Just when we're all convinced there's nothing new under the sun except the latest version of Microsoft Windows, a new release of ReactOS is available in April 2008.

What is ReactOS? It is an open source operating system that will be compatible with hardware, software and drivers that run on a Windows system, including Direct X. ReactOS will be, ostensibly, the first "new" system that's been introduced since 1990 when Windows 3.0 came out.

Begun in 1998, the ReactOS project is currently in alpha stage, not recommended for everyday use. A number of Windows applications, however, will now work with the system, so Windows users should be able to use the system right off the bat, while the team continues to work on the development and configuration of drivers and other compatible hardware.

What's the big deal? ReactOS is open source. This means that the kernel, or core of the operating system, is available so anyone can write programs, drivers and other modifications to share. The OS user will no longer be beholden to Microsoft for an expensive operating system in order to use Windows applications. Right now, most of us buy Windows as part of the original purchase of a computer--and its built-in cost may be as much as 25 percent of the purchase price! But once ReactOS is perfected, a user will be able to use a Microsoft program like Office even if he doesn't have Windows installed on his computer.

Also, with the mods and applications that people will develop available for free, the OS user will be able to pick and choose the programs they want, instead of having to take a whole package like Windows with bells and whistles they may not need.

ReactOS is licensed under the GNU General Public License, unlike Windows, which uses End User License Agreements. What does this mean? When you buy a Windows operating system, you purchase the right to use it, but Microsoft continues to own it. You have no right to modify, upgrade or sell the product. Under GNU, once you have the OS, it's yours--you can modify it, sell it, make changes as you see fit. the only thing you can't do is prevent someone else from doing the same.

Want to see what all the buzz is about? Users can download this now for trial in three different forms: through an install disk, where you actually install and run it on your hard drive; on a live CD, where you can run it without actually installing it, or in a pre-made virtual package, which will allow it to run on VMWare virtual machine software.

Minimum hardware requirements for ReactOS to run are:    

  • x86-compatible processor, Pentium or later
  • 32 MB RAM
  • IDE hard drive of at least 150 MB
  • FAT16/FAT32 Boot partition
  • 2 MB VGA graphics adapter
  • CD-ROM drive
  • Standard keyboard
  • PS/2 Compatible mouse or Microsoft Mouse-compatible serial mouse

This month is the scheduled release of version 0.3.5, with the 0.4 stage on the horizon as the last alpha release. Beta is expected to be out by the end of 2008. The team invites interested folk to get on board and try it out, then provide comments, whether you're writing code, or just discussing the project and its applications.

(Source: ReactOS)