Executive Summary:

LANDesk Application Virtualization is the next step in virtualized applications, our reviewer says after he tested the product. Although creating the LANDesk virtual applications involved a manual process, deploying those applications was incredibly easy. Unlike the Altiris and SoftGrid virtualization solutions, LANDesk didn't need any client software and unlike SoftGrid, it didn't require complex infrastructure.

LANDesk Application Virtualization
PROS: No client software needed; complete application sandboxing; enables the creation of USB applications
CONS: Multi-step manual creation process for virtual applications; manual shortcuts required for virtualized applications
RATING: 4.5
PRICE: $39 per client
RECOMMENDATION: LANDesk is a terrific product for companies just getting started with application virtualization. It’s reasonably priced and provides the same essential benefits as more costly solutions such as Microsoft SoftGrid Application Virtualization but has none of the complex infrastructure requirements.
CONTACT: LANDesk • www.landesk.com

When most people think of virtualization, the first thing that comes to mind is virtual machine (VM) software such as VMware’s ESX Server and Microsoft’s new Hyper-V virtualization, which enable virtualization at the system hardware level. However, a new generation of virtualization products is emerging that enables application-level virtualization. LANDesk Application Virtualization is one of the latest. Application virtualization enables applications to be installed and used without making changes to the base Windows OS. Virtualized applications don't conflict with other applications or have any impact on the host OS. Application virtualization truly marks the end of DLL-Hell. Unlike other application virtualization products such as Microsoft SoftGrid Application Virtualization and Altiris Software Virtualization Solution Professional, LANDesk Application Virtualization doesn't require a client to be installed on the target system. Instead, the virtualization client is prepackaged with the application in a single executable file that can be distributed to the target systems and run immediately. This bundling enables you to easily deploy virtualized LANDesk applications on USB drives or from network shares. You run the virtual application just like any standard executable program.

The End of DLL-Hell
LANDesk Application Virtualization is built using VMware’s Thinstall technology. VMware acquired Thinstall in January 2008. Thinstall provides a Virtual OS (VOS) that encapsulates the application code, enabling applications to be run on a host OS with no modifications to that OS. The VOS is very lightweight, taking less than 300K of disk space and 1MB of RAM to run and provides a virtual registry layer, a virtual file system layer, and performs EXE process and DLL loading. The VOS supports Microsoft technologies that are required for running complex applications, including out-of-process COM and services-based COM.

When you run the virtual applications the VOS is loaded which in turn loads the application into its virtual environment. LANDesk Application Virtualization provides the tools to create and manage these virtual applications. LANDesk virtual applications can run on any version of Windows. LANDesk Application Virtualization enables you virtualize almost all Windows applications including Java and .NET applications. However, it cannot be used for applications that directly interact with the hardware like device drivers.

Getting Started
Getting started with LANDesk Application Virtualization was not intuitive. There was a Quick Start guide provided as a word document stored on the USB key. However, the Quick Start guide was written assuming you were familiar with the product and provided no overview of the process required to use the LANDesks Application Virtualization product. The information was also incorrect, referring to Thinstall in places rather than LANDesk. Fortunately, the on-line help had a very informative video that showed how to create virtual applications.

Using LANDesk Application Virtualization requires two systems: a desktop system and a clean system. You use the desktop system to build the virtual applications, and this is where you install the LANDesk Application Virtualization software. You use the clean system to record the system changes that occur when you install the programs that you want to virtualize. The LANDesk Application Virtualization documentation recommends using a virtual machine (VM) for your clean system. The clean machine should be running the lowest level of OS that you will use to host your virtual applications. I used a VM running the 32-bit version of Windows XP Professional as the clean machine.

I installed LANDesk Application Virtualization on a 32-bit Windows Vista Business system with 1GB of RAM running an Athlon 3000+ processor. The LANDesk Application Virtualization installation ran off a USB key and was quick and easy, taking less than a minute. The installation didn’t allow any options as to where to install the software and created a LANDesk Application Virtualization option off the Start item. There were minimal infrastructure requirements and Active Directory (AD) isn't required.

To get started you share the LANDesk directory, then go to the clean machine and launch the Setup Capture program from the shared directory. You can see the Setup Capture program in Figure 1.

The Setup Capture program involves a multi-step process in which you first take a pre-installation snapshot of the clean machine. The initial snapshot took me about ten seconds. Next, you install the application to be virtualized and perform any customization that you want to the application. Then you take a post-installation snapshot. The post-installation snapshot creates a directory consisting of all of the system changes made by the installed applications. Within the generated directory a build.bat file creates the virtual application. You can customize the build process by editing settings in the package.ini file with a text editor. For example, you can tweak the package.ini file to enable compression, which reduces the size of the virtual application by about 40 percent. I was able to create my first LANDesk virtual application in about 10 minutes. All of the LANDesk tools can be run from the command line, enabling you to create automated management scripts.

Deploying the application is as simple as copying the generated executable file to the target system and running it. I saw no performance degradation. No changes are made to the host system’s registry, and the application isn't listed in the Add/Remove programs listing. Because no setup program runs on the target, you need to manually create any shortcuts or Start menu options. After you launch the executable file, the virtual application runs exactly like a standard application. By default, the virtualized application is completely sandboxed, and all writes to the file system are captured in the sandbox. However, you can customize this behavior and allow the virtual application to write to the host like a standard application does. And you can combine LANDesk Application Virtualization with LANDesk Management Suite to enable seamless application management and deployment.

The Next Virtual Step
LANDesk Application Virtualization is the next step in virtualized applications. Although creating the LANDesk virtual applications involved a manual process, deploying those applications was incredibly easy. Unlike the Altiris and SoftGrid virtualization solutions, LANDesk didn't need any client software and unlike SoftGrid, it didn't require complex infrastructure. I definitely recommend LANDesk Application Virtualization, especially if you want easy deployment and you don’t want to hassle with a lot of complex infrastructure or client application requirements.