Spoon.net, from Spoon, is a public-facing, cloud-based application virtualization service. You make an account at the Spoon.net website, install a small "plugin," and click launch to start a variety of applications. The applications are cached on your machine and run locally, isolated from your registry.

When you first log on to Spoon.net, you're instructed to install a plugin—which isn't a plugin in the sense of a browser add-on. It's a full application that you download and install, and it displays an icon in your system tray whenever you start windows. I didn't notice any impact on my computer's performance from this plugin, but I dislike having an additional program always running. Once the plugin is going, you just browse to an application on the Spoon.net website and click launch. Spoon.net will cache the necessary files (this took about a minute for me for most applications, depending on the size of the application) and the program will start. You don't run the application's setup.exe file or anything like that.

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Spoon.net's selection of apps is somewhat limited, with most of the available programs being popular free utilities, with a selection of casual games also available. I used Paint.NET, an image editor that I frequently use for minor image editing, over Spoon.net. I already have Paint.NET installed locally and the two applications didn't interfere with one another—Paint.NET actually uses I slightly older version of the application, while I have the latest. I couldn't, however, launch both versions of the program at the same time. Still, this ability to have multiple versions of an application on one system, one of the key advantages of application virtualization, didn't give me any problems.

I tried resizing a large image, and it took about the same amount of time between the two versions. This performance is what I'd expect, because once the application is cached on your machine, it's running locally. The only difference between the local and Spoon.net versions was launch time—Spoon.net takes a few seconds to synchronize its settings and get the application running. Sometimes, but not always, Spoon.net would take a very long time to start an application, or require me to launch it a second time before it actually started. I think this was because my net connection was having some trouble, because I didn't have those problems again on another day on the same machine.

This synchronization means you can use the same application on different computers, and Spoon.net will remember your settings. This feature doesn't seem to be in place for every application yet, however— did remember how I'd configured the address bar to look in Firefox 2 between machines, but it didn't remember which sub-windows I'd closed on the first machine. However, it did remember how I'd configured the address bar to look in Firefox 2 between machines. Though this feature is still in beta, you can also use Spoon.net to synchronize files between computers.

Speaking of Firefox 2, Spoon.net offers web browsers, including both old and new versions of Firefox, Chrome, Opera, and Safari. It's also technologically capable of running Internet Explorer, but because of licensing concerns, there are some pretty complex steps necessary to do so, and you must be using a paid Spoon.net account.

Spoon takes advantage of the ability to rapidly develop applications that are in the cloud. When a first started testing spoon, about a month ago, I ran into a fairly serious bug with file associations, but there's no longer any trace of this bug.

Individual access to Spoon.net is free, with up to 1GB of storage and files synchronized between two machines. For $12 a month, you can upgrade to 100GB and synchronizing between 12 machines. I spoke to a Spoon representative who said that in addition to simply using virtualized applications, there are two business targets for Spoon.net. One is to allow developers to host demo versions of their products—that way, consumers can try them out before buying them. The other is as a demonstration of the capabilities of Spoon's enterprise product, Spoon Server. Spoon server has basically the same capabilities as Spoon.net, but you host it from your own servers and can host applications of your choosing.

I've developed a personal habit over the years of not installing too many applications in Windows. Especially with older versions, you'd get a kind of Windows rot where programs wouldn't completely uninstall, or would mess with the registry due to poor installer or uninstaller programs. Spoon.net might make me a little less shy about trying out applications or using an application I only plan to use a few times, because I'm not really installing them on my copy of Windows.

You might find Spoon.net useful for your business if you've got users who need to test on different versions of web browsers, or if you've got users who need to keep an application's setting synced between machines. But I think Spoon Server will be more interesting for businesses that need to deploy applications to large number of users. I can see Spoon.net finding a role in businesses for developers, testers, or power users who need to use a large number of applications.


Pros: Run multiple versions of an app on one system; easy installation and deployment; synchronize settings between machines; low cost or free

Cons: Reliant on a good Internet connection; plugin must always be running; somewhat limited selection of programs

Recommendation: If you need access to old browsers for testing or a lot of simple applications you don't want to install, Spoon.net can help you at a very good price. If you want to virtualize your own selection of applications, you'll need to look at Spoon's other offerings.

Company information: Spoon.net