In-Depth

Review: Test-Driving VMware's ThinApp

An easy-to-follow interface combined with the Application Sync and Application Link features makes ThinApp a winner for both VMware and its customers.

ThinApp works by creating snapshots of applications to allow for easy installation across different versions of Windows operating systems, without the need to worry about different requirements for installation. This is achieved by providing a sandbox environment, where applications are isolated from the host OS.

ThinApp has three primary uses. First, it can be used to migrate proprietary or custom apps to new versions of Windows. Second, it provides an easy way to package complicated application installations. And third, developers can use it to create OS-independent apps. But there are many other uses as well.

Easy Installation
ThinApp installation is fairly straightforward and well-documented. Setup creates the Setup Capture component executable, which is used to create a baseline as well as to decode the changes made by the different app installations after they've completed.
To test a widely used real-world program, I chose Microsoft Word 2007. ThinApp allows you to create custom packages so that you can send out only the components of an application that are needed.

Once the package has been created, it's as easy as sending users a link to a network share. With the option to create an .MSI file, if Active Directory is in place, you can create a Software Deployment GPO. It also has the option to specify which users and groups are able to install this package.

I found working with ThinApp very easy and quickly started to use it to deploy all sorts of programs. The interface is easy to follow, and you'll be finding new uses for it constantly. One that comes to mind is for applications that include site licenses in which you can create a package and make it easily available to all users.

Smooth Operation
Performance-wise, the XP image that I used as my clean PC had the default specs for an XP image in VMware Workstation 6, which was 8GB HDD and 256MB of RAM. This can be run effortlessly by an admin on a workstation or laptop; it ran without a hitch.

ThinApp also enhances security. Because it's running in a sandbox environment, any changes that need to be made to a program you've created using ThinApp are limited to the sandbox. Modifications aren't made to the host OS. Another great feature is that applications can be run locally, on a network share or USB drive. This allows a user to take an application with him instead of lugging a laptop.

ThinApp runs all processes associated with the packaged application. This allows it to run in real time on the host, which I found to be an immense improvement over running the app in a virtualized OS. Doing this cuts back on the resources required to run the ThinApp package to that of the app being installed on the actual host OS.

Pros and Cons of VMware ThinApp

Pros

  • Easy interface takes the guesswork out of creating new packages
  • Updates/new features are seamless
  • Resource-friendly-supports Windows NT to Windows Vista

Cons: A bit pricey: Basic package starts at more than $6,000

-- K.D.

Worth the High Price
All things being equal, ThinApp is a great addition to the VMware line, although it's geared more toward larger companies. The basic package, VMware ThinApp 4 Suite + Gold with one year of support, costs $6,050.

If you're tasked with a difficult application deployment or a complex migration, the benefits of ThinApp will definitely outweigh the price.
If you're looking for a cost-effective way to simply deploy applications, then there are other solutions available that might be more suitable.

About the Author

Kevin Da Silva provides system admin support for a midsize enterprise software consulting company. He has MCSE certification and is a Microsoft Certified Small Business Specialist.

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