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VMWare ThinApp - Building, Installing, and Using the Perfect Firefox ThinApp

posted Aug 15, 2010, 12:16 AM by Evan Greene   [ updated Aug 15, 2010, 5:06 PM ]
I just posted a video on Youtube that goes through the steps of creating a VMWare ThinApp.  Click here to watch it.

VMWare ThinApp enables you to run applications in a virtual sandbox which can help prevent malware from reaching your computer.  It does this by packaging applications into a Virtual Operating System (VOS) which intercepts calls to system functions such as read, write, and modify.  This enables all transceiving data to be contained into a controlled environment.  If exploit code is run on the ThinApp, the result of the code, be it malware file generation, command-line with admin priviledges, etc, will not result in the computer running it being compromised, since the VOS prevents the exploit code from executing on the host machine.

In addition to preventing malware, ThinApps are also portable, fast to install, and save your custom settings.  If you need to carry around some software with you on a USB drive that is not normally portable, ThinApp may help you convert it into a portable application.  ThinApps are also fast to install once they have been built.  A simple double-click and it's on your machine.  No need to go through any installation wizard clicking through a series of dialogs to get the application setup on your system.  Furthermore, you don't have to worry about setting up the application ever again.  Once you build a portable ThinApp with custom settings, those settings are there for good.  Even if you format your hard drive, as long as you keep a copy of the ThinApp you built, your settings will remain in tact.

ThinApps may also keep your computer slightly more responsive and speedy, because software will not have to write it's entries into the Windows Registry.  All of the registry entries are stored in the virtual container.  The only entries that are written to the registry are file associations and uninstall information.  If you primarily use software packed into a ThinApp, your computer will stay cleaner and will run as smooth as the day the OS was first installed.

However, accompanied with the advantages are a few disadvantages.  Obviously, ThinApps can not package drivers.  ThinApps may also fail to package software that utilizes drivers to function, such as Antivirus software (not that you would want to virtualize an AV, anyway) or image mounting tools like Daemon Tools.  They also require you to use predefine locations for saving and accessing files.  If you attempt to save files to a folder that was not set up with the correct isolation method when you built the ThinApp, then the file will be saved into the virtual container, rather than on the host system.  This could be irritating if, for an example, you were writing an essay paper and save it to C:\Essays and when you go looking for your files in C:\Essays, you notice they do not exist.  The ThinApp will "contain" these writes to %c_drive%\Essays in the virtual folder that it creates if this folder was not set up with Merged isolation.  Clearly, this sounds a little complicated, but it's rather simple to grasp after you have made a few of these and experiment with how they work.

VMWare ThinApp is not free.  However, VMWare does offer a 60-day trial here.  Go ahead and try it out.