Project North Star Beta 2 (current production version is called Thinstall, but will be renamed to ThinApp when released) is VMware’s client-less application virtualization solution which allows Windows applications to be packaged, distributed, and launch as a single executable file. Thinstall applications:

Do not require registry changes
Do not require file system changes
Do not require device drivers to be installed
Can be executed from any device (Desktop, USB Flash Drive) or location (LAN, WAN)
Do not require any pre-installed software on the client PC or server

These characteristics result in “zero footprint” applications providing a secure, clean, and stable desktop infrastructure environment.

Thinstall’s application isolation and delivery capabilities allow you to run multiple versions of the same application simultaneously (Office 2003 and 2007) and simplifies the creation of the “golden” desktop image since you will be able to deliver applications as a single executable.

Two new features in the upcoming Thinstall release (Q2 2008) are Application Link and Application Sync. Application Link allows you to connect Thinstall executables to enable a more streamlined deployment. For example, when Firefox and Adobe Reader are packaged and deployed individually, Firefox would allow you to surf the web and Adobe Reader would let you open PDF files, no brainer. However, within Firefox, if you attempt to view a PDF file within a web page, you’ll receive an error message such as the specified program cannot be found. Using ThinApp, can “link” the two packages. After the link is established between Firefox and Adobe Reader, you will be able to open PDFs from within Firefox.

Application Sync is a fast, low-bandwidth method for updating ThinApp applications. When building the application executable, you can specify a URL to be used by ThinApp to check for updates to the executables/packages.

The basic executable build process is as follows:

1. Install the ThinApp Capture and Build Utility on a “clean” workstation.

If you are building a package for multiple operating systems, perform the packaging on the “lowest” level OS. For example, if you are building an Office 2007 package which will be used by both Windows XP and Vista, build the package on XP.

2. The Capture and Build Utility takes a “pre-installation” snapshot.

3. Install and customize the application.

Continuing with our Firefox example, after installation, specify the default home page, enable cookies, whatever.

4. Execute the “post-install” snapshot

At this point, ThinApp:

-compiles a differences file (takes roughly 30 seconds to a couple minutes)
-wants to know which AD users and groups can access the package
-wants to know the location of the “sandbox”, ie, the place to store user customizations (typically the users home drive)
-wants to know where to save the package
-wants to know URL for automatic updating (Application Sync)
-wants to know if any package linking is required

5. ThinApp builds the application package

Granted, ThinApp does not support or work with every application. ThinApp has compatibility issues with applications should they require their own device drivers, shell-integration, network visible DCOM services, plugins, or global hook DLLs. Antivirus, VPN clients, and personal firewalls are a few examples of applications which do not work well with ThinApp.

Click Here to obtain Thinstall Beta 2 and to find additional information on Project Northstar / ThinApp.