New VMware Acquisition Thinstall Helps Companies Say Goodbye to Installing Windows Software

1/15/08Follow @wroush

EMC virtualization subsidiary VMware (NYSE: VMW) has a new subsidiary of its own: San Francisco-based Thinstall, which makes a system that lets corporate employees run Windows programs on their desktops without actually installing them. In today’s announcement of the acquisition, VMware vice president Jeff Jennings said Thinstall has “the best technological approach in the market” for virtualizing desktop applications. That’s saying something, coming from the company that made its name virtualizing desktop operating systems. (VMware’s first famous product was a program that allowed PC users to run Linux without having to erase Windows first.)

When you install a Windows program or even an upgrade of a previously installed program on your PC, it messes with everything, including the registry that stores all of the settings, options, and configuration files for the Windows operating system. That, in turn, opens up opportunities for security breaches and vastly increases other headaches for the IT staff who have to deploy software in organizations with lots of PCs. It all makes the idea of software-as-a-service—serving up applications on-demand over corporate networks or the Web—look pretty appealing. But if companies could give their employees a way to run traditional desktop programs like Word and PowerPoint over a corporate network without actually having to install them, they could keep using these powerful programs with less hassle—and might not be so tempted by Web-based alternatives like Google Docs.

That’s exactly what Thinstall allows. Using its system, companies can create special, compact Thinstall versions of programs like PowerPoint. When a worker accesses one of these executable files over a network, it loads within a virtual operating system that communicates with the resident operating system, but doesn’t modify it in any way. A “thinstalled” application runs in “user mode” only, meaning that the user can start it, but can’t fiddle with the machine’s other settings.

“As organizations continue to standardize on virtualization infrastructure, they are looking to extend the benefits of server virtualization to the desktop,” Thinstall CEO Henrik Rosendahl said in VMware’s press release about the acquisition. “With Thinstall products, VMware customers will be able to reduce virtual desktop deployment time, improve agility and increase administrative flexibility.”

VMware didn’t say how much it’s paying for Thinstall, which was founded in 1999 and counts GE, the U.S. Department of Defense, Northrup Grumman, Fujifilm, and T-Mobile among its customers. In mid-afternoon trading, VMware’s stock was down about 1 percent, to $81.00, and EMC’s (NYSE: EMC) was hovering around $17.00 (up about $0.50 from last week’s levels).

Separately, VMware said today it has acquired the service-related assets of Foedus, a Portsmouth, NH, company that helps corporations adopt virtualization technology. IT consulting firm GreenPages acquired Foedus’s sales and marketing organization and other assets, VMware said.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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