Will This Free Windows Clone Work For You?

Category: Windows

Some Windows diehards are never going to upgrade to the latest version. They like the look and feel of Windows 7 or Windows XP. Some still need to use legacy software that only runs on Windows 98. Others don’t like Microsoft’s strong-arm tactics that try to cram Windows 10 onto every PC. But switching to Mac or Linux isn't a workable solution for them. Is this free, open-source Windows clone the answer? Read on for the details...

What is ReactOS?

Not ready to move to Windows 10? Not a fan of Linux or Mac? There is an alternative: a clone of Windows called ReactOS. It’s an open source project, so the ReactOS operating system is free to download and use as a Windows replacement.

The download file is offered in two formats: a boot CD that enables installation of ReactOS on a hard drive, or a LiveCD that runs ReactOS without installing it on your hard drive.

ReactOS got its start in 1996 as FreeWin95, a Windows 95 clone. But that project bogged down and stopped releasing new versions. Several project members picked up the pieces and started the ReactOS project in 1998. Windows NT is the version that ReactOS most closely resembles, but any user of XP or earlier Windows version will be right at home with the user interface.

ReactOS Free Windows Clone

The developers claim that ReactOS is written from scratch, looks like Windows, and is able to run Windows software and drivers. They sum up the differences between Windows and ReactOS as follows: “There are mainly two. Firstly ReactOS is open source. Secondly ReactOS is Free. Also Windows (especially the newer versions) are known to monitor all your activity by default. So if you’re concerned about your privacy or just don’t want to share any personal info, we promise (and you can check our source code) that we don’t track any of your data.”

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Despite being in development for over 20 years, ReactOS is still in the alpha stage of development, as indicated by its fractional version number 0.4.13. That means it’s incomplete and prone to crash.

It does run several dozen open source Windows apps that have been tested with ReactOS. Firefox, Opera, LibreOffice, VLC, Foxit Reader, Mozilla Thunderbird, IrfanView, Audacity, and 7-zip are some essentials that work (mostly) well with ReactOS.

You can see a gallery of popular Windows programs running ReactOS. Other Windows software can be tried on ReactOS, but compatibility will vary. Some programs will only run if you use an older version, and fail when they auto-update. Test results for dozens of Windows programs are listed here.

Even a ten year-old Windows XP computer can easily run ReactOS. ReactOS requires only 500 MB of disk space when installed, compared to 20 GB for Windows 10. ReactOS needs just 96 MB of RAM, while Win 10 wants 1 GB for the 32-bit version or 2 GB for the 64-bit version.

ReactOS screenshot

Astute readers may wonder if ReactOS shares the security vulnerabilities of the obsolete Windows versions it mimics. The answer is probably no because ReactOS is written from scratch, so it doesn’t contain the same software flaws. Does it have others? That remains to be seen. I do know that there is no anti-virus software available for ReactOS.

The ReactOS website bills ReactOS as a "Free, Community, Open Source, Collaborative, Compatible" operating system. That seems largely true, but I don't agree that ReactOS is ready to be your day-to-day operating system. It won’t run the hugely popular Chrome browser, or any version of Microsoft Office.

The software that does run is mostly older versions. If you’re looking for a Windows alternative, consider popular versions of Linux such as Ubuntu and Linux Mint. The Linux Mint desktop and user interface is similar to Windows 7.

ReactOS is still in the Alpha stage. In the software world that means it's mostly complete, ready for testing by intrepid users, but is likely to have bugs and crashes. Still, you may find it promising and fun to play with.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Will This Free Windows Clone Work For You?"

Posted by:

13 Oct 2020

I commend the ReactOS team for their efforts, but I can't see many use cases in which this would be the best solution. I tell most people with older hardware that they have two choices: upgrade to a newer system (not necessarily "new"), or for those with minor user needs and a decent level of ability, run one of the easier versions of Linux.

Posted by:

Kenneth Gash
13 Oct 2020

This looks like it could be kind of fun to play with. Can it run 16 bit programs?

Posted by:

James Walsh
13 Oct 2020

This is interesting; I think a good way to try this out would be in a Virtual Machine in something like Windows Hyper-V or Oracle's Virtualbox. I wonder if there are .iso files with already configured installations available that have some applications already installed to facilitate setup as virtual machines.

Posted by:

Bob K
13 Oct 2020

I have a motherboard here that will only run Windows 10 (and Linux!). I really miss my Win 7.

I believe Microsoft leaned upon Intel (make of the chipset) not to provide any drivers for any Microsoft OS except 10.

Think this ReactOS would run?

Posted by:

13 Oct 2020

Wasn't it the Borg collective who said "All your base are belong to us"?
IMHO there is no competition to Windows-OS; when it comes to respect-for and compatibility-with legacy hardware/software, in addition to providing all of the bleeding-edge technologies that other desktop/mobile OS platforms offer today (less 5G)!

Posted by:

Roy D Lee
13 Oct 2020

I was going to give this OS a try! I've tried three times now & the download fails every time just before it completes! Any advice?

Posted by:

13 Oct 2020

have and run XP,win98,vista, win 7, 2000, win me, all the old DOS love them have no worries do what want, some things only run on the old systems and computers will as long as can keep them running am 72 now hope for a lot more years

Posted by:

Steve G
14 Oct 2020

I downloaded ChaletOS and put it on an old laptop. I could not believe it, that old girl rocks. I do not understand the open source stuff but haven't spent a lot of time with it. Lots of software works with it and it looks just like Windows but doesn't act like windows. It is a fun little project to have an old pc that you can use still. I started computing with ms-dos and was blown away with Windows 3. Since then it has grown and become a bigger pain every version.

Posted by:

Brian B
14 Oct 2020

"...there is no anti-virus software available for ReactOS...."

That's a show stopper for me. Anyone running any machine with an internet connection, and without some sort of anti-virus protection, is just asking for it. I'm a bit surprised that you would even call attention to it Bob.

Posted by:

14 Oct 2020

To Brian B: This OS was written from scratch that means to infect it, a hacker has to know this OS pretty good, but since it's a product alhpa stage and also not popular and unlikely will be, what the point to hack into it? Hacking now is a business and as a business it has to pay back and cover financially all the efforts. How many viruses for Windows and for MacOS and for Linux? As many as popular those OSes. This is why so many viruses for Windows, way less for MacOS (don't be fooled that there is no viruses for Macs - there is no point to waste time for 5-10% of computers, when there is a big fat chunk of 90% Windows PCs). Linux/UNIX is a little more complicated, since it holds over 70% of webservers.

So if you install some exotic OS at your computer, you can easily and safely live without any antivirus. By the way, you unlikely can find any antivirus that could run under that exotic OS. I bet there are problems to run any antivirus under that ReactOS as well. Strictly speaking, even in a popular OS, like Windows you don't need any antivirus, if you know what you're doing - don't open strange emails, don't visit dangerous sites, etc. Also you can evaluate how financially attractive you can be to be hacked. Like I already said, hacking now is a business and has to pay back all time and efforts to get access to your information. Just answer for yourself - now much money they can steal from you, having full access for your computer. The time they spent on you and risk to be caught has to be really well rewarded. Be real. Nobody cares about you, as a target for this type of robbery. Relax.

Posted by:

14 Oct 2020

Interesting to read. It's nice to see someone trying to write something to use Windows-compatible software without making us all beholden to MS. As for anti-virus, it doesn't worry me that much, unlike BrianB above. Viruses are written to hook into flaws in Windows - if ReactOS is different code, then surely they won't work? I'm inclined to try it on an old Vista laptop whose hard drive died - complete with the recovery partition... It's currently running Linux Mint, so another 'experimental' OS won't harm for playing with.

Posted by:

Terry Hollett
14 Oct 2020

First time I tried it, on a old XP system, it booted to a BSOD. Couldn't find a way to bypass it. Most recently, I was trying to install it on an old Acer laptop (original Vista). I can boot of a live CD/USB but installer will not run at all.

Posted by:

21 Oct 2020

There is also another alternative, but it's not free--its basically os2 warp, but modernized.

Personally, if I'm trying to run an older system, I pull out 98se or win2k and be done with it. Even xp is light enough for most systems, but you'll need to use steadystate to have protection there.

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