the group has no plans on implementing ext3. Instead, they plan on utilizing ext3 drivers for NT when they are deemed to be “good enough”.

ReactOS comes bundled with a graphical software repository, where I was able to download and install Firefox 10 without too much hassle. My first thought is that with how small and fast ReactOS is, combining it with Firefox might make it an excellent kiosk operating system. Then again, there are already excellent Linux kiosk setups. Try as I might I can not find a good use for ReactOS in my workflow. I do not mean to demean or belittle the project, it is obviously a labor of love. What I do mean to say is that it is an interesting project, a true “hobby OS”. Small projects driven by dedicated people who donate their work because they love the technology is what open source is all about, and I hope for the best for the future of ReactOS.

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