Take the 2-minute tour ×
Super User is a question and answer site for computer enthusiasts and power users. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I was having a discussion on bookmarks in Word with a friend, and he suggested me to check out his implementation of a query in Word. Since I did not have Microsoft Word installed, I told him I don't have Word so I won't be able to test it.

To this, he mentioned that he'll send the executables and it will work - I argued that without an installation this will fail.

I was rather shocked when he sent me the standalone executables and on running them, Word actually launched and I was able to use almost every functionality o_0

How's this possible? I've never installed Microsoft Office on my system, this isn't any "portable" app or VMWare ThinStall ( thanks nhinkle, didn't know about this).

There are absolutely no Microsoft Office related files - except for winword.exe and excel.exe.

Curiously even Microsoft Excel works fine with just the standalone executable.

winword.exe size is about 39 MB, and excel.exe size is just 35kb, which makes it even more strange.

enter image description here

I'm running on Windows XP, the files were from Office 2003.


I was discussing this on Chat prior to posting, here's the conversation

share|improve this question
    
were you also able to create new documents ? –  Shakehar Mar 4 '11 at 7:22
    
@Shark yes, was able to create new documents, save documents, edit existing ones –  Sathya Mar 4 '11 at 7:26
    
Are they running the on-line Live versions? –  Dennis Williamson Mar 4 '11 at 7:48
    
@Sathya then I guess thats very charitable of MS :) Can you ask your friend how did he make the executable ? I have office 2010 and would like to try this –  Shakehar Mar 4 '11 at 7:49
1  
@harpo even more impressive is that Excel is just 35kb –  Sathya Mar 5 '11 at 14:15
show 5 more comments

4 Answers

up vote 28 down vote accepted

VMWare ThinApp is what you are seeing. I've done some testing while it was still called Thinstall and then VMware bought it. It's nice because it allows you to use Office 2003 / Office 2007 / Office 2010 and many more applications like IE6, IE7, IE8 next to each other.

Basically procedure to create it looks like this:

  1. You install yourself a clean system. (VM machine is perfect for this)
  2. You run Thinapp do to a system snapshot. Then you install application
  3. You run Thinapp again and it finds the changes with last snapshot and packs it up.

This even gets better. You can install NET, Java after the first snapshot and then application that uses NET or Java. And then use the application created with ThinApp on system that doesn't have NET or Java Installed.

Just to add the size difference is because Excel will use Word packed files. If you move away Word application Excel won't work.

share|improve this answer
    
Interesting - @nhinkle had mentioned about ThinApp but I had dismissed it earlier. Thanks for the nice explanation –  Sathya Mar 4 '11 at 10:29
    
Ye it's nice but you need to pay for ThinApp licenses and Office licenses too ;-) So double costs –  MadBoy Mar 4 '11 at 10:32
    
Wish I hadn't had school all day, else I would've posted this and could've gotten all those upvotes ;). @Sathya does it look like it is indeed ThinApp? Every time I've used it before it's taken a few minutes to open and seen a little window pop up saying "Launching application name... Powered By VMware" –  nhinkle Mar 5 '11 at 1:51
    
That window can be turned off with configuration (at least while i was testing Thinstall. –  MadBoy Mar 5 '11 at 13:47
    
@nhinkle yes, indeed - but as I had mentioned to you on chat - there were no popups whatsoever. Accepting this answer. Thanks @Madboy! –  Sathya Mar 5 '11 at 14:14
add comment

It's not because the application is called WINWORD.EXE and the icon is the same that it is the exact same application that is shipped in Office. All Office applications have a digital signature. Right-click the winword.exe and excel.exe files and check if there is a Digital Signatures tab. You will notice those applications don't have a signature at all let alone one from Microsoft.

The applications you have are probably self-extracting executables, which contain modified files of Word 2003 so it will run without being installed. If you have 7-zip installed you can try to unpackage winword.exe and see for yourself.

share|improve this answer
1  
you're right about it not having a digital signature tab - though extracting it using 7zip fails. –  Sathya Mar 4 '11 at 10:28
1  
This is not ordinary packed application. ThinApp doesn't work that way. –  MadBoy Mar 4 '11 at 11:30
add comment

Microsoft itself offers a "portable" version of Office for validation: http://stadt-bremerhaven.de/portable-microsoft-office-2010

share|improve this answer
2  
That's a pirated version –  Sathya Mar 4 '11 at 12:23
1  
I didn't saw that! Sorry! Changed the link. –  powtac Mar 4 '11 at 12:25
    
@Sathya, actually technically your version you received from your friend is pirated as well. Also I believe that starter version are open to the public, but could be wrong. –  KronoS Mar 5 '11 at 5:05
    
"Office Starter is available only as preloaded software on select new PCs with the option of upgrading to the full Office suites at any time." Actually I was wrong. Ref site –  KronoS Mar 5 '11 at 5:08
1  
@sathya I'm not saying that yours friends software is actually pirated but more rather the fact that HE sent you copies to use for free becomes a violation of the EULA I believe. –  KronoS Mar 5 '11 at 14:30
show 2 more comments

Though my suggestion was originally denied ;), based on your observations I was probably correct after all: your friend must have had a copy of Microsoft Office which has been virtualized with VMware ThinApp.

First, I verified that a copy of the regular winword.exe and excel.exe would not work by themselves. I installed Office 2003 in a Windows XP VM, then copied them over to a different VM which had never had Office installed. Both applications failed to run.

Based on your comment that "there is Thinstall\Office 2003 under Application Data", it seems most likely that this is the explanation. Here is how you can check:

  • Remove the directory %APPDATA%\Thinstall\Office 2003
  • Run the Office executable that your friend sent you
  • Check back in %APPDATA%\Thinstall\ and see if the Office 2003 folder has reappeared. If it has, the application is definitely using ThinApp.

We use a ThinApp-wrapped version of MATLAB at my university; it has to have a .dat file present with all of the program contents. Depending on the requirements of the application though, this may not be necessary, which appears to be the case with these office programs before.

Essentially, what ThinApp does is it virtualizes the entire directory structure and registry for the application. This allows for the application to be portable and to run without interfering with the system. ThinApp also supports network licensing, so if you have an application (like MATLAB in our case) that your organization has a finite number of licenses for, it can check in with the licensing server before launching the application, and only launch it if it successfully acquires a license.

That directory in %APPDATA% contains the folders which ThinApp virtualizes for the application. Anything that would normally be in Word's %APPDATA% folder, like personal settings, gets saved here instead. Because of this, no matter where you launch the executable from on your computer, the settings will be preserved on that machine. They do not get transfered with the packaged application itself however. This becomes relevant when trying to reset the settings for an application which is packed with ThinApp, as the usual method of deleting its folder in %APPDATA%\Program Name doesn't work - you have to find its virtualized folder.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.