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Application Virtualisation – VMware ThinApp

I have had a good experience with VMware.

First, I found their Workstation (virtual machine software) to be top notch – the best in its class. Of course, many will support VirtualBox, but despite being open source in a category where being open source should be an advantage, it does not match up. You pay for VMware, but you get your money’s worth.

But this article is not about VMware. This is about another VMware tool I just tried – ThinApp. It comes with a fancy claim – being able to make any software portable, and thus be able to do it without conflicts. If you can install ThinApp somewhere, your ThinApp’ed software will work simply on copying and pasting, settings intact.

That piqued me. Think of the advantages: able to take your Office suite home with you, save your browser on your USB and take it along, and it runs. And as for testing, the ‘no conflicts’ clause means that technically, you should be able to test (or run) two or three different antivirus software on your system. Wacky.

So I downloaded it.

And it’s not free. Nevertheless, I went on ahead with a trial. The install is simplicity itself. Next, next, next…

The fun begins when it asks for the starting setup. It asks to be able to scan a Clean PC. Where would I get a clean PC from, anyway? It didn’t make much sense to me, and even though there a little explanation given there, it just serves to confuse more.

And then comes the installation part. It is rather unusual. I was expecting that I would have to open my application installers in ThinApp. All it asks is to minimize the screen, install, and maximize the Window again.

By now, I was beginning to get a good idea of how it works. It scans the registry hives, settings etc. and then rescans them after the installation and configuration of the software. It captures the changed files, as well as the changes in the registry and all, and runs them together in some way. Of course, this also implies that a software that was packaged on, say, Windows XP, will probably not run on Windows Vista.

After installing a software package (I chose to install Safari 4 beta, for experiment’s sake), I let it do another scan. Given that I was into the scheme of things now, this was no real surprise. I might as well specify that the scans are slow, and that I did not have a Clean PC to begin with.

It then generates a comparison, and asks you to set a few parameters that are rather straightforward. Simple, and convenient. By now, I had gotten used to the ugly, and unpolished interface of the software, and working.

It took an half an hour from start to end. And this excludes the time taken for the actual install. And there’s more. It actually used ALL the files that had changed between the two scans. While I certainly understand the clean PC requirement, this isn’t exactly making me very happy – must I install a clean system just for making ThinApps? For me, it would not be too hard – I would just install it a virtual machine, but that would be beyond most people.

And unorthodox conclusion:

It’s a real pain to get up and running. But it works really well!

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  1. muneeeeb
    17 March 2009 at 10:47 PM

    If u dont think that software packaged for, say Windows XP will not probably work for Vista, what benefit of ThinApp remains if not portability then?

  2. 18 March 2009 at 3:31 PM

    @muneeeeb: No, actually, it still is useful. It’s easy enough to package a program for both Windows XP and Vista (given that VMware rocks). Besides, I there are many situations where you know which OS is your target. Think about it this way: you want to install Firefox on 50 computers on a network (say, PC lab). It’s much easier to copy & paste, rather than install on all of them separately! 🙂

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