Test Drive Software: Vista, Linux, and Apps

Friday Aug 29th 2008 by Ronald Barrett
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The list of software programs you can try online without needing to download is getting longer all the time.

Did the Mojave experiment not quite convince you to go out and get Windows Vista? Perhaps you’re a Windows user wanting to learn more about Linux. Or, maybe you want to evaluate an application without installing anything.

In that case, test drive software is just what you need.

When I first heard about test driving Windows and Linux, I was a bit skeptical. A browser-based rendition of a fully working operating system? C’mon. I thought it would crawl – even with my 20Mbit Internet connection.

Nevertheless, I went and tried the Test Drive for Windows Vista. Now it needs to be said that the test drive will only work with Internet Explorer, because it requires Active X controls (sorry Firefox users). However, you are testing a Microsoft product so I guess we can say fair’s fair.

Just provide an email address and choose your country. You’ll get a full working version of Windows Vista Ultimate with Service Pack 1. In fact, not just Vista Ultimate, but also the full Office 2007 suite and some other neat features, such as the Application Compatibility Toolkit, Deployment Toolkit and even a few demos to show you some of the cool new items available in Vista.

The test drive’s responsiveness was actually surprising. The applications all opened with little delay and everything worked just as it does on my desktop. The only real drawback was launching applications to check out the screen flipping option. Due to graphics limitations, I got a few hardware errors and it took a few minutes to load everything to test the functionality.

Overall, I was impressed and I thought it was cool to be able to run Vista in a browser. So I wanted to see what else I could “Test Drive” from my Web browser. The next few things I found had the advantage of being available to all browsers.

Test Driving Linux

In my search I found Linux Test Drive. This beta project allows the user to determine the best distribution of Linux and then to test it online. At this point they’re just taking registrations and will email users once it’s all ready for testing.

For a working distribution, try going to Ulteo and signing up for a free account. Then you can launch their browser-based desktop. This distribution is loaded with Linux applications, including the OpenOffice suite. Other available Linux apps include Firefox, Thunderbird, Kopete and KPDF.

Ulteo allows you to share your desktop session and to store up to 1GB of data. There is an application version, which installs onto your Windows PC and includes hundreds of Linux-based applications. So if you enjoy features from each of these two operating system platforms you can have the best of both worlds. It gets better still: you can download the Ulteo virtual desktop and run Linux applications from Windows by simply launching the applications from the Ulteo panel.

More Test Drive Options

But test driving operating systems is not all you can do – a few applications and collaboration products will also let you test drive them.

Zimbra, a popular open source collaboration suite, offers a full online browser-based demo on their site. To give it a spin go to Zimbra’s hosted Demo. This is a test drive of Zimbra’s hosted service, but it has all the features you’d find in the full deployment.

This is a great way to try all the features of Zimbra without having to bother with all the installation and configuration it would take to get a live demo up and running in your environment. On the test drive you get a look at the email, address book, calendaring and more. The online demo even comes with a full Help menu to assist you in becoming familiar with Zimbra.

Runaware is a test drive Web site that uses an underlying Citrix infrastructure to allow you to test drive various software applications. You can find dozens of applications to test drive and get familiar with before you purchase them. Even better, there is nothing to install on your system ever.

When I was an IT Director, the thing I hated most was to install numerous demos onto a test machine. Later, thanks to VMware and Virtual PC, I could install these into a Virtual PC and simply close it without saving to remove any evidence that it ever existed.

However, I still had to waste time installing, and in some cases configuring these apps onto a machine. How many of us in IT have tons of time to spend installing test applications?

Remember, the more time we spend installing and testing, the less time we have for things like playing Ace Online.

(I’m kidding – I would never suggest that we should spend our work hours playing online video games. Would I?)

Test driving has slowly become an addiction to me. The idea of being able to get what I want out of software without it being on my computer has me sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to see what happens with SaaS (Software as a Service) implementations.

I must admit I didn’t take much interest before, and I guess that was because being an infrastructure and security guy for so long, the paranoia of allowing anything to get out of your direct control was just too much for me to bear.

Being on the education and journalism side of things, I can say I have seen the light. Take a chance – test drive Vista, Linux or anything else you can find. It’s a great way to dive right into an OS or application without committing time to redundant setup and configurations.

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