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Virtualization without the virtual machine

March 31, 2008

I install and test a ton of software both at my job and at home.  Obviously, the constant cycle of installing and uninstalling leaves the Windows XP registry and file structure pretty messy after awhile.  Now, for several years, I’ve been in love with virtualization technologies.  Normally, to test out some new software, I’d just create a new virtual machine with VMware or Virtual PC and load a fresh copy of Windows on it and set up the virtual environment to test out my software.  But this is a time consuming process and it can require additional licenses for Windows.  Not the best solution for quick tests.

This is where Altiris’ Software Virtualization Solution (SVS) comes in.  SVS is a brilliant piece of virtualization technology.  Instead of creating an entirely separate Windows installation that requires its own hotfixes and service packs, SVS simply places a virtualized layer on top of your existing Windows installation.  All changes to the system are captured in to this layer.  Then, when you’re done, you simply deactivate that layer, and all those changes disappear.  They’re not gone forever.  They’re stored in that layer, which can be reapplied at any time in the future.

For instance, say you want to install some software but you don’t want to mess anything else up.  You fire up SVS, create a new layer, start your software’s installation process, make all the changes you need to to your system, then save all those changes to the SVS layer.  Any registry changes, dll registrations, file copies, etc., are stored in the layer.  When you deactivate the layer, all those changes disappear.  When you want to use the software again, you reactivate the layer, and all those changes appear again as if they’ve been there all along.  If you test some software and you don’t like it, delete the layer and your system is free from all the changes that software made.

This is a much quicker approach to software installs and uninstalls.  Now, I am not an expert on SVS and I’m sure it won’t work in every instance.  For instance, I’m sure there are pieces of software that require some low level access to the operating system, such as device drivers, and SVS might not work properly with those.  However, for the majority of software installs, SVS can be a brilliant addition to any testers’ toolkit.  And it’s free for personal use!

Altiris has a community forum called Juice that is a great place to find help for any problems you may encounter with SVS.

Download SVS 2.1 for personal use at PC Magazine’s web site (requires a free registration):  http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,1941342,00.asp

Just on the off chance anyone is reading this entry, I’ll ask the question:  Does anyone have any cool uses for SVS that they’d like to share in the comments?

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