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VMware Dives Into Specialized, Desktop App Virtualization

In ThinApp 4, Application Link and Application Synch let customers run multiple versions of any application on any Windows operating system.
VMware is bringing out its first release of a product based on its January acquisition of privately-held Thinstall. VMware ThinApp 4 will allow any Windows application to run on whatever version of Windows the end user has, as opposed to the operating system on which the application previously depended.

A user, for example, could take Internet Explorer 7 designed for Windows XP Service Pack 2 and run it on an earlier version of Windows. Internet Explorer 6 could be run alongside it, without generating conflicts. Each is running in its own virtual machine and tapping needed services from its host's version of Windows. But each contains all the registry settings, DLLs, and file system changes on which it depends.

ThinApp is a packaging engine that detects an application's dependencies, then combines them with a version of the application as a Windows .exe executable file or mxi format for XML files. The package is roughly akin to a virtual appliance and is capable of running on PC hardware in its own "sandbox" or strictly defined address space. Because the application has its operating system dependencies included, it avoids changes to its host operating system that might bring it into conflict with other applications.

"ThinApp lets customers run multiple versions of any application on any Windows operating system. It breaks the bond between the application and the operating system," said Jerry Chen, VMware senior director of enterprise desktop products.

In ThinApp 4, application virtualization gets two new capabilities, Application Link and Application Synch.

Application Link lets virtualized applications communicate with each other. It could allow a virtualized Java application communicate with a virtualized version of Microsoft Word or Internet Explorer, said Chen. "Application Link lets you know which applications can communicate with each other," said Chen.

Application Synch allows an application to check with a remote server for updates, with only the changes to the application being downloaded.

ThinApp provides virtualized applications to the end user without placing agent software on the end user's machine, a move that adds to virtual machine overhead. In the same vein, the ThinApp 4 virtualized application with its operating system dependencies can be delivered over the network, via CD-ROM or by memory stick.

Chen said the ThinApp 4 approach also allows an organization to use virtualized applications without incurring the cost or overhead of a connection broker. ThinApp 4 can supply up to 5,000 concurrent users with virtualized applications, claimed Chen.

ThinApp 4 competes with Citrix Systems XenApp, Symantec through its acquisition of Alteris, and Microsoft's Softgrid, based on Softricity's Windows application virtualization system. Softricity was acquired by Microsoft in July 2006. "Citrix needs a large back end server. ThinApp doesn't need a large backend server" to dispense thousands of virtualized applications to end user machines, claimed Chen.

Unlike the more centrally controlled Softgrid and XenApp, ThinApp would seem to proliferate hundreds or thousands of applications with a variety of dependencies, making it more difficult to tell what an end user was running. Chen said ThinApp plugs into existing desktop system management tools from BMC, CA, and Hewlett-Packard, which can see which applications an end user is running. The move drew an endorsement from BMC's VP of Service Automation Products, Scott Fulton.

"Plugging into existing desktop configuration management tools... makes for seamless adoption of desktop virtualization," he said in a prepared statement.

ThinApp 4 will be available in thirty days at a price of $5,000 for the ThinApp application packaging engine, a copy of VMware Workstation and 50 client licenses. Additional client licenses are $39 per end point.