What is ReactOS you ask? The people behind ReactOS present it as an open-source operating system that aims to be binary-compatible with computer software and drivers made for Microsoft Windows. Development started in 1998, but the software is still in an alpha state. Yes, you read that correctly. It has been developed almost 17 years and has not even made it to a beta state. In reality ReactOS is little more than a heavily promoted hobby.
ReactOS is mostly written in C, with some parts like explorer.exe written in C++. Thus far it only partially implements Windows API functions. Some of this is provided by parts from the WINE project that provides a method for running Windows applications on a Linux environment and the rest is implemented by the work of ReactOS developers. Progress has been very slow. Though the project is quite active it suffers from a lack of developers with the time and skills needed to produce a beta release.
It should be noted that ReactOS itself was spawned from a failed 1996 project by the name of FreeWin95. FreeWin95, as the name indicates, was a project to create a free replacement for Microsoft Windows 95. FreeWin95 had not released anything by 1997. ReactOS was started in 1998 as an attempt to revive the project but focus instead on a free implementation of Windows NT instead of Windows 95. Windows versions like Windows XP, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows Server are all built on the Windows NT architecture.
The people responsible for the ReactOS project seem to be more interested in attention wherever they can get it than building any real partnerships to help them develop a stable release. Publicized and or promoted demonstrations of the operating system have been given to Russian politicians. In 2012 Vladimir Putin was also given a demonstration. Dmitry Medvedev given a demonstration during a visit to a high school 2011. Viktor Alksnis met with project coordinator and was given a demonstration of the project 2007. There is a ReactOS YouTube channel with mostly testing videos and a couple debugging videos. ReactOS has a slick and maintained web-site, it’s own foundation and runs frequent fundraisers. All this work yet when it comes down to getting a beta release very little is happening. The people leading the project point to all the daily incremental activity in development that is not producing quantitative results as proof of the projects vitality and relevance.
In January 2006 there was bit of controversy started. A claim was made that ReactOS contained code from Microsoft Windows. The developers responsible for maintaining the ReactOS code repository disabled access pending an internal audit. The relationship between ReactOS and Wine became strained. Wine barred several developers from providing contributions to their project presumably to avoid the stigma of the controversy and to keep Wine from getting sucked into a mess. There is still some low level cooperation for bug fixes between the projects but that is about it.
ReactOS sought to clarify what they defined as clean-room reverse engineering. They claimed to be using a strict definition under US Law. They conducted an internal source audit. Access to the code repository was restored shortly after. They never made any details public and there was never any actual proof that the code in question was not stolen. It seems fishy to me that all they did was an internal audit without presenting any tangible evidence afterward. I have to seriously wonder about the potential of a project that remains in alpha even after reverse engineering the software they aim to replace or compete with.
ReactOS is going nowhere fast. It was started as a project in 1998 and has had 27 releases since 2004. All of them alpha releases and in micro-version increments. The current release is is 0.3.17 and it is not suitable for any real use. At best it is toy for playing around with in a virtual machine. It can be used for testing purposes but does not have any real value for anyone other than developers.
They cite issues of being a volunteer project and having members with other things in life to focus on. That is all fine and well but I can think of several other volunteer supported projects that at least have usable products available for download. Maybe they should spend less time on PR shots with Russian politicians and failed fundraisers. ReactOS is maintained by small groups of developers working in their spare time. They don’t have the financial support or enough substantial development to be taken seriously. The ReactOS Project needs to quit resting on their potential and actually do something because they are turning into the longest running joke in the history of operating system development.
While I have a strongly negative opinion of the project and the direction it is heading I would absolutely love to see ReactOS become a legitimate viable alternative to Microsoft Windows. The premise has so much potential, but it is being wasted. They need corporate sponsors and partners. I hope at some point they have some strong corporate partnerships and the funding to bring in some full time developers with the right skill-sets. Unless these things happen I do not see ReactOS ever amounting to more than a well publicized hobby.
You can read more about ReactOS at their web-site:
You can also get involved with the project there. If you are an idealistic developer with a lot of time to devote they could certainly use the help. If you have money to invest tech projects they could certainly use a financial partner devoted to getting a working stable release finished.