Product Spotlight: Application virtualization with InstallFree Bridge

Want to virtualize applications like IE6 without a hypervisor or virtual machine? InstallFree Bridge may help you create a virtualized execution environment based on Windows XP.

A few months back, I was briefed on InstallFree Bridge, and since then, the company has released a new version. Rather than sit on the phone again taking notes, I figured I'd try it out myself to see what it's all about. This is what I learned.

InstallFree Bridge is an application virtualization product that allows you to package and distribute applications to users in your environment. Admittedly, there are several products like this on the market, but InstallFree Bridge has a robust feature-set.

InstallFree Bridge uses its IFV Engine to create an isolated environment for applications to run in. This environment is more than just a compartment of whatever operating system is on a machine, though. It's actually a virtualized execution environment based on Windows XP. (InstallFree calls it an "XP-like mini OS.") Note, however, that it is not a virtual machine. No hypervisors or any such technology are involved.

Because Bridge has this XP-like mini OS, it's able to do something that not many other application virtualization products can do -- virtualize Internet Explorer 6. It's actually part of the base build, so you can deploy IE6 right out of the box with InstallFree Bridge to Windows 7 users who may need it for compatibility reasons.

InstallFree Bridge isn't just a packaging or virtualization solution; it's also a deployment and streaming solution. From the admin interface, you can deploy applications to users and groups in Active Directory while configuring how the apps are deployed. They can be streamed, transferred entirely, wiped at logoff or stored for offline use.

Each user can have an application-specific AOK file. ("AOK" stands for Application Output Keeper.) This file is used to personalize each application beyond what the base package offers. For example, a default Firefox package might not have any bookmarks or history. When the application is closed, any bookmarks, searches, user interface customizations, etc. are transferred to the AOK file. Then at runtime, the AOK file is merged with the application package to present a personalized app.

This merging process is also used for application updates. AOD (Application on Demand) files are the application packages that contain the base executables. They're created via the InstallFree Encapsulator, which is sort of a window into the IFV Engine's mini OS. You can use it to install the application, make your default customizations and log off to save the AOD file that gets deployed to users.

The merging happens when the applications need new features, dependencies, or updates. For these, there are Feature AODs, Dependency AODs, and Extension AODs. For example, if you wanted to add a toolbar to Firefox, you would open your Firefox AOD in the Encapsulator, install the toolbar and save the newly created AOD extension. Then you would add it in the admin interface as an extension for the application you created, and it will be deployed to all your users. This method allows you to deploy an app with several different versions, such as a browser with Flash for some users and without Flash for others.

On the client side, you only need to execute a small client package, which can be done via a logon script. This will pass the user credentials to the server and synchronize the applications.

You can try out InstallFree Bridge for free over the Internet, or you can download a copy to try in your environment. While you may not have heard of this product before, the amount of control it can help provide over applications is well worth a look. For packaging, management and application support or Active Directory integration and reporting, it's a pretty robust solution. Many people have had mixed results with application virtualization because some vendors are better than others at virtualizing different software. Before counting out app virtualization altogether, give InstallFree Bridge a look.

About the author
Gabe Knuth is an independent industry analyst and blogger, known throughout the world as "the other guy" at BrianMadden.com. He has been in the application delivery space for over 12 years and has seen the industry evolve from the one-trick pony of terminal services to the application and desktop virtualization of today. Gabe's focus tends to lean more toward practical, real-world technology in the industry, essentially boiling off the hype and reducing solutions to their usefulness in today's corporate environments.

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