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ThinApp Notes

January 12th, 2011

So I’ve started playing around with ThinApp recently. The main reason is that I have a little NetBook (Samsung N150 running Windows 7 if you are interested) I use for running around the country with and I want this to be light weight, easy to rebuild and little inconvenience if it gets destroyed or lost. So I’m not looking at using this for enterprise deployments, just personal convenience. I’m new to application packaging too, so I’m learning a few lessons as I go! I’ll add a few of my observations here.

I’m building this on my home desktop PC running a clean Windows XP virtual machine. I read up on dependencies of dotNET, so although it’s updated, I put off installing all dotNET patches. I regularly snapshot this at various stages of application builds to allow me to go back, add updates and rebuild applications as appropriate. Hasn’t come to that yet, but I feel it’s a good practice!

Microsoft Office 2010 is a bit of a challenge still. It looks like this is due to the new way Microsoft handle the licensing of the product, even if you want to run a personal edition and authenticate online. This has forced me to still use 2007, which isn’t so bad as it’s less of a resource hog and so lightens the load on my NetBook. It’s a shame there isn’t a single Office package that includes Visio, OneNote and Project, so I have to package it 3 times, no biggie.

I made the mistake (I think) of installing Office, and packaging that up, then installing Visio and packaging that up separately. I think I’ve introduced an odd dependency between the 2 packages now as it runs fine on my vanilla NetBook, but trying to run Visio on my desktop now fails with an error. Something I need to investigate. Apparently “The operation system is not presently configured to run this application”.

I get a similar issue with Outlook, I can’t right click and send-to-email or email from within other applications (even Word which is packaged with Outlook). I’m sure there’s a fix to this, but it’s on my list to investigate.

I’ve packaged up MindJet and Skype and these seem to work nicely. Skype is nice as it’s no longer infused into my operating system and every application, so I can just run it when I want, so it’s not grinding on my NetBook. This is one of the other reasons for wanting to encapsulate my applications, it means I can keep a level of isolation from my laptop and if I don’t want an application to run in the background, it doesn’t have to.

Maybe I need to look at the way I package these in a little more detail, perhaps I’m missing some simple steps. But these are my comments, and my mistakes, hopefully you can learn from them!

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  1. Chris M
    | #1

    So to get my head around this – you run a VM of XP, onto which you install apps. You then virtualise these apps into individual packages or multiple apps into a package group.

    You can then install this package onto your netbook or any compatible PC (presume it’s an .exe?) and the app is tricked into thinking its running on XP, with its own registry etc. – or, does the app just run without install, as it’s technically installed into a sandbox environment inside its own .exe?

    Presumably you could then put this app on a central server and get all clients to run it over the network?

  2. | #2

    I think it works by tricking the app into thinking it’s running on an XP system with it’s own registry, although it’s probably a little more complicated than that, but basically yes. The app runs as a single .exe although I have built them with an installer (part of ThinApp) that fills in all the application links for you. It creates a sandbox within ThinApp so it doesn’t fill up your registry. You can configure it to actually store all registry changes locally to the app so you can move your fully configured app between systems on a USB key for example. I haven’t played with this part yet though.

    And yes, you can absolutely put this app on a central server and get all clients to run this over the network. The app is actually packaged in a way that will assist with network streaming, so the user doesn’t copy the entire executable to their local system before running, it just runs what it needs to and streams the rest in the background. This also makes upgrading everyones applications really simple.

    This is the bit where you “watch this space” at VMware as they are close to releasing a new product that does this and a lot more! Watch out for anything talking about Project Horizon ;)

  3. Chris M
    | #3

    Cheers for the reply :)

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