Whether it’s a program you found on the Internet or something that came in your email, running executable files has always been risky. Testing software in clean systems requires virtual machine (VM) software and a separate Windows license to run inside the VM. Microsoft is about to solve that problem with Windows Sandbox.
VMs: Great for Safe Testing, But Hard to Use
We’ve all received an email that appears to be from a friend or a family member and has an attachment. Maybe we were even expecting it, but somehow it looks not quite right. Or perhaps you’ve found a great looking app on the Internet, but it’s from a developer you’ve never heard of.
What do you do? Download and run it and just take the risk? With things like ransomware running rampant, it’s almost impossible to be too cautious.
In software development, sometimes the thing a developer needs the most is a clean system—a quick and easy to pull up OS that has no other installed programs, files, scripts, or other baggage. Anything extra could skew testing results.
The best solution to both situations is to spin up a Virtual Machine. This gives you a clean, isolated OS. If that attachment turns out to be malware, then the only thing it affects is the virtual machine. Restore it to an earlier snapshot, and you’re good to go. If you’re a developer, you can do your testing as if you’d just set up a brand new machine.
There are some problems with VM software, though.
First, it can be expensive. Even if you use a free alternative like VirtualBox, you still need a valid Windows license to run on the virtualized OS. And sure, you can get away with not activating Windows 10, but that limits what you can test.