by January 31, 2013 0 comments

Short for React Operating System, ReactOS is a project to develop a free software alternative (most of its code is licensed under the GNU GPL) to Windows with binary compatibility for hardware and software. Development of the project may continue to provide innovative value-added features (features won’t be added to Windows itself) once the required compatibility level has been achieved. The latest version, 0.3.14 is still in alpha stage and developers have lots of work to do before the system can be considered suitable for everyday use. You can download ReactOS free of charge from http://ld2.in/4dy . At present it is pretty lightweight in size, although the exact file size for downloading would depend on what type of file you download. ReactOS at present contains a set of bundled applications and tools, most of which are built into Microsoft Windows. At present it runs pretty fast even in a virtualized environment. On our system, we used ReactOS under VirtualBox.

What is ReactOS based on?

[image_library_tag 796/60796, alt=”pcq67″ ,default]

The Windows NT architecture. Not to be confused with the historic Windows NT 4, the NT family of Microsoft’s Windows operating systems has been evolving for a long time. Even Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, Windows RT as well as Windows Server 2012 have their roots in the Windows NT architecture. The choice of re-implementing the Windows NT architecture was taken because, according to the ReactOS team, the Windows NT architecture combines the best of UNIX, VMS and OS/2 systems. The team has used the public documentation of Windows OSes in their re-implementation efforts. They have made several tests to understand how Windows works.

What’s the problem with existing alternatives –Unix, Linux or the costlier Mac OS X?

Among other reasons, there exist binary compatibility issues and inconsistent flaws between all of the different derivatives of Unix such as the ones given above. Standardization in UNIX/Linux too is inconsistent. According to the ReactOS team, the X Window System which provides the graphical user interface, might well possess one of the worst designs in software history. Still, modern UNIX derivatives are trying to catch up with recent innovations and some of them already possess important features like access control list support.

In contrast to UNIX, ReactOS was designed for people familiar and comfortable with the Windows environment. Everything can be done through the well known Win32 user interface and advanced users are free to automate tasks with scripts or use the console. While ReactOS does make use of objects, it states that there are many downsides to the file metaphor-based approach used in Unix and it’s derivatives, which has been continuing for decades. ReactOS takes the file metaphor-based approach further and implements an object-based approach to many other things, such as processes, threads, shared memory, the global registry, etc.

What about compatibility?

In order to achieve the goal of the user changing the OS without needing to change the applications or the hardware, ReactOS maintains a compatibility database of both device drivers as well as applications at http://ld2.in/4dz . From popular audio controllers such as Realtek AC 97 to network controllers such as Intel PRO/1000, some of Realtek’s RTL81xx series to some video controllers from NVidia’s popular GeForce series, many devices have been known to work either with public release versions without any tweaks/workarounds or with development revisions with specific driver versions and in some cases out-of-the-box. On the applications front, there is much larger support. Modern browsers like Firefox 15.0 are compatible, as shown in the screenshot:

[image_library_tag 797/60797, alt=”pcq68″ ,default]The ReactOS design is aimed to provide portability across different types of processors including but not limited to Intel x86, CISC and RISC. The ReactOS team states that portability can be easily achieved with the help of ReactOS because in order to port the system to a different architecture, only the lowest abstraction layer(the one which talks directly to the platform hardware) would need to be changed. ReactOS uses the concept of subsystems to provide compatibility for legacy applications on different platforms.

ReactOS works very closely with the Wine project too. Many of the non-core DLLs which can be used with Wine can be used with ReactOS too.

What is ReactOS’ stand on security?

The ReactOS team believes that despite contradictory belief, NT is secure by design and that it was the first mainstream operating system with a proper implementation of a very flexible security model based on access control lists.

Windows XP came with default security settings at a level lower than what an NT architecture should ideally be used at for the sake of compatibilIty with it’s predecessor versions. According to ReactOS, this decision alone invalidated many of the security features in NT. ReactOS will incorporate proper default security settings and has been built from scratch since 1996.

ReactOS believes that instead of normal/typical computer viruses, most malicious applications these days are scripts that target common network software like browsers and email applications and software with built-in scripting support like various Office products. ReactOS claims to contain no software that contacts the ReactOS team or analyzes the user’s behavior.

A problem with achieving compatibility with applications from a security point of view is that more focus on ease-of-use (as compared to security, which was implemented but not activated by default in some cases) in Microsoft Windows during the XP days led to applications refusing to work without administrative privileges. This may change in ReactOS in order to take better advantage of the security features offered by the NT architecture but doing so will require careful checks and rechecks of application compatibility.

What about file system support?

We were able to use an ISO image of a CD provided to the guest VM of ReactOS in VirtualBox. ReactOS has support for FAT32 and plans to support NTFS too although support for the same is not stated to be a critical priority at this point of time. There are also chances of support for other file systems such as ext2/ext3, JFS, etc.

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