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Why prominent 'hobbyist' operating systems face an existential crisis

Chris Hoffman | Nov. 17, 2014
Do you think Linux is an alternative, hobbyist operating system? Ha! Linux is mainstream. These are the real hobbyist operating systems--passion projects worked on by a handful of developers in their spare time.

And they're right. When I asked Fedora's new community manager about the future of desktop Linux, he told me most people thought computers were a "horrible nightmare." The future of desktop Linux seems to be powerful workstations, with Chrome OS and Android carrying the consumer Linux torch.

ReactOS is on a quixotic quest to reimplement Windows

ReactOS is a project working on creating an open-source reimplementation of Windows, written completely from scratch. Wine allows you to run Windows programs on Linux, and ReactOS incorporates some Wine code — but it's more than that. ReactOS wants to be Windows to the core, right down to the ability to load Windows hardware drivers.

Just check out the ambition in the ReactOS mission statement:

"The main goal of the ReactOS project is to provide an operating system which is binary compatible with Windows. This will allow your Windows applications and drivers to run as they would on your Windows system. Additionally, the look and feel of the Windows operating system is used, such that people accustomed to the familiar user interface of Windows would find using ReactOS straightforward. The ultimate goal of ReactOS is to allow you to use it as alternative to Windows without the need to change software you are used to."

The ReactOS project started as a spin-off of FreeWin95, a project to create an open-source reimplementation of Windows 95. Nearly twenty years later, ReactOS is still an active project, with the latest release occurring just a few days ago — but it's still in very incomplete alpha form.

ReactOS is in an even tougher position than Haiku. Their goal is to chase Microsoft, reimplementing the Windows NT architecture from scratch. Like Haiku, they're falling increasingly behind. Sure, ReactOS is getting some improvements, but Microsoft is changing Windows much more quickly — and many open-source enthusiasts abandoned ReactOS after controversy swirled around the alleged use of Windows code in the operating system. Like Haiku, ReactOS needs more developers than it has.

After more than 20 years in development, you have to wonder: Will ReactOS ever actually release a stable-quality reimplementation of Windows? And why would you even want that when you can use Wine to run Windows software on Linux? Even Wine will never be perfect, and they're working on a much smaller goal with much more people.

ReactOS also seems to have missed a massive, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by not having a final, stable release in place in time for the death of Windows XP.

Some people are still chasing the dream, however. ReactOS raised more than $25,000 in an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign earlier in 2014, for the development of a community edition of the operating system.


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