Another Quickie: ReactOS

I downloaded a few VMware images for use in VMware player.
The mouse (a PS/2 type) did not work either in ReactOS or in Syllable,
but did work in PC-BSD (all in VMware Player). Later, I downloaded the install-cd iso of ReactOS and burned it to
a CD. The image is a tiny download (19MB uncompressed), so it didn’t
take long. I intended to install ReactOS on a laptop and desktop.The laptop is a year-old 512MB Fujitsu with onboard graphics and
wireless networking and 80MB hard drive, of which around 40 is
dedicated to Linux (boot and LVM partitions); the remainder is at
present unallocated. The onboard wireless network card, being a
Broadcom, is useless in Linux as it appears to require a “software
on-switch” which, of course, is only available as a Windows
.exe. I had high hopes that I would be able to install the
Windows drivers and associated programs to get it to work in ReactOS.

I burned the .iso, rebooted and inserted the CD into the
drive. The install program (as far as I can tell) is almost
indistinguishable from the Windows install program, except that all
references to Microsoft Windows are replaced with references to
ReactOS. The install program got as far as detecting the keyboard
before complaining that ReactOS did not yet support “USB keyboards”;
I’ve no idea of the internal connexions between the keyboard and the
motherboard, but the keyboard I was using was the inbuilt laptop one.
I rebooted into SuSE Linux and attempted to install ReactOS into the
desktop PC.

The desktop PC I selected for the trial is a 3-year-old 1800 Mhz
whitebox PC with 512MB RAM, two hard drives (one of 200 and one of
28MB), a DVD-ROM and a DVD-RW drive. The first drive is entirely given
over to boot and LVM partitions, and the 2nd is configured as an LVM
physical volume. I rebooted the machine without remembering to
deallocate the space on the 2nd hard drive.

I had earlier (shortly after installing Gentoo Linux into the
desktop configuration mentioned above) attempted to install Windows
on the second hard drive, which similarly failed, and then onto the
first, overwriting the LVM. The Windows installation program appeared
to succeed in formatting the partition allocated to an LVM on the
first drive, but got only halfway before reporting an error. I have
not subsequently (until now) attempted to install any version of
Microsoft Windows or a compatible OS on that machine.

The ReactOS installation program demands that the hard disk onto
which the OS is installed have only a single primary partition. After
having gotten as far as formatting the 2nd hard drive with a single
FAT32 partition (the only filesystem which ReactOS supports at
present), the installation program complained that it was unable to
deal with the MBR of the first hard drive (on which GRUB is
installed) and offered to create a boot floppy or quit; the machine’s
floppy drive does not work, but never having needed it before, I had
not attempted to find the cause of the problem; nor did I attempt to
go any further with ReactOS.

As I mentioned earlier, I had forgotten to deallocate the 2nd hard
drive as a physical volume from the LVM volume group to which it
belonged. Upon rebooting into Linux, this caused the reboot to fail,
the kernel complaining that it couldn’t find the root volume which
was part of the volume group. Although it took some time to repair
(which would have been shortened had a little more attention been
paid to the process of recreating the physical volume, etc.), the
volume group was eventually resurrected, without data loss due to the
fact that no actual data had been located on the physical volume
corresponding to the second hard drive. As ReactOS appears to be an
attempt to duplicate as closely as possible the Windows experience
without modification or improvement, I can only assume that a similar
cockup with this open source variant of the world’s favourite operating
system would have necessitated a reinstallation, leading to a
considerable loss of data due to the lack of backups (an oversight
which I intend to rectify very soon.)

Conclusion

As a Linux user, I was not impressed by the (lack of)
sophisticated installation and recovery tools/options in ReactOS. A
requirement to have a floppy boot disk, in times when the facilities
to read these these are often not installed into name-brand PC’s at
all, is not acceptable unless a suitable alternative is given. To
some extent these faults can be excused given the alpha quality of
the OS; however, it appears that the authors of the system are
attempting to duplicate as closely as possible the dismally basic and
inflexible installation procedure of “the real Windows”. Given its
target market, this is perhaps not surprising; however, this means
that the system is, like Windows, not suitable for installation by a
user who uses a non-Windows-class operating system as his or her
primary OS without careful planning.

Given that its compatibility
is (by the authors’ own admission) not yet complete, for the
foreseeable future ReactOS will probably be consigned to second place
on a user’s hard drive. As such it is in my view imperative that it deal comfortably with being installed on a
second primary or logical partition or even a second HDD. I fail to
see why no attempt has been made to make the system compatible with
GRUB and/or more advanced and up-to-date installation methods than
the antiquated floppy disk. Advanced users would, I’m sure, be more
than happy to have to go through an “advanced users only” screen to
get to these options, if only they were made available.

Similarly, I hope that (given that its compatibility is stated to
already be so complete that it is “able” to run viruses) support for
NTFS is included in future.

It is unfortunate that I was not even able to report on how well
ReactOS runs various Windows apps. Despite my negative impressions of
the project, it is clear that they are trying their best to reproduce
Microsoft Windows as a viable open source project, even down to the
faults of the platform. As such I wish them well.

Author’s Note

This was originally to be a comment on the recent “ReactOS on
VMware
” article on OSNews, but grew too long to be a comment, so I
decided to submit it as an article.

About the Author:
I am a long-time user of Linux and other UNIX-like operating
systems, having used Linux almost continuously since the late
nineties. I used an Amiga until 1995 when I bought my first PC, but
never really fell in love with Windows. In fact with Windows98, it
could be said that I fell in hate with it. I fooled around a bit with
Red Hat around version 5.2 or so, but only really started using Linux
when I found Mandrake, and have since used Slackware, Debian, and
Arch, amongst others; and most recently Gentoo and SuSE Linux 10.
I have also dabbled in various BSDs. My first experience of UNIX in
any form was on a university’s Solaris-on-SPARC computing pool in
Germany.


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32 Comments

  1. twenex 2006-08-31 7:08 pm EST
    • Thom Holwerda 2006-08-31 7:09 pm EST
      • twenex 2006-08-31 7:11 pm EST
  2. jchildrose 2006-08-31 7:16 pm EST
    • twenex 2006-08-31 7:43 pm EST
  3. Vanders 2006-08-31 8:12 pm EST
    • twenex 2006-08-31 8:25 pm EST
    • djohnston 2006-09-01 4:24 am EST
  4. viator 2006-08-31 8:14 pm EST
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    • twenex 2006-08-31 8:48 pm EST
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        • deanlinkous 2006-08-31 10:58 pm EST
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  6. Valhalla 2006-08-31 8:49 pm EST
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  11. viator 2006-09-01 1:35 am EST
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  16. GvG_ 2006-09-01 3:44 pm EST