VMware Launches VMware Player; Combines with Mozilla Firefox To Secure Web Browsing

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Content Copyright © 2005 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

The everyday use of the Internet has become so ingrained in life that, for increasing numbers of people, having a day without it comes as something of a shock. However, as is becoming all too clear, there are many security issues encapsulated within this now routine function. This week, VMware released a new tool, the Browser Appliance, (delivered as a result of a partnership with Mozilla Corporation) that helps tackle some of the security concerns associated with web browsing.

At the heart of this free product can be found a new VMware product, the VMware Player, coupled with the Firefox browser from Mozilla Corporation, providing a virtual machine to allow the Internet to be browsed securely. Indeed, the release of the Browser Appliance is likely to be just the first example of real world use of VMware Player.

Whilst the Mozilla browser is well known, the VMware Player is a new offering from the virtual machine software supplier. VMware Player provides the ability to run, evaluate and share software in a virtual machine on a PC running either Windows or Linux. The Player is installed in a manner familiar to any PC user and allows full 32- and 64-bit applications and operating systems to function in a secure environment effectively isolated from the rest of the PC.

The Browser Appliance gives a solid demonstration of the value of encapsulating application environments inside a VMware Player. Once the Browser Appliance is installed, the Mozilla Firefox browser is available inside a virtual machine allowing the Internet to be surfed with a high level of security, derived from the fact that the virtual machine is totally isolated from the PC’s usual operating environment.

As a consequence any malware downloaded during a session cannot reach the PC’s normal operating system. It is confined to the VMware Player environment. The Browser Appliance may also be configured to automatically ‘reset’ itself after each use thereby eliminating any record of information that might otherwise be kept on the PC in an unsecured area. In this way it is then possible to protect sensitive personal records used in one session—for example passwords, bank details and credit card information etc.—from being available after the session is over.

In addition to the Browser Appliance, a number of other VMware Player offerings are already available including Community-built virtual machines (e.g. AstLinux, Fedora Core 4, Damn Small Linux and Minix 3) as well as solutions from commercial ISVs including IBM, BEA, Novell, Red Hat and Oracle.

One potential use for the VMware Player solution is to facilitate the creation of portable personal computing environments. An entire desktop environment, complete with operating system, application, key data and environment configuration options, could be encapsulated in a VMware Player. This could then be held on a removable storage device to be transported to wherever the system needs to be run.

VMware Player has the potential to be used in very many situations and is likely to be adopted rapidly, especially if the software vendors actively support the creation of VMware Player appliances. Indeed, I have already seen CDs loaded with the VMware Player and the Browser Appliance powered by Mozilla Firefox on the cover of PC magazines.

The software appliance approach has much to recommend it in terms of ease of deployment, portability and security. The only potential obstruction could prove to be the licensing terms utilised by the ISVs themselves. Building a VMware Player appliance is relatively simple; licensing such solutions effectively and at reasonable price may well have problems.