Symantec and Mozilla Firefox for HP Virtual Solutions

Symantec and Mozilla Firefox for HP Virtual Solutions ensures that employees can utilize the Web productively while keeping business PCs stable and easier to support

I recently attended the Symantec ManageFusion 2008 event in Orlando, Fla., and while at the show I was able to learn a lot more about Symantec's Endpoint Virtualization and use their SVS application virtualization product.

One of the cool things during the show was how Symantec showed off SVS in such a subtle way. In the event lounge, there were a number of HP workstations lined up for show attendees to use. These machines had a virtualized Firefox session on them, courtesy of Symantec and HP. This was great, because after each Internet session, it would securely clean things up before the next person jumped on, thanks to Symantec SVS containment.

During the show, I was fortunate enough to catch up with Scott Jones, technical product manager with Symantec Endpoint Virtualization. One of the great things about ManageFusion is the open access to team members like Scott. We had a great conversation about the show, but more importantly I wanted to find out more about what HP and Symantec were collaborating on.

Q: I see two stories here –- one is that HP is shipping Firefox pre-installed. That's news in itself. But for my audience, the more interesting part is that it's a virtualized client application. How did this come about?

A: HP is the hardware industry leader in virtualization and energy conservation in the datacenter. They are now extending that leadership to client computing via their Virtual Client Solutions and other initiatives. Mozilla Firefox for HP Virtual Solutions is a major step in that evolution. And having the Symantec virtualization agent pre-installed positions HP to do a lot of other interesting things down the road, not just the virtual browser.

Q: I assume there was some sort of competitive process to determine which virtualization product HP would use?

A: Absolutely. We were up against the other major vendors in the application virtualization category. Symantec won for a few reasons. Some were technical, like SVS' reset capability while preserving user settings and the competitive advantages we normally pitch. But I think Symantec's very strong existing alliance with HP had a lot to do with it as well. Altiris has a long history of going to market with HP successfully, and our catalog gives HP resellers a lot of up-sell options from the SVS Runtime that comes free with the PCs.

Q: What is the difference between SVS Runtime and the regular SVS product from Symantec?

A: The regular Symantec SVS product allows customers to repackage any software into the Symantec Virtual Software Archive (.VSA) format. VSA files may then be centrally managed and delivered via any standard management framework (such as Altiris, Microsoft System Center, etc.) or with the Symantec Streaming system that is available in the SVS Professional version of the product.

SVS Runtime is the core SVS application virtualization technology, with no Graphical User Interface (GUI) or server components. SVS Runtime enables customers to use software that is packaged by application vendors in the Symantec Virtual Runtime Archive (or .VRA) format. Application developers use Wise Installation Studio (also from Symantec) to build a .VRA for their product. Software vendors may also freely redistribute the SVS Runtime to their customers. Since HP business desktops now have SVS Runtime pre-installed, HP customers can easily consume any such virtualized software.

Q: So can I use the SVS Runtime to virtualize other applications?

A: No. With SVS Runtime, you can only use applications that have been pre-packed in the .VRA format by the application vendor. If you want to be able to virtualize any software yourself, purchase the regular SVS product from HP or Symantec.

Q: How does a virtual Web browser relate to Symantec's virtualization strategy?

A: Symantec believes that the convergence of security and management is a natural step toward "confidence in a connected world." To support that strategy, Symantec acquired Altiris in April of 2007. Altiris is the world's leading brand of endpoint management solutions and the company demonstrated leadership in that space by being the first client configuration management vendor to add application virtualization to its catalog, when SVS shipped back in March 2006. Symantec believes that virtualization is key to the next generation of client management and that application virtualization will best serve customers when it is ubiquitous. Having Symantec SVS pre-installed on all business desktops from the world's largest hardware manufacturer is a key step toward that ubiquity. The Web browser was just a compelling first use case.

Q: Devil's advocate question for you -- Why virtualize a Web browser, especially Firefox, which is already more secure, right?

A: Well, like we say on the Welcome Page, "Firefox already does a lot to ensure that you stay safe on the Web. But sometimes the unexpected happens. Been surfing the Web with undesired results? Machine getting slow lately? Things showing up that you know shouldn't be there? With Mozilla Firefox for HP Virtual Solutions, changes made to your machine from within Firefox are saved into the virtual layer and can be easily undone, like you'd never been on the Net! Quickly put things back to their original state by clicking the Reset shortcut on your Start Menu." So it's not just a security thing –- though virtualization is indeed an extra layer that complements the security tools shipped by HP. It's also a stability thing –- stability of the browser and stability of the machine, keeping things working smoothly. In fact, our tag line for the project is "Smart Stability."

Q: How does Mozilla Firefox for HP Virtual Solutions compare with Google Chrome?

A: For one thing, Chrome is currently an unsupported beta. Mozilla Firefox for HP Virtual Solutions is a released product supported directly by HP.

Q: Can anyone just download this?

A: There will be a Softpaq (if not already posted) for HP customers to download and install on eligible desktop models -– basically every business desktop shipped from Sept. '08 onward. So if you want the complete package we built for HP, with the localization and some other bells and whistles, you need to buy an HP business desktop. However, Symantec has been providing a basic Firefox installation in a virtual layer as a sample application since SVS first came out in beta. Anyone can get that package from our Juice Web community site. You'll need to have SVS, of course. Download and purchase options are on that same Web site.

Q: Altiris used to give SVS away free for personal use. Is Symantec still doing that?

A: Yes. You can get a free, agent-only download under a restricted license that lets you put SVS on your personal machine. It's available from several sources. They're listed on the Juice site as well.

Q: On those "other interesting things" you mentioned –- now that SVS is on their boxes, I have to believe HP will be using it for more than just Firefox. Can you share any specific plans?

A: No specifics yet. Stay tuned. But there are so many things that come to mind that could benefit HP, its resellers, the customers' IT staffs, and the end users.

HP and their resellers sell a lot of software. Their customers buy and use a lot of software. Virtualized software requires less testing and less support. It "just works." And when it's streamed as well, license compliance is guaranteed.

I look at it this way. Both the software vendors and the end customers have an inherent interest in assuring the following for a given application:

1. That the software is readily available to authorized end users when they need it.

2. That the latest version of the software is being used.

3. That it functions correctly.

4. That license compliance is maintained.

I want to again thank Scott Jones of Symantec for taking the time to speak with me during the show and for helping me gain a better understanding about what Symantec is doing with SVS and HP.


Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.