Briefing: Thinstall

Thinstall 2.5
Jitit, Inc.
San Francisco, California
(415) 274 2558

Thinstall is an application installation program with a twist. Instead of building an MSI or other setup file that end-users can run, it takes your application and wraps it up, along with a special virtual machine, into a single executable file. They're releasing version 2.5 on Monday next week, and I had a chat with them about the current state of Thinstall in advance of that release.

The Thinstall single-file approach has a batch of obvious advantages:

  • Your application can run directly from a CD with no installation. It doesn't need to touch the target machine's file system or registry at all.
  • You don't need to worry about DLL hell. The exact DLLs that your app will call are packaged along with it.
  • The packaging process compresses and obfuscates your code to some extent, making it harder for hackers to get a handle on it.
  • Your application can run even if the user is a guest on the operating system and has no rights to modify a locked-down desktop.

Thinstall has special smarts built into it to handle .NET and VB applications. For example, if you're using .NET, it will pull just the parts of the framework that your app needs, rather than the whole thing. This means your installer, including the framework, might be 6MB instead of 25MB - enough of a savings to convince more customers to download.

New in 2.5 is a scripting system that lets you catch application events and modify permissions. For example, you might catch a startup or license change event, and disable printing or cutting and pasting for the application running inside of the Thinstall virtual machine. Couple some scripting with an Office document and one of Microsoft's free viewers, and you have a way to add DRM to documents with very little overhead.

Thinstall is licensed on a per-developer basis with no runtime charges. You can get a 14-day trial copy from their Web site (and if you're a blogger, you can get a discount on the full license as well). I'll be poking at the 2.5 bits myself for a future review.


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