August 2007


Aug 20, 2007: 18. ReactOS and RosAsm



This continues Capitalism, Communism and Computing and Lawyers and software, that I indeed put in BitsAndPieces in part to lead up to this piece.

I have written about RosAsm before in BitsAndPieces, and I still like it very much, for which reason I am sad so very few people are seriously interested in it - but then that also happens to be the sad fate of many a really good idea or product, simply for being too original, or for being not what ordinary folks like or  think proper or desirable.

Also, I am subscribed myself to the RosAsm forum, for which I wrote some few pieces, and for that reason got interested in an item published there today by Betov, RosAsm's main developer, about ReactOS and RosAsm.

First, what is ReactOS? I didn't know of it myself, until discovering RosAsm, and then I learned two things:

  • ReactOS is an Open Source Operating System, that is meant to be free and to replace or compete with MS Windows, by providing a  similar API and look-and-feel, but then in Open Source, and that has been under development now for some 10 years.
  • Betov has been working for 10 years on RosAsm and its predecessor SpAsm to have a good assembler for ReactOS - as indeed is mentioned briefly in B_U_Asm, which is RosAsm's fine helpfile.

So far, so good, for it is in everybody's interests - apart from the shareholders and owners of MS, of course - that there comes to be an Open Source "Windows". (And I myself don't mind paying for this - as long as it is genuine and complete Open Source.)

I have briefly looked at ReactOS some months ago, and found it interesting, but of very doubtful chances of ever becoming a real alternative for MS Windows, and that basically for legal reasons, and not the quality of the software, for that is good (if not yet up to full MS Windows standards).

Today, Betov gave up ReactOS and wrote a piece about it explaining why: This must have been a bitter thing to write, if you have been working for 10 years without monetary remuneration on the assumption that your assembler will eventually be a part of a good Open Source Operating System.

Betov's reason to give up ReactOS is mostly that it seems to him ReactOS uses code that has been disassembled - or so it would seem, and not only to Betov, but to one of the main developers of ReactOS, Hartmut Birr, who left it for that reason - which means, if indeed this is true or can be made plausible in court (!), that there is very little chance for ReactOS to become what it set out to be, since MS can shoot it down in the courts very easily.

I have checked the links Betov provided and he seems right to me, except perhaps for the - highly speculative - outcome of an eventual European court case of MS against ReactOS (which MS can very probably keep going until the 22nd C if it wants, meanwhile denying ReactOS the right to be used by the public, because of the possibility of reverse assembling or other copyright infringements).

It may be that, eventually, a European court may side with ReactOS, but then that is an eventuality (i) that absolutely no-one can predict with any rational confidence and (ii) that anyway may with great rational confidence be said to take many years of fighting in the courts, to the great benefit of lawyers, but no one else.

So this is sad piece of news.

Personally, I wouldn't know what to do, except that I do agree with Betov that the chances that ReactOS will be - eventually, after looooong legal fights and great amounts of lawyer-bills - an Open Source OS that is adopted by many millions are very slim indeed.

It seems that Betov thinks of Ubuntu now, as an OS for RosAsm. Ubuntu is a Debian-distribution of Linux, which - so I have been told by respectable CS-folks in the know - is the best available Linux-distribution.

One problem is that there seems to be hardly any assembler or assembly on Linux (this being a place were things are done in C); another that it is probably not easy at all to adapt RosAsm to Linux.

Maarten Maartensz


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