New system protection suites shoot up like mushrooms lately, all of them bringing ‘yet another’ anti-virus/spam detection solution and if you’re lucky they provide some spoofed up active – annoyingly attention-demanding – firewall.
Returnil Virtual System 2010 takes quite another approach, however, by combining the aforementioned with virtualization of your system partition: it runs a cloned copy of your operating system, isolating the actual OS from any potential harm during the session. A reboot brings you back to the starting point (any documents, programs, etc. can be saved for future sessions). A total ‘sandboxing’ solution, free for home use, that’s promising.
After installation, for continued updates it’s recommended that you register (name and email address). Additionally, in order to provide the authors with more specific data on malware, it is recommended to let such information be sent to Returnil. Personally I’m a big supporter of procedures as such, since it is the best way to gather statistical data for malware and to automatize the malware detection process. For the paranoid, there are the options to allow this on a case-by-case basis (ask each time), or to disable this altogether.
Whenever you restart your system, Returnil gives you notice of its presence with a huge inverted R on the screen. Although that gives one a troubled thought or two about how much impact this virtualization might have on the system’s performance, it’s quite impressive how light-weight this program turns out to be. With a mere 2 processes and a total of no more than 15MB of PWS memory, the resource usage is less than any current virus-scanner. Other than possibly some remapping to temporary files instead of the permanent system files (a wild guess) and providing a virtual partition if desired (more on that later), RVS doesn’t need to do much during system usage, so I reckon that CPU usage will be lower than any on-access virus-scanner.
Even though malware protection suddenly isn’t that important anymore in such a every-time-a-clean-sleet setup (provided that the virtualization method has no cracks), you’ll still need a decent scanner to ensure the files you do want to keep throughout sessions or want to take with you/send to others are not infected. Hence, I would love to see some test results on the Virus Guard’s detection performance (please do inform us when you do find some information on this).
Possibly the logic of the program will take a while to seep through (when is it on, when is it off? what can be done when on/off? What will it keep, what not? How can I make changes to the base/permanent OS?), but once you get out of the Home screen (click on any icon in it, not very obvious), it’ll get easier. The help file is very enlightening as well.
To manage permanent files on your computer, you have to either have a separate physical partition to put them on, or you can create a virtual disk from within RVS. These, by default, won’t be scanned by the virusscanner component (you have to set that up). The virtual disk can be mounted at startup automatically and hence allow you to store documents etc. for later sessions (just move the ‘My Documents’ folder onto it). A virtual disk can only be created when System Safe is disabled.
To enable System Safe, once click suffices, to disable it, a restart is necessary. This makes it particularly easy to quickly try out a program. Be sure your work is on a permanent location (see above), hit the button to enable System Safe, install and test, and end with a reboot to clean up the mess. Really a nice solution and it beats a virtual machine, as the full resources of your computer will be available to the program/game(!).
But what if an installation program requires a boot itself? If you turn System Safe off, changes will permanent, if you turn it on, all changes will be lost after the reboot.Perhaps Returnil should come up with a ‘semi-sandbox’ mode for this. There seems to be a difference between turning the system protection off and choosing to ‘save all changes on computer shutdown’, but I reckon this only means that you can choose to change the permanent OS even though you were in virtual protection mode. Other than this glitch, RVS will give you better protection than any regular virus scanner will ever give you.
- Feather-light (resource usage)
- Simple usage, once familiarized
- No info on quality of virus scanner
- Virus scanner doesn’t scan files outside system partition by default
- No support for in-between sessions reboots
This application is compatible with Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows Server 2003/2008, and Windows 7.
Editor’s Note: Willem Nuijen is the latest geek to join the AddictiveTips HQ. He will be bringing detailed overview of various lesser-know applications and tips. All opinions presented here are that of the author and does not reflect the opinions of AddictiveTips as a whole.