Microsoft have announced that Windows XP reaches its end of life 2014-04-08, in 7 days. But there are heaps of machines still running Windows XP, and depending on Windows XP to run their applications, and upgrading will be expensive, both when it comes to money and when it comes to the amount of effort needed to migrate from Windows XP to a new operating system. Some obvious options (buy new a Windows machine, buy a MacOSX machine, install Linux on the existing machine) are already well known and covered elsewhere. Most of them involve leaving the user applications installed on Windows XP behind and trying out replacements or updated versions. In this blog post I want to mention one strange bird that allow people to keep the hardware and the existing Windows XP applications and run them on a free software operating system that is Windows XP compatible.
ReactOS is a free software operating system (GNU GPL licensed) working on providing a operating system that is binary compatible with Windows, able to run windows programs directly and to use Windows drivers for hardware directly. The project goal is for Windows user to keep their existing machines, drivers and software, and gain the advantages from user a operating system without usage limitations caused by non-free licensing. It is a Windows clone running directly on the hardware, so quite different from the approach taken by the Wine project, which make it possible to run Windows binaries on Linux.
The ReactOS project share code with the Wine project, so most shared libraries available on Windows are already implemented already. There is also a software manager like the one we are used to on Linux, allowing the user to install free software applications with a simple click directly from the Internet. Check out the screen shots on the project web site for an idea what it look like (it looks just like Windows before metro).
I do not use ReactOS myself, preferring Linux and Unix like operating systems. I've tested it, and it work fine in a virt-manager virtual machine. The browser, minesweeper, notepad etc is working fine as far as I can tell. Unfortunately, my main test application is the software included on a CD with the Lego Mindstorms NXT, which seem to install just fine from CD but fail to leave any binaries on the disk after the installation. So no luck with that test software. No idea why, but hope someone else figure out and fix the problem. I've tried the ReactOS Live ISO on a physical machine, and it seemed to work just fine. If you like Windows and want to keep running your old Windows binaries, check it out by downloading the installation CD, the live CD or the preinstalled virtual machine image.