For our December “Community Choice” Project of the Month, the community elected ReactOS, an operating system based on the best Windows NT design principles. The team behind the project shared their thoughts about the project’s history, purpose, and direction.
SourceForge (SF): What made you start this project?
ReactOS Team (RT): ReactOS was started by a group of developers who, while impressed by the NT architecture of Microsoft’s Windows family, desired a more open development environment. They felt that not only would such an environment be beneficial to all developers that target Windows, providing insight into just how the underlying system actually works, but also provide a means to improve on the security and stability of the system by letting more people participate in its development.
SF: Has the original vision been achieved?
RT: We are still some ways to achieving complete application and driver compatibility with the NT5 family.
SF: Who can benefit the most from your project?
RT: Software developers seeking to understand how Windows works under the hood, OS developers/hobbyists who want an example of a non-Unix style OS, and users who require an NT5 era Windows platform for application or hardware compatibility, and who want continued updates for security and the like.
SF: What core need does ReactOS fulfill?
RT: With Microsoft having end-of-lifed the NT5 family, including XP and 2003, users who would prefer that environment, or a much more lightweight Windows environment, would be better served by ReactOS when it is completed.
SF: What’s the best way to get the most out of using ReactOS?
RT: Try it out on VirtualBox or VMware, and don’t go in expecting everything to be perfect yet. If you’re ready for some tinkering, or excited about the ability to customize everything, you’ll quickly find things to try or areas to take a deeper look at.
SF: What has your project team done to help build and nurture your community?
RT: Probably the biggest effort to help build our Community started a couple [of] years ago when we defined a new Product-Community strategy. As our first milestone we launched a crowdfunding campaign letting the Community decide which apps they wanted to see start working in ReactOS. The main objective of this move was not just to raise some funding for such on-demand development but also striking news, reaching new users, showing them their opinion counts, and helping them to find that lot of software was already working. This, as planned, enlarged our Community but, even more important, it helped build a closer relationship with them. The new site released at the same time, and largely requested by the Community, has been proven to improve the first overall impression of the ReactOS product itself.
Since then, and as part of our second milestone, we created several scripts which share in our social channels a constant flow of information from all our services. The best fixes from our Jira bugtracker, the latest videos from our ReactOS Youtube channel, blog posts created by developers or official news from the ReactOS website are, among others, shared now automatically. Now the Community can track how ReactOS is evolving daily and interact in real time with it. These interactions help attract new members to the Community and enhance a closer relationship with the current ones. Nowadays we’re probably one of the most complete in sharing infra among the open source projects out there.
SF: Have you all found that more frequent releases helps build up your community of users?
RT: Very much so, we’ve increased our release frequency considerably this year and have seen a far greater influx of new users and testers on our forum. Word of mouth is our only advertising way and seems to combine perfectly with a faster release tempo.
At the same time, our current 3 months lapse helps to feel the difference in terms of stability and compatibility within releases.
SF: What was the first big thing that happened for your project?
RT: We’ve had quite a few milestones in ReactOS’ history. The first time the OS booted by itself instead of being bootstrapped by DOS, the first time we were able to switch between two windowed applications, the first time network communications worked- there were a lot of big things over the course of the project.
SF: What helped make those happen?
RT: All of the milestones we’ve achieved have been due to the hard work and very often tenacity of our developers and testers. Some of these guys had to get very creative in solving the problems they encountered in trying to develop an OS from scratch. Also we can’t thank enough the support of our donors. Since we don’t have any company supporting our development, they are the ones helping to hire new developers and paying our server bills.
SF: How has SourceForge and its tools helped your project reach that success?
RT: All of our releases are done through SourceForge, helping us to reduce the cost of distribution of our product. The metrics that we get from the downloads provide us with a good idea of where our prospective user base is from.
These metrics help us to understand our users’ behaviour: Are they willing to test bootcds or livecds? Are we attracting more users release after release? How does it affect the downloads, a faster release cycle as we’re doing now? How does a particular marketing action done affect the ReactOS downloads? How is the inertia (download of old releases) evolving?
But also it helps us to predict the expected visitors in our website for the next releases so we can ensure the needed resources for the peak days.
Handling and analyzing correctly this data proves to be an amazing way to discover the health of the project and summed to the rest of our analytics helps to draw a roadmap of our actions.
SF: What is the next big thing for ReactOS?
RT: There are several next big things coming pretty soon. The first one is the integration of the results from this year’s Google Summer of Code. Also we’re working hard on having Word 2010, Java RE and Google Chrome supported, since they are the apps selected by our Community in the IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign.
SF: Do you have the resources you need to make those happen?
RT: So far we’ve been fairly fortunate this year, contributions and manpower have been quite steady and we expect to get the improvements in without too much fuss. With that said, ReactOS is on its way to reach Beta status. Beta supposes a jump in quality and for such we’ll need to place full time developers to reach it. Reaching Beta is not as costly as one may think but some extra resources will be needed.
SF: If you had to do it over again, what would you do differently for ReactOS?
RT: ReactOS took a few shortcuts in its early days to try to achieve as many user-visible improvements as possible. Those hacks have been the source of considerable headaches as the team implemented more functionality correctly.
Looking back, we probably should have fought that particular temptation and done the software engineering right the first time around.
SF: Is there anything else we should know?
RT: ReactOS is now hiring!. Thanks to the donations and contributions from our Community we’re planning to hire a new developer. So if you are skillful in Windows APIs or you are willing to help us in fixing bugs, you can just drop an email here.
Feel free to follow the progress of our current hired developer, Hermès, through his blog posts, discover what’s coming in the next release, or join the Community in Twitter, Facebook or Telegram.
[ Download ReactOS ]