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Windows 10 apps on an open-source OS? ReactOS gains experimental support for latest Windows software

ReactOS is a free and open-source, Windows-compatible OS that looks similar to Windows XP -- now with experimental support for Windows 10 software.

The possibility of running an open-source version of Windows has taken a step closer, with the addition of experimental support for Windows 10 apps to the latest version of ReactOS.

ReactOS is a free and open-source, Windows-compatible OS that looks similar to Windows XP. Its sales pitch is "Imagine running your favorite Windows applications and drivers in an open-source environment you can trust".

The operating system already runs a selection of software written for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, and the latest 0.4.8 release lays the groundwork to run Vista, Windows 8 and Windows 10 apps.

"Although in a really greenish and experimental state, the new additions in 0.4.8 should start helping several software pieces created for Vista and upwards to start working in ReactOS," writes Victor Martinez, ReactOS's business and strategy officer.

Martinez says ongoing work will make it possible to run Vista, Windows 8 and Windows 10 software on ReactOS, as the open-source implementation of the Windows NT architecture moves to supporting operating systems in the Windows NT6+ family.

"Colin, Giannis and Mark are creating the needed logic in NTDLL and LDR for this purpose," he said.

"Giannis has finished the side-by-side support and the implicit activation context, Colin has changed Kernel32 to accept software made for NT6+, and Mark keeps working on the shim compatibility layer."

So far support for newer Windows software in ReactOS is at an early stage, so be prepared for crashes and software not working, although at least some apps are viable to use, with Martinez posting this image of Quicktime for Vista and 7 working in ReactOS. In general, ReactOS is also considered alpha-stage software, with major bugs and missing functionality.

To help resolve issues via future updates, ReactOS now comes with a tool similar to DrWatson32, which will generate detailed crash logs that can be submitted to ReactOS developers.

ReactOS' developers have pretty high ambitions for the OS in the long run, describing it as being aimed at "users who want a Windows replacement that behaves just like Windows".

balloon.png

The ReactOS with working balloon notifications.

Image: ReactOS

How ReactOS works

While the OS is not another wrapper built on a Linux-based OS, such as the Windows-compatibility layer WINE, the user-mode part of ReactOS is almost entirely WINE-based, and the the ReactOS team is integrating various software libraries together to create a working OS image — rather than recreating every core function of Windows. As TechRepublic's James Sanders pointed out in an earlier overview — the TCP/IP stack is provided by lwIP, fonts are handled by freetype, and various other libraries like libjpeg, libpng, and zlib (among others) are provided by upstream projects, which are also incorporated in various Linux distributions.

What else is new?

The latest version of the OS also improves the Taskbar settings menu: fixing the options for auto hide, toggle lock and always on top. Balloon notifications also now work properly and app icons related to finished processes are now automatically removed.

There is better support for New Technology File System (NTFS) via a new NTFS driver that allows ReactOS to "read NTFS partitions in a more robust way". Old hardware and virtual machines should also now boot when there is an empty floppy drive, and there are now drivers for virtual floppy and CD-ROM drives.

Other newly working features include the ability to select multiple desktop icons, deletion and renaming of folders and files, shell autocompletion, and direct dismounting of network drives. The difficulty that several games had when using native graphics drivers has also been resolved. UI elements also render more accurately and ReactOS detects more themes.

ReactOS was already considerably more lightweight than Windows, and the elimination of several bugs means the OS can now boot on systems with no more than 96MB of RAM and 450MB of storage.

Kernel stability is also improved, via fixes to the Memory Manager, File system and Cache Manager, there are new power and energy-saving options available from the updated ACPI support.

"Combine all these features with the Kernel and Filesystem fixes that 0.4.8 is bringing and you'll understand why the ReactOS team is so excited regarding this new release," says Martinez.

You can download ReactOS here and install it using this guide, or check out the code on GitHub.

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About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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