VMware Enters the App Virtualization Arena with ThinApp 4

VMware application virtualization offering ThinApp 4 reduces application conflict and speeds the cycle of application deployment while boasting lower overhead than full-blown desktop virtualization approaches. However, VMware's maiden app virtualization voyage hits some stormy patches.

VMware's ThinApp 4, the first version to ship since VMware acquired Thinstall in January 2008, can, if properly configured, make life easier for IT administrators by easing Windows software conflicts through the magic of application virtualization.

Where desktop virtualization involves hosting entire desktops, from virtual hardware straight through to operating systems and applications, products such as ThinApp eliminate application conflicts in Windows systems by isolating application files and registry settings on standard Windows clients. As a result, application virtualization is better distributed and more offline-friendly than centralized, server-hosted desktop virtualization, and requires less overhead than do locally run, PC-based desktop virtualization solutions.

VMware ThinApp and competitive products, including the beta version of Microsoft Application Virtualization 4.5 and Altiris SVS (Software Virtualization Solution), differ significantly from regular application packaging tools in that they can stream an application package to a sandbox that they create on the end-user system so that the application executes without interfering with other programs that may already be installed.

For the most part, ThinApp performs its core application virtualization role effectively, by virtue of an efficient application packaging mechanism and distribution system that makes virtualized applications available to end users from a network share or USB drive. Once I got the system up and running, VMware ThinApp did a good job of distributing applications without the need to perform extensive regression testing to check for conflicts with other applications (or even older versions of the same product).

However, in eWEEK Labs' tests, proper configuration proved more challenging than it should have been. In particular, I found ThinApp 4's impressive new AppSync application update features impaired by a clumsy user interface and lacking in good documentation. Many of my VMware ThinApp test problems could be rectified with a couple of pages of documentation. Assuming that these omissions are corrected, desktop administrators should put VMware ThinApp on the short list of application virtualization tools to consider.

VMware ThinApp was released on June 10, costs $5,000 for the server and includes a copy of VMware Workstation, which is handy for creating the clean clients needed for application preparation, and 50 client licenses. Additional client licenses are $39 per endpoint.