A few weeks ago I had a twitter conversation with Jurjen Van Leeuwen (featured in my Blogroll) that was the catalyst for this blog post, we’re both Microsoft MVP’s for App-V, we both contribute to the Application Virtualization Smackdown Whitepaper and We both also have something else in common, we’re both fans of Spoon.net! Jurjen and I tweeted each other about Spoon’s Browser Studio and how impressive it is. The power of being able to spin up any Browser with all of your Runtimes and Extensions in under five minutes is pretty damn cool. The fact, I’ve now stopped sequencing my browsers with App-V for personal use is also pretty damn cool to me. It was just too much effort to keep up with Google and Mozillas ridiculous release schedules. I’ll be damned if I spin up a VM and go through that effort every few weeks, I’ll also be damned if I download and install the damn things. That’s why Browser Studio is now my primary source for my browsers of choice.
Jurjen actually turned me onto Spoon during a call we had over two years ago, discussing the different Application Virtualization technologies on the market, he insisted that I should check out Spoon. So I did and I was very impressed! After a few months I got a trial of Spoon Server and Spoon Studio and I was again, very impressed, I even wrote a blog post about it. Which you can find HERE The gang over at Spoon have been busy. They have multiple innovative new products. One of which is Browser Studio, the topic of this post.
Browser Studio is a sleek web based wizard which allows you to create virtual application container of browsers (Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer) customized to your liking. You can pick what runtimes to include e.g. Java and Flash Player, what extensions to include e.g. Adblocker, You can also give it a unique name as you may have multiple instances of the same Browser…Multiple instances you say? This bad boy allows you to build any version of these Browsers going back to version 2.0 for Firefox, the dreaded version 6.0 of IE and version 16.0 of Chrome (at the time of this posting). This product is the perfect solution for Web Developers who require a controlled pristine browser for testing purposes and multiple versions to boot! No need to spin up multiple virtual machines which is expensive and a pain in the ass to manage. The browsers you create with Browser Studio are virtual application containers. They are isolated and can operate side by side without conflicting. They can all be run from your own desktop. Sweeeeeet!
Why would you want to use Browser Studio?
I’ve already talked a little bit about why I personally use Browser Studio. Working in the virtualization space, I have been trying to get as many of my applications virtualized as possible. I have many apps sequenced with App-V but I struggle to find the time to keep on top of things. With Spoons great service Spoon.net I could instantly access many applications which I use every day like Skype, Evernote and Spotify to name a few. These applications don’t need to be installed, they are virtual applications using Spoons container based technology. And those are great!
Of course with my browsers I need more, I need runtimes like Flash Player to play my YouTube Videos, Java for viewing some of my favorite sites, .Net, Adobe Reader etc. When using Chrome and Firefox there’s also multiple extensions\add-ins that I use like AdBlocker. In traditional packaging or virtualizing, I would need to either create separate packages for each and link them together before deploying or I could create one big virtual package with everything I want. This is a painful way of working, as each one of these components get’s updated quite regularly and in turn requires manual effort to ensure the update is rolled out. With Browser Studio, I get what I want in under five minutes.
But this isn’t just for people like me who use it for their day to day browsing. It also has the massive benefits for Web Developers that I already mentioned. As an anecdote, I personally would have found this very useful for a former client who had a social media marketing team who operated inside their own controlled virtual desktops for updating the various outlets, as well as testing any changes in multiple browsers.
How can I use Browser Studio?
Go to www.browserstudio.com ,click login and create an account if you don’t already have one. I would suggest creating an account, there is a free subscription model and it’s worth at least checking out. Plus, for you web developers the account provides you access to many more virtualized browsers instantly such as Opera and Safari, as well as some mobile browsers. Creating an account is not mandatory, you can try out Browser Studio without creating an account by just following the steps, as so:
Click the little checkbox icon for the Browser you would like. It defaults to the latest release of that browser, if you’d like an older version just choose it from the drop down box. When you’ve made your selection. Click Next Step.
Here you can check whatever runtimes you would like. Personally I would guess that’s often going to be all of them. However, you can also again choose particular versions of Runtimes. Could be very useful if you have an application which won’t work with the latest version and you want to confirm if it works with an older version. If you notice a runtime that you want is missing from the list, you can click on the hyperlink at the bottom to request this to be added. Personally, I’m covered! When you’ve made your selections you can click Next Step
Next you can select from a variety of different extensions, again if you don’t see one you do want you in the list, you can quickly request it by clicking on the hyperlink near the end of the page. Right now, most of the extensions are aimed at developers. Though some that are popular with the common man like me are in there like the Ad Blocker, the IE emulator etc. After making your selection, click Next Step.
Here you can give the application any name you want or leave the default, which is a descriptive name showing all runtimes selected and the version. You can also include a description, set the default homepage of the browser and then click Next Step
Now you play the waiting game. Don’t worry, this step is very quick. It will start with the downloading sequence and you’ll see that really slick looking Spoon logo get colored in while you wait.
It will then automatically start the next process of building the virtual application container with everything you selected. For me, this step has taken under five minutes each time, though I’m sure milage may vary!
That’s it!! You’re done. If you watched the process taking place you would have seen a nice little animation of confetti falling to celebrate your new arrival. You can click TRY.
If you are not already a Spoon User and you just want to try it out. You will get prompted to install the Spoon.net Plugin just click OK and click Run on the install when prompted.
With the plugin installed you the browser should begin buffering. As with all good application virtualization products, first launch can take a little while to complete. If you have a Pro account and intend to re-use the browser and not just try it out, any subsequent launch will be much quicker.
If like me, you signed up for Spoon and you have a Pro account. You can select ‘Save to Spoon.net account’ instead of TRY and you’ll then see that the application will appear alongside all your other applications. If you did not create a Pro account then what you see, is what you get. You have a working browser but it does not persist, it’s just to try out. Without a Pro Account you can use the browsers that are pre-loaded in Spoon.net’s extensive library. But those do not offer the same level of customization that this wizard provides.
The above screenshot is from my Pro Account with my custom browsers included.
As always you can run the browser or any application you have selected from here. If you have an account and have tried out any applications, you should have been prompted to install the Spoon Plug-in as per a previous screenshot above, this should mean you have the Spoon Console.
Just press the Windows + Alt keys and you should see the browser right there and ready for use whenever you want without any need to go to a web interface. You can set the console to login automatically on start-up so it’s ready to go each time you boot up.
I think from my long rambling wordy introduction, it’s pretty clear that I really love this product. As a Pro account user, I’m very happy that Spoon appears to be increasing the value I get with the service. I have worked with and gone to school with many web developers that I think will love Browser Studio too. Even without an interest in Web Development, I find this very convenient for my own sake. The less shit I have to install and update on my desktop, the happier I am. Doge say’s it best!