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Free and Easy Application Streaming

Here's an easy way to take application virtualization for a spin.

I often get asked about effective ways to try out new applications, and naturally running an application in an isolated virtual machine is one of the first alternatives. Staging a VM will take at least a little time, and installing an application inside the VM will take up some time as well.

Of course, several applications are preconfigured in downloadable VMs and are available at VMware's Virtual Appliance Marketplace. However, there are probably several applications that you would like to try out without having to download or stage a full VM.

That's where application streaming comes into play. Application streaming can allow you to run an application inside an isolated container on one of your systems. The isolated container houses all of the system dependencies needed by the application in order to run. So ultimately, you can get the portability advantages of server virtualization for one or more applications.

If you're looking for an easy way to get your feet wet with application streaming, take a look at stream24-7.com. At stream24-7, you can download an application player (think of it as an app-streaming equivalent to Adobe PDF Reader) and then run any streamable application hosted on the site.

To get started, you first need to register for an account at stream24-7.com. Once you have an account, you can then browse the site for streamable applications. (The Endeavors Technologies folks that host the site have yet to add a site search engine. I asked for a stream24-7 search engine on my Christmas List, and I'm hoping that Santa will deliver.)

A good application to take for a test-drive is OpenOffice. To try it out without having to install OpenOffice, follow these steps:

  1. Browse stream24-7's business applications and click on the OpenOffice link.
  2. If you are registered and logged in, you will see the "Stream it now" button. Click it.
  3. Stream24-7 will now install the AppExpress Client application player. The player installs as an Active X plug-in and thus requires Internet Explorer (or use of the IE Tab plug-in within Firefox).
  4. The Active X plug-in automatically downloads the application player files and launches the AppExpress Client Installation wizard. When prompted, click Install.
  5. When the IE popup wizard that launched the AppExpress Client installation shows "Installation Complete," you can close the window.
  6. You should now see the AppExpress Client object on your system tray. Double-click on the AppExpress Client object to launch the client. Alternatively, the client can be opened by clicking Start | All Programs | AppExpress Client | Start AppExpress Client.
  7. In the Available Applications tab, you should see OpenOffice 2.3 listed (see Fig. 1). With OpenOffice 2.3 highlighted, click Active.

    AppExpress client
    [Click image to view larger version.]
    Figure 1. Available Applications tab in the AppExpress client shows OpenOffice; you can check out others by clicking on the Activated Applications tab.

  8. When asked if you are sure you want to active the application, click Yes. The application will now stream down to your system. Don't worry, only the essential code needed to start OpenOffice is streamed down, so you'll only need to wait a few minutes.
  9. Once the activation completes, you're ready to run OpenOffice. For example, you can start the OpenOffice word processor by clicking Start | All Programs | OpenOffice.org 2.1 | OpenOffice.org Writer.

As you continue to use other features of OpenOffice, they will be downloaded as needed. Again, the benefit of application streaming is that you can use and try out applications without having to install them. Installing applications is often a big deal with the numerous freeware and shareware applications out there, as oftentimes you're unsure of if they are installing spyware on your system.

The AppExpressLite runtime creates a thin layer between the user interface and the underlying system resources. So it appears that OpenOffice is fully installed. Simply uninstalling AppExpress Lite removes any programs that it presents.

Application streaming has been becoming increasingly popular lately. If you're new to the technology, I'd recommend that you start with stream24-7, to see what the fuss is all about, and try out a new application or two while you're at it. You'll probably find that once you're familiar with app streaming, you'll find multiple use cases for it in your organization.

If you'd like to try out streaming some of your own custom applications, then I'd recommending taking AppExpress Lite for a spin. AppExpress Lite is free application streaming software that allows you to set up your own application streaming server and stream your organization's applications to clients.

Happy streaming!

About the Author

Chris Wolf is VMware's CTO, Global Field and Industry.

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