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ReactOS on The Windows Tail

For more than a decade, open source developers have been trying to clone Windows. The latest release of ReactOS 0.3.1 gets them closer than ever before, but don't expect open source Vista just yet. Now, the devs are aiming to be as compatible with Windows 2003 as possible.

The purpose of ReactOS was to replicate a Windows operating system as an open source, or free, software-based system. Pulling elements from the Wine project, the 0.3.0 update added basic networking functionality.

"This includes some internal architecture and definitely all external interfaces," Aleksey Bragin, ReactOS project coordinator, told internetnews.com. "However, since this is a big task, 0.3.1 is an 'interim' release, where a lot of the kernel was improved, but some small parts still remain old."

For instance, users will notice some new visible items in ReactOS 0.3.1. Bragin noted that there were some fancy things added, such as a boot video splash screen or wallpaper.

But before ReactOS can claim to be a complete clone of Windows, said Bragin, developers have a lot to do. At the top of the list are stability and compatibility with everything else coming after, he added.

"ReactOS kernel was started 10 years ago, and we still have some code of that date. Since we don't want to go the Windows ME way, we chose a different way -- Windows 2003 SP1, and not NT4 or Vista, and those historic parts need to be rewritten."

ReactOS has experienced its share of controversy and difficulty. In February 2006, it survived a full audit on its code base to ensure that no code was taken from Microsoft.

But despite the difficulties inherent in attempting to cleanly replicate a Windows operating system, Bragin is satisfied with the pace of development.

Because the project is completely non-commercial, he said, developers have a lot of freedom. But the drawback of this is that not all developers can work full time on ReactOS, he added. "But, even despite this, our rate of development has exponentially increased during recent years."

That rate of development is increasing partially due to the project's ability to attract new developers.

"And that's understandable, when we had a thread scheduler in the kernel seven years ago, and when we have a GUI explorer booting now -- that's quite a difference in attracting new developers," Bragin said. "ReactOS team always welcomes new developers -- we have a wide range of interesting sub projects to do, and any such task would bring the project forward."

Another way that ReactOS attracts new developers is via the Google Summer of Code initiative. Bragin said that ReactOS's 2006 participation was a great thing, and they have already applied for participation in Google Summer of Code 2007.

"Even though 0.3.1 does not include all improvements made during Summer of Code 2006, they are going to be fully included in the next release," Bragin said.

One historic element of Windows that ReactOS will not be aiming to replicate, however, is its demo performance.

"I think everyone remembers how Win 98 BSODed [blue screen of death] during a demo by Bill Gates," Bragin commented. "Ironically, I could not crash ReactOS when being asked by people to show a ReactOS blue screen during my speech at FOSDEM 2007."