Surf The Web In COMPLETE SafetyMarch 8, 2008 – 6:16 PM
Stop cleaning your glasses – you read that title right. There is a way now to surf the web with absolute, unbreakable safety. It is very simple to do.
A few months ago, VMware Inc. decided to release a free virtual machine player. What this program does is pretend to be a computer. The program emulates the hardware of a regular computer, inside of a window. Inside that window, you can run any operating system supported by the player. I have been using a similar product, VMware Workstation, to test spyware and spyware removal tools.
VMware also released a free Browser Appliance. The Browser Appliance is a virtual computer, running the Ubuntu Linux operating system and includes a copy of the Firefox web browser.
You download and install the virtual machine player, then download the Browser Appliance. After you download the Browser Appliance, be sure to save the zip file somewhere, in case you need an unaltered copy of it.
Both of these are very large downloads. If you connect to the internet over dialup, it is going to take hours to download them. Trust me, it is worth the wait.
The Browser Appliance is set to use 256MB of RAM by default. If you don’t have at least twice that amount of memory in your computer, then you need to reduce the memory setting. You can change the amount of memory it uses by clicking on the “Player” button and going to the “Troubleshooting” menu. There is a slider where you can change the setting.
You also can open the Browser-Appliance.vmx file in Notepad to adjust the memory that way. The line you want to change is memsize = “256”. Whatever number you put must be a multiple of “4” and cannot be lower than “32”. I would suggest setting it to no higher than half the amount of memory installed in your computer. There is no performance gain to be had by increasing the memory setting beyond 256MB, so don’t waste the RAM.
The Browser Appliance comes in a zip file. Unzip the folder that is inside and save it somewhere. Open the vm player, navigate to where you saved the unzipped folder and load the Browser Appliance. Ubuntu Linux boots up and the VMware player automatically connects it to the internet, assuming your real computer also is online.
Surfing the web with the Browser Appliance, you have absolute and total safety from any browser-based spyware installer. First of all, it is Linux. To my knowledge, no malware infects Linux through any sort of browser exploit.
More importantly, even if, by some miracle, something bad did infect the Browser Appliance, you can just delete it and start over. Your computer is not effected by what goes on with the virtual machine. The Browser Appliance also can be made to discard all changes made between sessions. If you screw it up, just turn it off and back on.
The first time you run the Browser Appliance, it will take a few minutes for Ubuntu to boot up. After that, you can just click the VMware player’s X button to close the window. It will minimize itself long enough to suspend Ubuntu, then close. The next time you open the Browser Appliance, it will start much faster.
The only real drawback is that it takes a little work to share files between the virtual machine and the real machine. The virtual computer and the real computer are completely separate from each other, by design. There are some ways around that problem. I don’t have space enough to go into that here, so I will save it for an article that I plan to write about the Browser Appliance.
Since you have the player anyway, go ahead and download some more virtual machines. VMware has put together several virtual machines for free. They also link to several other VMs, put together by members of their online community. My favorite was the one labeled “KDE on SUSE”. If you ever wanted to play around with Linux but were too scared to install it, this is your chance to take a look at it without risking anything.