Quick review of ReactOS, a Windows alternative with blast-from-the-past user experience

; Date: Sat Mar 03 2018

Tags: Windows Alternatives

Your search for an open privacy-intrusion-free method of running Windows software may, one day, be satisfied by ReactOS. This Windows-like operating system looks and feels like OLD SCHOOL WINDOWS, and you can (in some cases) install regular Windows applications and use them directly. ReactOS is a completely free open source operating system that's an interesting experiment, but clearly not ready for prime time.

Attached to the bottom of this post is a video review from a chap who had more success than I did. Like him, I installed ReactOS in VirtualBox and attempted to try it out. In my case I was unable to install software like Firefox. In the video below, he used the ReactOS application manager to install some applications including Firefox, and even Adobe Photoshop 5.5.

Going between my experience and what's shown in the video, ReactOS looks impressive but it is flaky.

The use case is -

  • Preference for the Windows environment, but concerned about Microsoft's spying tendencies
  • Need to use older software that no longer runs on modern Windows

Once installed ReactOS looks and behaves exactly like Windows did with WinXP. It comes bundled with a similar set of accessories and games - Wordpad, Paint, Solitaire, etc. No equivalent to Internet Explorer however, meaning there is no bundled web browser.

There is an Application Manager that comes installed. In my case that program was unable to update its database and therefore show or install applications, in the video below you see that the application manager does work and they have several app's available.

Under the covers it uses a number of open source libraries - the primary of course being Wine.

I'm not sure what to think of this. On the one hand, it's awesome that the team has managed to get this far, to create a credible implementation of MS Windows with no Windows code of any kind. Of course they're relying on the over 20 years of development which has gone into the Wine project. On the other hand, I'm not one to use the word "Awesome" at the prospect of using old-school Windows, or for that matter any version of Windows. I've been there, done that, and have a strong preference for other kinds of OS's.

I did recently install ZorinOS since it, too, offers a credible environment for installing Windows applications. In that case it is clearly a Linux with a somewhat Windows-like skin, and an excellent integration of Wine support. Zorin, at the current moment, is a better Windows alternative than ReactOS but of course that may change.

Start installing in VirtualBox in this window. The choices are a bit tricky, since ReactOS is not Windows, it's not Linux, it's a kind of Other.
This is the initial settings I chose. Before booting I used the device manager to attach the ISO image as an optical drive.
Here's where I selected the ISO image as an optical drive.
Blast-from-the-past the installer felt just like it did in 2001.
And this is how it looks once booted. To any of us that used Windows in the late 90's, early 2000's, this will look immensely familiar.
And here's where I stopped my exploration. This error occurred as I tried to get the app manager to download its database.

About the Author(s)

David Herron : David Herron is a writer and software engineer focusing on the wise use of technology. He is especially interested in clean energy technologies like solar power, wind power, and electric cars. David worked for nearly 30 years in Silicon Valley on software ranging from electronic mail systems, to video streaming, to the Java programming language, and has published several books on Node.js programming and electric vehicles.