Monday, January 16, 2006

Another Windows Alternative

Not too long ago, I pointed out that there are alternatives to Windows. In particular, I was talking about Linux and Mac OS X, but I could also have mentioned Fee BSD Unix and even GNU Hurd. Uh, OK, at the moment it helps to be a techie to work with BSD, and you have to be an extreme geek to work with Hurd. But other alternatives exist. All, however, are based in some way or another on Unix. Which means that your Windows applications won't work, unless you use something like WINE, which implements the Windows API on a Unix-Like OS.

A passing reference on Slashdot led me to another alternative, ReactOS. This is a complete implementation of the Windows API without the Unix backdrop. In other words, it functions as a Windows XP clone, though the developers would hate for me to call it that.

Why would anyone want such a thing? After all, Windows comes installed on 95% of the PCs sold on the planet, so it's not like you can't get it easily. There are several reasons:

  1. It's open source. You can examine it for bugs. When ReactOS is fully functional, it's likely that it will be more secure that Windows, since there will be more eyeballs looking at the code. Now this doesn't mean it will be totally secure. The WINE developers, at least, try to implement Windows bugs. This is done so that software which takes advantage of these "features" will run under WINE. To the extent that ReactOS follows the same policy, there will always be the chance that an XP bug will take out a ReactOS system.
  2. Versatility. Since it's open source, it should be possible to pare the system down to run on an older PC.
  3. Some people just don't like Microsoft, but tolerate Windows better than a Unix environment. Unlike me. I really like Paul Allen. (I'm required to say that as part of the terms of a bet on Saturday's game.) ReactOS lets you run in something like Windows.
  4. Windows Vista. The next version of Microsoft's OS will probably require hardware upgrades. Having ReactOS around will ensure that there is a supported Windows XP work-alike that will run on your current system.

That said, ReactOS is still in the alpha stage, which means it's not really ready for field testing yet, much less critical applications. But it's something to keep an eye on if you want to stay with Windows but don't want to stay with Microsoft.

Oh, if you do upgrade to Vesta and upgrade your hardware, your old system is still usable. Under Linux, at least. If you don't want to use it, let me know. I'm looking for another cheap (aka free) box that I can use to test different Linux distributions. If you don't want to give free things to an unknown Blogger, consider donating the machine to charity with Linux installed.