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If you just can’t ditch that vi­tal piece of soft­ware that only runs on XP, you fi­nally have a se­cure al­ter­na­tive: Re­ac­tOS. Clive Web­ster shows you how to use this open-source XP clone

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If you have a favourite bit of soft­ware that only works on Win­dows XP, help is at hand. Clive Web­ster re­veals the se­cure XP al­ter­na­tive

MANY PEO­PLE STILL view Win­dows XP as Mi­crosoft’s crown­ing glory, the pin­na­cle of PC op­er­at­ing sys­tems, the per­fect bal­ance be­tween simplicity, re­li­a­bil­ity and flex­i­bil­ity. Some peo­ple just need to use XP be­cause a vi­tal or favourite piece of soft­ware was never up­dated to run on any­thing else, and even the Com­pat­i­bil­ity Modes of later Win­dows ver­sions couldn’t help. Which­ever camp you’re in, there is one sig­nif­i­cant flaw: Win­dows XP no longer re­ceives se­cu­rity up­dates. XP is there­fore a sit­ting duck for hack­ers, lead­ing to many XP users run­ning their PCs in to­tal iso­la­tion – no in­ter­net, no USB drives, no chance of ingress for any ma­li­cious soft­ware. Ob­vi­ously that’s a pain, so here’s an al­ter­na­tive: Re­ac­tOS.

At the time of writ­ing, the lat­est sta­ble re­lease of Re­ac­tOS is 0.4.7, which tells you some­thing quite im­por­tant about its cur­rent state: this is al­pha soft­ware. As such, the list of com­pat­i­ble hard­ware is lim­ited, the in­stal­la­tion op­tions are fairly spe­cific and some fea­tures may not work. Even worse, we found that ver­sion 0.4.7 doesn’t have the re­quired SSL cer­tifi­cate to al­low it to ac­cess its own ‘Ap­pli­ca­tions Man­ager’ app store.

We in­stead used one of the ‘nightly builds’, a re­lease that is a bit fur­ther down the de­vel­op­ment road and has a func­tional Ap­pli­ca­tions Man­ager, but which may not be as sta­ble or re­li­able. You can down­load the sta­ble re­lease from www.re­ac­tos.com/

down­load if you pre­fer to in­stall your soft­ware man­u­ally; al­ter­na­tively, down­load the lat­est build from www.re­ac­tos.com/get­builds –we used the msvc-win ver­sion of Re­ac­tOS 0.4.9-dev-50 for this guide (the gcc-lin ver­sion is for use on Linux PCs). The file down­loads as a 7z com­pressed file, so use WinRAR (www.rar­lab.com) or 7-Zip (www.7-zip.

org) to un­com­press the ISO file. Bor­row­ing from Linux habits, there is a Live CD ver­sion of Re­ac­tOS which runs the OS from a CD, al­low­ing you to test the look and feel of Re­ac­tOS with­out risk­ing your data. The Boot CD, mean­while, will wipe your hard disk to in­stall Re­ac­tOS. How­ever, run­ning any OS from a CD makes it rather slug­gish. Cur­rently the Live CD ver­sion doesn’t have the abil­ity to ac­tu­ally in­stall Re­ac­tOS, so we would in­stead sug­gest in­stalling the Boot CD ver­sion on a vir­tual ma­chine rather than us­ing the Live CD.

IN­STALLING RE­AC­TOS

We’ll first take you through cre­at­ing a vir­tual ma­chine to test Re­ac­tOS, then dis­cuss how to in­stall Re­ac­tOS for real on an ac­tual com­puter. A vir­tual ma­chine is es­sen­tially a fake com­puter run en­tirely in soft­ware on your main PC, bor­row­ing some of that ‘host’ PC’s hard­ware. We’ve detailed how to use Vir­tu­al­Box in pre­vi­ous is­sues, but there are a few odd set­tings when cre­at­ing your vir­tual ma­chine. Down­load and in­stall Vir­tu­al­Box from

www.vir­tu­al­box.org/wiki/Down­loads and click New to start cre­at­ing your vir­tual ma­chine. Give the ma­chine a name (Re­ac­tOS, for ex­am­ple) and se­lect Win­dows XP (32-bit) from the Ver­sion drop-down menu. Click Next and set the mem­ory size to 2,048MB (2GB); if your main PC has 4GB of RAM or less, only lend 1,024MB of mem­ory to the vir­tual ma­chine. Click Next and then Cre­ate (to make a fake hard disk), leave the set­ting as VDI and click Next again, leave the set­ting as Dy­nam­i­cally al­lo­cated and click Next, then give the vir­tual ma­chine some­thing like 60GB of disk space be­fore click­ing Cre­ate.

The newly cre­ated vir­tual ma­chine should ap­pear in the left-hand pane of the main Vir­tu­al­Box screen; right-click on it and se­lect Set­tings. Open the Net­work set­tings from the left-hand pane and click Ad­vanced, then set Adapter Type to PCnet-PCI II (Am79C970A) be­fore click­ing OK. If you hit com­pat­i­bil­ity prob­lems, dis­abling the au­dio and USB might help. Click OK to close the Set­tings menu. On the main screen you’ll see a list of the new vir­tual ma­chine’s ‘fake hard­ware’ - find the Stor­age sec­tion and right-click the IDE Sec­ondary Master: [Op­ti­cal Drive] Empty en­try. Use the file browser to se­lect the Re­ac­tOS Boot CD file you down­loaded.

Dou­ble-click the vir­tual ma­chine and it will boot, load­ing the Boot CD file and start­ing the Re­ac­tOS in­stal­la­tion process. Use the

ar­row keys to se­lect the cor­rect lan­guage, and then you can pretty much press En­ter or click Next un­til Re­ac­tOS is in­stalled.

In­stalling Re­ac­tOS on ac­tual hard­ware isn’t much more dif­fi­cult, as long as your PC is com­pat­i­ble. How­ever, the list of com­pat­i­ble hard­ware is pretty short and al­most ex­clu­sively con­tains hard­ware with re­lease dates of be­tween 1997 and 2005; see tinyurl.

com/364projects to check. You also have to burn the Boot CD ISO file to a CD or DVD. Which­ever soft­ware you use to do this (and Win­dows 10 has the func­tion built in), en­sure that the disc is bootable. We had no suc­cess at all try­ing to cre­ate a bootable USB flash drive to in­stall Re­ac­tOS from.

In­sert the disc into your PC’s disk drive and turn on the PC, press­ing Delete (or the al­ter­na­tive) to en­ter the BIOS. Re­ac­tOS will not in­stall on (or from) drives that use the AHCI pro­to­col, so en­sure that the hard disk and op­ti­cal drive are both set to IDE mode. Then change the boot or­der to check your op­ti­cal drive first, and in­stall Re­ac­tOS as detailed above.

We should note that we had no joy in­stalling Re­ac­tOS on any of our old PCs, with hangs ei­ther dur­ing the in­stall process or at first bootup; pos­si­bly hav­ing a PC that even of­fers the choice be­tween AHCI and IDE mode will mean your PC is just too modern for Re­ac­tOS to ac­cept. We in­stead used Re­ac­tOS on a vir­tual ma­chine to ex­plore its fea­tures and ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

The first time Re­ac­tOS boots, it will prob­a­bly ask you to in­stall Wine Gecko (do so) and driv­ers for var­i­ous bits of hard­ware. We found that the au­to­matic in­staller rarely found any­thing use­ful, but that Re­ac­tOS ran per­fectly well re­gard­less.

US­ING RE­AC­TOS

Once you’ve in­stalled Re­ac­tOS, you should be in a very fa­mil­iar en­vi­ron­ment. There’s a teal-ish coloured desk­top with fa­mil­iar icons

⬆ A great way to test any new OS is to run it on a vir­tual ma­chine us­ing the free Vir­tu­al­Box ap­pli­ca­tion

⬆ A jour­ney back in time: Re­ac­tOS is pre-loaded with all those fa­mil­iar Win­dows XP ap­pli­ca­tions

⬅ Play­ing back videos is just as easy as it was on XP

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