While we wait for the Windows 8 beta to be released at the end of the month questions are looming over what will happen with legacy software support and how we'll run our older, but still useful and trustworthy, software in the future. Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate can run the free XP Mode, a fully-licenced copy of XP Professional running in a specially modified virtual machine. Here we can continue to use our older apps, as I do so myself, safe in the knowledge that they'll plug right into our Windows 7 Start Menu and appear on the desktop without having to have the XP desktop open as well.
But there's a problem looming, and it's a biggie. In April 2014, just over two years from now, all support for Windows XP will end. This means that there will be no more security patches and fixes... ever! Now if you use only XP apps that don't connect to the Internet this won't be a problem, but Windows 8 won't support XP Mode at all because of this end of support and even though the operating system will include its own virtual machine, Hyper-V, we don't know yet if plugging applications into the new Start Screen, or onto the Windows 8 Taskbar will be possible.
Then there's the simple fact that, no matter what new IT Pro and business features the beta of Windows 8 will bring, some people will simply decide that its not for them. Many businesses skip Windows releases after all and many are only just deploying Windows 7. But for people who are still on XP and don't want to move to either Windows 7 or Windows 8 because of software and hardware compatibility what will the alternative be after the April 2014 deadline?
The answer could come in the form of ReactOS, a Russian-developed Windows NT/XP clone. On their website they describe the product as...
"ReactOS is a free and open-source operating system based on the Windows NT architecture, providing support for existing applications and drivers, and an alternative to the current dominant consumer and server operating systems."
This operating system, still in the alpha stage, promises to be binary compatible with all Windows XP hardware and software. Rather than being a GNU/Linux OS with the Windows WINE emulator over the top, this is a complete Windows-clone OS. When it's finished the makers say that anything you can currently do with Windows XP you will be able to do with ReactOS.
As a product that's new and currently in development there will be ongoing support too with patches and upgrades, and presumably they will make modifications to the underlying security system to rectify Windows XP's inherent flaws.
Surely then Microsoft would go after ReactOS as aggressively as they have with other Windows clones such as Lindows? ReactOS have several answers to that, one of which is...
"Most people think of 'NT' as 'WinNT 4', while in reality the term NT refers to the NT series, which ranges from version 3 over NT5 (2000, XP, 2003) to NT6 (Vista, 2008 and 7). The NT architecture was designed by a team lead by David Cutler, a former lead developer of VMS. It took them more than 4 years to combine the best of UNIX, VMS and OS/2 and create the NT architecture."
There is also the fact that Russia, the home of the OS, doesn't observe International copyright law and so nobody can touch them... yet! On December 16th 2011 Russia finally joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and we can fully expect that as a condition of membership, other countries will insist they respect International patents and copyrights. When this happens we can be sure that Microsoft will go after ReactOS.
For now though the operating system is looking like a feasible alternative to Windows XP when all support ends in two years time. By then the new clone OS should be finished, tested and stable and any person or company looking to migrate their ageing software and hardware library in a way where everything will still run, and where they will still be able to get support will have an alternative.
Microsoft's lawyers no doubt already have their pens sharpened however and it's all still to play for. Watch this space and we'll keep you updated.
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.