HP, Mozilla Create Virtual Browser to Secure Corporate Desktops

Hewlett-Packard, Mozilla and Symantec present a virtual browser called the HP Firefox Virtual Browser, which will be first featured on a new HP desktop called the HP Compaq dc7900. The HP Firefox Virtual Browser creates a secure virtualization layer that captures malware and viruses and lets the user purge the malware from the desktop. HP will offer the HP Firefox Virtual Browser in all its business desktops by year's end.

NEW YORK-Hewlett-Packard is teaming up with Mozilla and Symantec to create a more secure Web browser that will add an extra layer of security and virtualization capabilities to the corporate desktop.

At a show here Sept. 8 to demonstrate the upcoming HP Compaq dc7900 business desktop, HP also detailed what it calls the HP Firefox Virtual Browser. This Internet browser, which will be available on the Compaq dc7900 later in September, was co-developed with Mozilla and Symantec.

The HP Firefox Virtual Browser is essentially a virtualized application that sits within the individual desktop and is controlled by the user. Kirk Godkin, an HP senior product manager for business PCs, said because the browser resides on the individual client an IT department does not have to set up a virtual desktop infrastructure within the data center to take advantage of the virtual browser.

What HP and its partners have done is create a virtual layer that sits separate from the desktop's operating system but that still communicates with the operating system. The browser itself works within a virtualized run-time environment, which allows all the cookies and downloads to be sequestered in what Godkin calls the "sandbox."

If the sandbox detects malware or viruses, the user can simply empty the content of the virtual environment and start again.

"What we have created is a virtual layer where your browser runs and all the downloads, all the clicks, all the cookies and everything is placed within ... a virtualized run-time environment," Godkin told eWEEK. "With the browser, the user only has to click the mouse and it will reset the browser to its original state and all their favorites will remain the same."

While PCs have become highly commoditized, PC vendors continue to look for ways to distinguish their hardware from the competition. In this case, HP, which is still the word's No. 1 supplier of PCs, decided to refresh the traditional desktop with an eye on two of the biggest issues in IT today: virtualization and security.

After the virtual browser appears with the Compaq dc7900 client, Godkin said, HP will include the browser on all its corporate desktops by the end of November. After the initial rollout, HP may then add the virtual browser to its line of enterprise notebooks, but no firm plans are in place.

Godkin also declined to comment on whether HP is working with Microsoft on a similar option with Internet Explorer.

In addition to the virtual Web browser, HP is adding several other security features to the Compaq dc7900 under its ProtectTools suite. These include an optional privacy manager that allows a user to send e-mail with a digital signature and a file sanitizer that allows a user to scrub the PC clean before disposing of it.

The HP Compaq dc7900 will be available later in September for a starting price of $599.