VMware's Secure Browser Appliance
VMware made a splash in November when it released the free VMware Player, which lets users run pre-built VMware virtual machine configurations on client PCs. Now the company has taken its efforts a step further, teaming with Mozilla and Canonical (the makers of Ubuntu Linux) to create a pre-built virtual machine for the Firefox Web browser.
Called the Browser Appliance, this VMware Player distribution enables Linux and Windows PCs to run Firefox 1.07 or Firefox 1.50 in a completely virtualized system. The Browser Appliance makes host PCs all but immune from the ugly list of online threats and exploits that can propagate over Web browsers. Even if malware latches onto Firefox, its impact can never reach beyond the virtual machine. Threats like rootkits, spyware, adware, and viruses are simply cut off.
To use the new distribution, users must first download and install the VMware Player, available on VMware's Web site. Next, a compressed browser appliance file must be downloaded and expanded on the local hard drive. Loading the .VMX file into VMware Player presents the user with an Ubuntu Linux-based virtual machine that includes the two versions of Firefox.
Why Ubuntu Linux? "We thought it had the most intuitive interface," says Srinivas Krishnamurti, VMware group product manager. "We are limited in the kinds of Windows machines we can redistribute, so currently we are limited to Linux only."
Krishnamurti notes that a community of developers is crafting VMware Player-ready virtual machines, including one that runs the open source Asterix IP telephony server on Linux. And Krishnamurti hasn't ruled out future appliance releases from VMware itself.
"I can't commit to anything, but I think it's reasonable to expect that other stuff would come about in the future," he says. "There's a real opportunity for either us or the community to look forward to that."
IT managers may relish virtual machines as a way to sandbox personal applications and browsing activities. But Krishnamurti sees even broader opportunities.
"Corporations using the browser appliance is one thing, but a lot of home users would be interested in using the browser appliance as well," says Krishnamurti, who singles out parents sharing a home PC. "This browser application would kind of put their kids in a sandbox as it were, so they can browse all they want without screwing up the machine."
Michael Desmond is an editor and writer for 1105 Media's Enterprise Computing Group.