Are user installed applications safe? Considering four tools

User installed application tools provide one way to control application installation by users in a VDI environment. Check out these product options.

Rather than IT deploying applications as part of a standard desktop image, allowing users to install their own

applications can save on software licensing costs. User installed application (UIA) tools can help you control installation, but is it safe to allow such freedom?

The idea of letting users install applications on their own isn't as crazy as it sounds. After all, does it really make sense to license an application for 100 users if only 70 users end up actually using it? Plus, user installed applications doesn't mean you give users a stack of installation DVDs and product keys and tell them to go to it.

Instead, there are user installed application deployment products that provide users with a list of apps that their IT administrator has made available to them. Typically, such a utility allows users to perform a semiautomated deployment of the application, simply by choosing it from the list. Let's review some of the products for user installed applications that can help you facilitate new app deployment methods.

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Windows Server user installed applications

Believe it or not, Windows Server has natively included user installed application capabilities for quite some time. You can publish an application through the Group Policy. When an application has been published, users may install it by selecting it through the Control Panel's Add/Remove Programs applet.

Unfortunately, publishing an application through the Group Policy might not be the perfect solution. For one thing, you can only publish applications that have been packaged as MSI files (although you can use third-party utilities to make your own MSI files for unsupported apps). The other drawback to this technique for user installed applications is that users might not know how to go into the Windows Control Panel and select the applications they want to deploy.

Fortunately, other third-party products are designed to simplify user application installation.

RES Workspace Manager

RES Software Workspace Manager is a workspace virtualization platform that separates the user's workspace from the underlying infrastructure, thereby making the management process easier.

Normally, each user's workspace exposes the applications and data that the IT department has made available to the user. However, the workspace can be configured to give power users control over application installation. Power users can be granted the privilege of installing specific applications on designated computers. These users are provided with an extra tab on their Workspace Preferences tool, from which they can launch an application installation wizard.

AppSense StrataApps

StrataApps from AppSense is an application virtualization tool that is designed to facilitate user installed applications. This product intercepts application installations and then virtualizes them.

There are several benefits to this approach. First, it ensures that user installed applications are able to run without destabilizing the underlying operating system or other applications installed on the computer. The virtualization component causes the user-installed applications to run in an isolated environment where they can do no harm.

Another advantage is that it does not require the user to have administrative permissions on the desktop PC. This is possible because the applications that the users install interact with StrataApps, not with the operating system. StrataApps works on both physical and virtual desktops.

Liquidware Labs ProfileUnity

Liquidware Labs offers ProfileUnity with FlexApp, which works by creating a separate virtual hard disk for user installed applications.

When an authorized user attempts to install an application, the application is written to this secondary virtual hard disk. The FlexApp software virtualizes the application, allowing it to run even though the application itself does not communicate directly with the virtual desktop's operating system. This approach allows administrators to maintain standardized virtual desktop images, because the user-installed applications do not actually make any modifications to the virtual desktop.

Although user installed applications were once a serious pain point for administrators, products like these make it possible for users to install applications in a safe way. Most of the user-installed application products on the market allow administrators to maintain control over the apps that users are allowed to install.

Watch out for ones like FlexApp, however, that allow users to indiscriminately install any application of their choosing. These types of installations do have their place, but admins must make sure that users are not violating software licenses with the applications they install.

This was first published in February 2013

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