Thinstall uses virtual application technology to enable IT administrators to run products such as Microsoft Word and Excel on users’ systems without actually installing the software and without making any changes to the local file system or registry.
If this sounds similar to Microsoft’s SoftGrid, (based on Microsoft’s acquisition of Softricity, which was completed in July 2006) or Citrix’s Tarpon, that’s because the technologies are very similar. The technology behind Thinstall is also closely related to Altiris’ SVS (Software Virtualization Solution), which I reviewed in March 2006. I got a demo of the product from company founder and Chief Technology Officer Jonathan Clark on March 26, 2007. It looks very cool and, as I watched, Jonathan was able to start Microsoft Excel (with an executable of over 250MB) in just under 4 seconds on a lockdown Windows XP system that had never had Excel installed before. The cost for this convenience is $5,000 for the server and about $29 per desktop (one-time charge) and an 18 per cent annual maintenance fee. For shops that need to reduce regression testing before rolling out applications, Thinstall should definitely be on the comparison shortlist. Thinstall uses a virtualized operating system that is about 400K in size and is included with every application that is delivered to the user desktop system. The virtual OS handles communication with the delivery server and also keeps the virtualized application thinking that it is actually installed on the local Windows system. Any change, including data that is written locally, is kept in a sandbox, completely isolated from the physical system. Creating Thinstall projects looked pretty simple. Jonathan was able to create a project to deliver the Mozilla Firefox browser in under a minute. Thinstall last week announced an OEM agreement with LANDesk. Apparently LANDesk will be integrating the Thinstall functionality into the LANDesk Management Suite. This makes sense so that LANDesk can stay even with competitor Alitiris on the application virtualization marketing check-off sheet. Aside from keeping up with the Joneses, however, Thinstall technology is well worth checking out from a desktop and application security, rapid application deployment and help desk point of view. Because applications can be deployed with the virtualized OS, which doesn’t make changes to the local system, desktop administrators can merrily remove administrative privileges from local desktops and still be confident that the CEO’s admin will be able to access his or her applications without delay. Applications can be deployed without having to perform regression tests to see if the new apps will break already deployed, corporate standard software. Even better, unauthorized software that might have interfered with the official app about to be deployed won’t be able to muck up the new app, which will be safely running in its own cocoon. This should greatly reduce “the new software is breaking other applications” help desk calls. And if a user messes up an application, it’s a lot easier for the help desk to help them reset the application to a working state in a matter of minutes. We could do all this with the Alitiris SVS product, so we’ll likely put Thinstall under the microscope to look for its shortcomings in the next couple of months. For now check out Thinstall.