ReactOS Attempts to Clone Windows--A Heapin' Helpin' of Chutzpah!

by Ostatic Staff - Jan. 08, 2009

Now here is an open source (or at least partially open source) project that may have a strong chance of drawing legal action from Microsoft: ReactOS. It is a free, community-driven operating system--currently only in alpha--based on the design of Windows XP/2003. According to developers: "It aims to follow the Windows architecture designed by Microsoft from the hardware level right through to the application level. This is not a Linux based system, and shares none of the Unix architecture." There are some promising aspects to this effort, although there are also some foreboding, clearly similar precedents where Microsoft has called out its legal cavalry. Here's more.

As Xenstreet notes, ReactOS does not really compete directly with Windows XP or Vista, but there are still hundreds of millions of PCs around running very old versions of Microsoft Windows. In fact, I recently recounted my effort to convert a Windows 98 dinosaur laptop into a netbook for my cousin. It's on these older systems that ReactOS could represent a free, open source system rejuvenation for any user who is used to the interface metaphors and innerworkings of Windows.

Xenstreet makes the argument that Microsoft does not support versions of Windows predating Windows XP, but there actually is so much support documentation online at Microsoft's site for previous versions that I don't agree that community support will be the big attraction for ReactOS. Also, ReactOS has no hope of duplicating the Plug-and-Play hardware compatibility found in all versions of Windows since Windows 95, which has basically been a distributed, industry-wide set of compatibility agreements between Microsoft and thousands of hardware manufacturers. 

Instead, this open source Windows knock-off may have a future simply because it is free, lightweight and works as Windows works. Is there any precedent for this kind of thing? Oh yes. Have you ever heard of the Software 602 office suite of Windows applications? For years, this was a free clone of Microsoft Office, so uncannily like the Microsoft productivity applications that its existence drew legal action from Microsoft. I used the suite extensively for years, and its spreadsheet worked exactly like Excel, its word processor looked and worked exactly like Word, etc.

I can't tell if Software 602's suite still exists, and it may have been legally obstructed, but I do remember that it eventually went to a fee-based model where you could buy it for around $40. I won't be surprised to see ReactOS draw a reaction from Microsoft. Just look at the legal action that Apple recently took against Psystar, which has attempted to make and sell clones of Macintosh systems.

In another example of an extremely close makeover of Windows, I wrote about Xcerion here.The company offers an extremely Windows-like "cloud OS," and members of its advisory board are former Microsoft employees.

Despite the possibility of legal action, I have to admire the swashbuckling bravado of the the ReactOS team and community. Does the "React" part of the name of this project refer directly to what the developers expect from Microsoft? I don't know. Remaking Windows as a free, open source entity, though--now that's chutzpah!