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How to virtualize apps with VMware ThinApp, step by step

It's fairly easy to virtualize apps with VMware ThinApp, you just need to know a few basic steps, including setting up a VM, taking snapshots and using the Setup Capture utility to run scans.

Like some competing application virtualization products, VMware ThinApp is based around the concepts of differencing...

and packaging applications. The actual steps that you use to virtualize apps vary slightly depending on the version of ThinApp you have, but recent versions require the same basic workflow.

ThinApp makes it relatively easy to virtualize an application, but before you start the process, it is a good idea to look on VMware's website to see if there is any specific information available about the app you want to virtualize. Some applications are easier to virtualize than others, and VMware provides guidance for some of the more popular applications.

Steps to virtualize apps in VMware ThinApp

If you want to virtualize an application with ThinApp, you will need to begin the process by setting up a new virtual machine (VM). Assuming the goal is to use the virtual application in a VDI environment, most administrators configure this VM to mimic one of their organization's virtual desktops, rather than using an actual production virtual desktop.

Once you have configured the virtual desktop, the next step is to take a VM- level snapshot. If you create the snapshot while the VM is running, then you don't need to capture the memory within the snapshot.

After you create the snapshot, you will need to log into the VM and run the ThinApp Setup Capture utility. This utility performs a pre-scan of the VM, which documents the VM's contents (system files, registry entries and more) before you install the application you want to virtualize.

When the pre-scan is completed, you can minimize the ThinApp Setup Capture utility and install the application you want to virtualize. If the application requires activation (as is the case for products such as Microsoft Office) it is usually a good idea to complete the activation process at this point. It's also a good idea to test the application to make sure it works properly.

Once you've installed the application and configured it correctly then you must create another VM snapshot. Again, you can take the snapshot while the VM is running so you don't need to include the VM's memory in the snapshot.

After you create the second snapshot, you must switch back to the ThinApp Setup Capture utility to run a post scan. This analyzes and documents the VM's contents. Once the analysis is complete, the post scan compares the VM's contents to what was documented in the pre-scan; the ThinApp Setup Capture utility shows you all of the newly created items.

The next thing you must do is tell the ThinApp Setup Capture utility which groups are authorized to run the application package you are creating. By default, anyone can run the package, but you have the option of restricting access to specific Active Directory groups.

Now, you must choose between merged isolation mode and write/copy isolation mode. Merged isolation mode allows the application to write to the local machine and is suitable primarily for Windows-certified applications such as Microsoft Office. For other types of applications, it is usually better to use write/copy isolation mode because application-initiated writes are sandboxed.

You will have to specify a sandbox location and decide whether or not you want to participate in VMware's quality assurance program. Now, enter an inventory name (the name of the application) and choose a project location.

Near the end of the process, you will need to answer a few miscellaneous questions. For instance, you must decide whether you want to use a separate DAT file, generate an MSI package and/or compress the package. Once you answer these questions, you can click Save, then Build to create the package.

Next Steps

XenApp vs. ThinApp vs. App-V

Alternatives to ThinApp

This was last published in June 2015

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