Alpha-testing ReactOS

Someone on one of the forums I go to brought up ReactOS, an open-source clone of Windows, as an alternative gaming platform. I had heard of ReactOS before, but never tried it, and I wanted to see what it was like. So I went to the ReactOS website, downloaded the installer, and installed it to a virtual machine in VirtualBox.

ReactOS is still in its alpha stage, and has been for nearly twenty years. To be fair, the project is woefully understaffed and underfunded. I found it to be rather buggy. But still, for some reason I like this OS. It has a certain late-90’s charm to it. The default interface looks somewhat like Windows 9x:

ReactOS 1

It’s probably not a good idea to install ReactOS to real hardware (though there are some people who do; they are way beyond my skill level).  It is very much in its early development.  So my advice would be, unless you really know what you’re doing, install it to a virtual machine.  ReactOS supports three virtualization platforms: VirtualBox, VMWare, and QEMU.

As is usually the case when I start using a new OS, one of the first things I did was try out the command line.  In this case, the command prompt is very similar to that of the OS it’s based on, though with a few minor differences:

ReactOS+CLI+help

Most of the commands are the same as those in Windows, though there are a few new ones (like timer for instance), and there are a few Windows commands that have been left out of ReactOS.

Oh, and that wallpaper? Here’s the whole thing:

ReactOS 4

Isn’t it weird how simply changing the wallpaper can make an operating system look more modern?

There’s a Run option, and you can use it to run several of the utilities available in Windows, including the Task Manager, MSCONFIG, and Regedit.  The registry appears to be an exact copy of the default registry used in Windows XP, meaning it has the same set of keys (or at least very close to it).

Registry+Hacking

ReactOS seems promising as a gaming platform, as it runs full-screen 3D animation much more smoothly than Linux does.  I’m wagering this from the screensavers, some of which involve 3D animation.  For example, the Starfield screensaver.

Screensaver

This is a screensaver where you are zooming through a field of stars, much like the Starfield screensaver you can get for Windows, except the stars themselves are 3D.

ReactOS has many of the more advanced utilities found in Windows as well.  For example, you can control the virtual memory settings.  And of course, there’s the control panel, where you can do things like set up user accounts.  You can change the theme to something other than the default as well.

ReactOS_user_accounts\ReactOS_virtual_memory

Wheat_theme

All that said, this operating system is not without its problems.  Many problems, in fact.  It’s missing a few drivers, for one thing, crucial drivers that control things like networking and sound.  I went on the ReactOS website to look up where I could get the driver for my particular (virtual) network card, and there was a table showing all of the NICs and their respective drivers.  Mine was shown as “implemented”, but there was no link (there were links for many of the others).  Why implement a driver for a network interface card if you’re not going to link people to it?

There are also several bugs in the system.  About every other time I start up the system, it freezes while loading, and I have to do a cold boot.  The screen sometimes doesn’t repaint completely when you move or minimize windows or collapse menus, leading to a trail of detritus on the screen.  When I try to edit a key in the registry, Regedit makes everything invisible.  There is a Safe Mode, but when I tell it to boot into Safe Mode, it just boots into normal mode; the only time it actually does boot into Safe Mode is when you do Safe Mode with Command Prompt.

There are also bugs with individual applications.  For example, Word Pad resizes back to the default font whenever I type Enter (though I don’t think anyone uses Word Pad, so it’s probably not that much of a problem).  Wine Internet Explorer doesn’t render document colors correctly (though again, no one uses IE anymore, so it may not be that big a deal).

So I plan to submit some bug reports to the ReactOS people.  I can’t help them out financially, because I’m dirt poor, but I can at least help them out by pointing out some of the bugs in their system.  I really wish that I could donate money, or that I had the programming skills to submit bug fixes myself, but I can’t, and I don’t.  But I can help them in this one small way.

Oh, and before I close, here’s a screenshot of Solitaire.  I have a crush on the Queen of Hearts.

solitaire

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