Sand­box­ing tools

Run­ning pro­grams in an iso­lated en­vi­ron­ment stops them harm­ing your PC. Jonathan Parkyn com­pares the best free sand­box­ing op­tions avail­able

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The best tools for try­ing new soft­ware safely

Sand­boxie | bit.ly/sand­boxie446 | ★★★★★ FEA­TURES ★★★★★ PER­FOR­MANCE ★★★★★ EASE OF USE ★★★★ ★

Wh What we liked: Sasand­boxie’s motto is “trust no pro­gram” – a maxim that’s worth ke­keep­ing in mind, es­pe­cially when you’re in­stalling or run­ning soft­ware from un­known sources. Whether a pro­gram is stuffed full of ma­li­cious code or just badly writ­ten, Sand­boxie will ren­der any soft­ware harm­less with a few sim­ple clicks.

In­stall Sand­boxie and you’ll be taken through a brief tu­to­rial that ex­plains the main func­tions of the tool. Af­ter this, you can sand­box a pro­gram by rightclick­ing its short­cut or EXE file and se­lect­ing Run Sand­boxed. Al­ter­na­tively, you can just drag and drop the pro­gram into the Sand­boxie win­dow.

Move your mouse over a sand­boxed pro­gram and you’ll no­tice a yel­low bor­der around the pro­gram win­dow, which in­di­cates that it’s run­ning in Sand­boxie. You’ll also see a hash sym­bol [#] by the pro­gram’s name.

Be­yond the ba­sics, Sand­boxie of­fers a num­ber of very use­ful tools, in­clud­ing the abil­ity to trans­fer files quickly to and from the sand­boxed en­vi­ron­ment – such as files you down­load via a sand­boxed web browser, for ex­am­ple. You can also quickly kill run­ning ap­pli­ca­tions or delete the con­tents of your sand­box by right-click­ing Sand­boxie’s no­ti­fi­ca­tion-area icon, then se­lect­ing De­fault­box and choos­ing Ter­mi­nate Pro­grams or Delete Con­tents.

How it can be im­proved: Af­ter 30 days, Sand­boxie will start pre­sent­ing you with a nag screen ev­ery time you use it, re­mind­ing you to upgrade to the paid-for ver­sion. That’s be­cause Sand­boxie is ac­tu­ally share­ware and, in the­ory, users are sup­posed to cough up for a li­cence (cur­rently around £ 25) af­ter the trial pe­riod ends. How­ever, as long as it’s for per­sonal use, you can carry on us­ing Sand­boxie for free and the pro­gram will con­tinue to func­tion as nor­mal.

Only a hand­ful of high-end fea­tures (in­clud­ing the abil­ity to force pro­grams to run in Sand­boxie, and the op­tion to run pro­grams in more than one sand­box at a time) are ex­clu­sive to the paid-for ver­sion.

OUR VER­DICT Light­weight, powerful and reg­u­larly up­dated, Sand­boxie is by far the best ded­i­cated sand­box­ing tool around. The free ver­sion’s nag screens are a bit an­noy­ing, but worth tol­er­at­ing.

Shade Sand­box | www.shade­sand­box.com | ★★★★ ★ FEA­TURES ★★★ ★★ PER­FOR­MANCE ★★★ ★★ EASE OF USE ★★★★ ★

Wh What we liked: Shade does much the same thing as Sand­boxie but on a sim­pler scale. Once in­stalled, it’s very eaeasy to use – just drag pro­gram­pro short­cuts into the Shade win­dow or right-click and se­lect ‘ Put into Shade’. Shade lacks some of Sand­boxie’s ad­vanced fea­tures and cus­tomis­abil­ity, but where Sand­boxie can only force spe­cific pro­grams to run in a sand­box if you pay for the pre­mium ver­sion, Shade re­mem­bers any ap­pli­ca­tion you’ve sand­boxed and will run it in a sand­box ev­ery time, un­less you ex­plic­itly tell it not to (by click­ing ‘ Re­move an ap­pli­ca­tion from Shade’). This is very use­ful if you have pro­grams – such as older, un­sup­ported tools – that you al­ways want to run in iso­la­tion.

How it can be im­proved: Users on older PCS may no­tice some slow­down when sand­box­ing cer­tain pro­grams. Not all pro­grams work well with Shade, ei­ther. In­ter­net Ex­plorer, in par­tic­u­lar, slowed our test sys­tem right down when we ran it in a sand­box.

Although it’s free, Shade suf­fers from a some­what con­vo­luted in­stal­la­tion process that re­quires you to ob­tain a li­cence key via email. It’s a bit of a faff, but you only need to do it once.

OUR VER­DICT It’s ba­sic com­pared with Sand­boxie and seems to suf­fer from a few per­for­mance is­sues but, for the most part, Shade Sand­box pro­vides an easy way to iso­late pro­grams you use fre­quently.

Vir­tu­al­box | bit.ly/vir­tu­al­box446 | ★★★★ ★ FEA­TURES ★★★★ ★ PER­FOR­MANCE ★★★★ ★ EASE OF USE ★★ ★★★

What Wh we liked: Tech­ni­cally speak­ing, Vir­tu­al­box is a vir­tu­al­i­sa­tion tool, not a sand­box­ing one. The ididea is that you cre­ate a vir­tu­alvir PC – an en­tire pre­tend com­puter that runs within your real one. To all in­tents and pur­poses, your vir­tual com­puter works ex­actly like a nor­mal one, ex­cept that you can in­stall and run any pro­grams you like on it and they’ll re­main com­pletely iso­lated from your real-life PC and your files. Vir­tu­al­box can vir­tu­alise older ver­sions of Win­dows, such as XP, so it’s ideal for keep­ing older pro­grams run­ning. You can also take Snap­shots, al­low­ing you to re­vert your vir­tual PC to a pre­vi­ous state within a few clicks.

How it can be im­proved: Vir­tu­al­box can seem a lit­tle un­friendly at first, but it’s easy to use once you’ve set up your vir­tual PC. If there’s one draw­back with Vir­tu­al­box (and sim­i­lar tools), it’s that you’ll need an en­tire copy of the op­er­at­ing sys­tem you want to run. That’s okay if you hap­pen to have a spare copy of Win­dows hang­ing around (along with a valid prod­uct code). If you haven’t, then the cost of buy­ing a new one (cur­rently around £80 on Ama­zon) can make vir­tu­al­i­sa­tion a less at­trac­tive route.

OUR VER­DICT Vir­tu­al­box pro­vides a bril­liant al­ter­na­tive to straight­for­ward sand­box­ing, es­pe­cially if you hap­pen to have a spare copy of Win­dows you can in­stall. It’s great for keep­ing Xp-era tools go­ing be­yond their sell-by date.

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