The latest version of application virtualization provider InstallFree's platform makes a strong case for taking applications off the desktop and putting them in a central, managed repository.
InstallFree Bridge Suite 1.8 provides simple management tools, uses no installed components on the server or end-user systems and makes minimal changes to the way end users interact with applications. Large organizations with significant geographic spread may find it a challenge to keep application repositories up to date.
It was easier for me to overlook the shortcomings in this product category-that many virtual application management costs are similar to those of conventional application deployment tools-than in other application virtualization tools, namely Microsoft's App-V and Novell's ZENworks Application Virtualization. Both of those options hook into management infrastructure to provide global deployment solutions. InstallFree Bridge Suite requires significantly less planning and has far fewer infrastructure prerequisites than these two solutions.
InstallFree Bridge Suite, like all other application virtualization tools, does require that applications be specially prepared in order to be deployed virtually. The InstallFree Encapsulator enabled me to package applications for virtual distribution, or "encapsulate" them, to use InstallFree's term, with about the same ease as other products that I've used.
Although the InstallFree Encapsulator doesn't require a clean, model system, as a matter of best practices to create my encapsulated applications I did use a clean base system that represented the majority of deployed systems in my environment.
The product is entirely Windows-centric and can be used only with Windows-based endpoints. The IFMC (InstallFree Management Console) runs on a Windows Server 2003 system as a snap-in to the MMC (Microsoft Management Console). The InstallFree Bridge suite also uses read-only access to Active Directory to provision end users with applications according to policy choices I made in setting up the product.
The InstallFree Bridge, the portion that is deployed to the end-user system, enables roaming profiles and is intended for use inside an organization on a managed computer. Later in 2009, InstallFree officials are planning the release of a second component, called the InstallFree Desktop, for use outside the managed network. In my tests, the InstallFree Bridge was pushed to the end-user system during log-on to communicate with the IFMC and to retrieve applications and any customized user configurations, updates or patches from a file-share repository.
These applications, updates and add-ons were designated in policies that I created. The InstallFree Bridge enabled isolated applications to interact with each other and local system resources, including printers, USB devices and optical storage, based on my policies.