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VMware - best known for its server partitioning tools - has come out with a new product perhaps best described as a software-in-a-can maker.

VMware this week officially put its ACE software package on the market. This product, previewed here in September, lets customers create a software bundle that includes an operating system and applications that can arguably be managed more efficiently than traditional desktop software. Administrators can roll out the software bundle to any number of PCs and then manage, from a single point, the security settings, access controls and application usage of the bundle.

"Enterprises today spend far too much time and money trying to manage their contractor, telecommuter and mobile laptop users," said Karthik Rau, director of product management at VMware. "Assured computing environments help solve the problem of managing these user populations by allowing system administrators to create a complete locked-down PC environment that can be deployed to any industry-standard PC."

So what exactly is going on here?

Well, VMware - a subsidiary of EMC - reckons that corporate customers are looking for more controlled computing setups in a number of situations. Companies want to create a specific software bundle that can run on top of a standard operating system and make sure users can't fiddle with the code. To pull this off, VMware has used its container technology developed to run multiple operating systems on a single server or workstation and applied it to the PC.

There are a couple of instances where ACE looks especially promising.

For one, companies can now equip their mobile workers with a very safe computing setup. Users can install an ACE-wrapped package on their laptops or home machines and access corporate networks from within this package. This means a company administrator has already set-up desired security requirements and blocked the user from being able to install any questionable hardware or software with the ACE package.

VMware also expects universities to view ACE as a popular option. Arizona State University served as a beta customer, handing out software packages to its students. ASU can now keep a close eye on the security of its users and manage software licensing via ACE. When using the ACE package, students are cut off from being able to use their USB or CD drives. In addition, the ACE product makes sure that ASU licensed software on a student's laptop expires every quarter.

This is VMware's first serious play on the PC, and it's hard to tell how well it will be received. The company has outgunned Microsoft in the server partitioning market, and Redmond won't be pleased to see this upstart trying to take control of PCs.

VMware lists some more of the software's bells and whistles here.

VMware has an ACE starter kit priced at $995, which includes the ACE Manager and four client licenses for end-user PCs. Additional VMware ACE client licenses are available for $99 per licensed PC. ®

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