Application virtualization helps you to separate the applications from the underlying OS which brings you a lot of benefits. VMware has a product called ThinApp which you can use to virtualize your applications.
I believe that ThinApp will get a huge boost now VDI/VMware View is very popular and more and more customers are implementing a virtual desktop environment. Both ThinApp and VMware View are very complementary and it makes sense to use them both; separate apps and OS, avoid conflicts between 2 applications, manage and maintain OS and applications independently. Also, save on storage. With ThinApp you can virtualize for example Office and provide it to users instead of installing Office inside every VM. For the record, ThinApp absolutely works in a physical environment as well.
Now, what is ThinApp?
Basically, VMware ThinApp makes it possible to run an application inside a “bubble” in stead of installing it locally. Because it is running inside a “bubble”, the application won’t “touch” your OS. When you run the application, you don’t have to install it first so this application won’t modify your system.
Inside the “bubble” there is a very small Virtual Operation System (VOS), Virtual Registry (VR) and Virtual File System (VFS). Everything the application does will be handled by the VOS, VR and VFS. It will intercept file and system calls. A “sandbox” is a place where the virtual app writes to. This can be settings like favorites in Mozilla Firefox. This to saves changes and make the life of a user easier.
When you “ThinApp” an application (which needs to be a Windows application), you will create a single file MSI or EXE file. The EXE or MSI is a choice you make during the packaging. You can copy/distribute this file and run it from almost any device; a share, USB, flash, Windows desktop but also publish it on a Terminal Server or Citrix Server.
When you put the package/EXE on a share and give users access to it, all your users can start an application from 1 file. When residing on a share, the packaged will be streamed to the (virtual) desktops. For offline users (experimental feature in View) you need to copy the file to the VM’s so the user can start the application when he/she is offline. In these cases, most times, you will use the MSI option. With this option, it looks like the application gets installed when starting it. It isn’t though. It will register itself inside the OS; you will see it in the start menu, add/remove programs and file association is established. File association means that the OS “knows” when you, for example, click on a PDF file, it needs to start the ThinApp version of Acrobat Reader.
Encapsulation and isolation are, again, the 2 magic words; the application is inside 1 package and isolated from the environment, other applications. Because of this you can run 2 versions of the same application together on the same system which in the traditional world wouldn’t be possible because off DLL issues.
Because ThinApp makes an application run inside a “bubble” (and is isolated) it won’t see other bubbles. This is perfect because this way you avoid conflicts between “bubbles”. On the other hand, what if 2 “bubbles” need to communicate with each other? Luckily there is a mechanism to make that happen; AppLink. With AppLink, which is a setting in your application package, you can let “bubbles” communicate with each other.
A lot of information about ThinApp can be found on VMware.com. There is also a very active community where you can find a lot information about different kinds of applications and ThinApp.
When you want to try ThinApp packages, you can go to thindownload.com. Here you will find open license application which are virtualized with ThinApp.