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I tried ReactOS and now I understand why Microsoft doesn't care that someone has been trying to clone Windows for over 20 years

If you are a regular reader of Genbeta, it is likely that you know ReactOS, or at least have heard of it at least once. For those less familiar with the subject, it is basically a completely free Windows clone that has been in development for about 25 years.

Many confuse ReactOS with a Linux distroBut despite its open source nature and commitment to free software, this project is more like the result of many years of reverse engineering the Windows we all know. The problem is that all those years of work do not end up offering significant results, and the current experience leaves too much to be desired.

Why does ReactOS exist


After the launch of Windows 95, one of the most popular in the history of the system, and at a time when the company was at the peak of its monopoly, a project called "FreeWin95" appeared. The idea was basically the same as any Linux distro for the user: offer a familiar operating system for those who are used to Windows but that is a free alternative.

Two years passed and FreeWin95 still could not release its first version and the project stalled. In 1998 part of the team decided to revive the initiative, but this time they would go on to try to duplicate Windows NT, and they also changed the name to ReactOS, because they were "reacting" to Microsoft's monopoly position.

23 years have passed since the initial release and there is still no beta version

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Since then they have continued to advance in tiny, very tiny steps. The first version with a functional graphical interface did not come out until 2004. It took them 17 years to get to version 0.4, and only six months ago they added Windows Snap. The current version is 0.4.12, and it is still an alpha version.

What it's like to use ReactOS in 2021

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Installing packages from the ReactOS application manager

In theory ReactOS does not sound so bad, it is an alternative to Windows that works with binaries made for Windows (it has a WIN32 subsystem), that is free, and that barely needs 100MB of RAM. Over time, compatibility with Windows drivers has improved a lot, and the most basic apps are installed by default.

ReactOS also has its own "application manager" from where you can install all kinds of software, like a web browser for example. Plus looks just like an old Windows that many people are familiar with. Now, in practice, we can't help but wonder if the existence of this system in 2021 makes sense.

First: the team behind ReactOS does not recommend using this system for anything other than testing and fiddling. It is not stable, there are things that will not work and probably will never work, and the hardware compatibility is limited.

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Second: the installation is a bit insufferable. ReactOS feels too outdated and unnecessarily complicated. Any modern Linux distro has a simpler installation. Since no one in their right mind would ever install this on their everyday personal computer, I have tested it on a virtual machine.

As this is the most used method, the ReactOS wiki offers quite detailed instructions on how to configure your virtual machine so that everything works. If you try to do it as with any Linux distro or other version of Windows without taking into account those specific instructions, forget about it going to boot.

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Third: it's just not worth it. The shortcomings of ReactOS vastly outweigh its benefits. In 1995, or even 2005, an open alternative to Windows that looked and worked like Windows sounded like a dream, especially since Linux "wasn't there yet."

Installing ReactOS for more than curiosity and excess free time is not worth it.

In 2020 ReactOS is more like a curiosity for the user, and perhaps a learning exercise for the developers collaborating on the project. Nothing more. The user experience is (sorry for the harsh bluntness) just atrocious.

ReactOS only needs 100MB of RAM, giving it 2GB doesn't really help at all. You can only assign one core of your CPU to the virtual machine or it won't work, and maybe it's this, or maybe it's the system, but it's insufferably slow. For something that looks like Windows NT, it might not be so bad, if it were the year 2003.

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The only browser we can use is Firefox, but in an old version. It works, but the experience also leaves something to be desired. Driver installation is archaic and the chances that you have to suffer this because you have no audio or network, are high. I preferred to remain without sound.

What remains of the experience of using ReactOS at this point in history is that does not represent a real alternative as an operating system. Less when there are Linux distributions that are as or lighter, with greater support for the current hardware and software components, more stable, easier to install, and with a better user experience.

This is probably why despite looking like a copy of Windows, and literally being a copy of Windows, Microsoft does not pay attention to them. The last time the ReactOS team had a legal dispute was back in 2006, when it was questioned whether the code they were using was not simply an exact copy of Windows code rather than a re-implementation of it. Something that never went away.