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HP loads PC with nonexistent web browser

Firefox sandboxed

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HP is now offering desktop PCs with virtual web browsers.

Today, the hardware maker unleashed the HP Compaq dc7900, a business desktop with a version of Firefox that isn't really there. Developed in tandem with Symantec, the Firefox for HP Virtual Solutions browser operates in a runtime netherworld that's separate from the rest of the machine.

This means that when malware attacks, the machine itself is unharmed. "[This virtual Firefox browser] ensures that employees can utilize the World Wide Web productively, while keeping business PCs stable and easier to support," writes Symantec technical product manager Scott Jones. "Changes made to a PC while surfing the Web are contained in a 'virtual layer' and do not permanently alter the machine."

Basically, the browser sits in a "sandbox" cooked up by Symantec's Software Virtualization Solution (SVS), a tool the company acquired with its purchase of Altiris. Scott Jones did not return our calls seeking additional info, but in the bloggy thing he posted today, he points out that if anything goes wrong, SVS lets you instantly restore the browser to its original setup - without hosing your user settings.

Symtanec sees this as a turning point in the history of nonexistent software apps - as opposed to nonexistent OSes. "This is a key milestone event in the evolution of application virtualization as a concept," read a canned statement from Ken Berryman, Symantec VP of Endpoint Virtualization. "Application virtualization is no longer an emerging technology. It has arrived. Application virtualization is now mainstream."

Unlike VMware or Microsoft's Virtual PC, SVS doesn't virtualize an entire OS. It virtualizes individual applications, installing them in packages that remain separate from a machine's registry. This means apps can be reset or removed without wreaking some sort of havoc with the rest of the system. ®

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