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SharewareJunkies.com The Shareware Review People

Thinstall Studio

Type of Program: File Packer, Installer
Supported Platforms: Windows 95/98/2000/ME/XP
Company Name: Jitit
Version: Commercial 2.024
Price: $200 and up depending on your needs
Installed Size: 5.6MB

Download/Homepage

As a developer you want to be able to distribute your product knowing that no one else can hack into it, sift through all your data from within, change a few things and then, if they are brave enough, pass your creation off as their own. This happens many more times then you might imagine. There have always been, and will no doubt always be hackers out there. Nothing can be more frustrating than to spend months, if not years on a product only to have it cracked into and stolen. Worse yet, hacked into in order to bypass your required registration! Think of how many sells could be lost. That is of course the topic of many articles and discussions nowadays…piracy!

Thinstall Studio gives you, the developer just about everything you need when you are ready to begin distributing your product in perhaps the most secure of ways! Not only does it secure your product, it packs all of your files into one EXE, ready to ship. When the customer runs the EXE nothing (that's right), nothing has to be extracted for it to run! So if your program requires images, DLLs, DirectX files, etc. Thinstall Studio takes all of your files, packs them into one EXE and gives the user everything you want them to have, without extracting valuable data onto their system. This allows you to protect and hide your data from prying eyes, to prevent disassembly of the EXE or DLL files, and can create for you a "no installation required" distribution of your software applications.

Although you might think that since Thinstall Studio can do all of this that creating your install program, securing your data may be cumbersome or a long, drawn out process. If you think it is, you are wrong. Thinstall Studio is one of the easiest applications of this genre that I have used and seen in a long time. You will be packing your programs in no time at all! So let's take a look at how the process occurs:

Here in a nutshell is how, and what Thinstall Studio will be doing for you when in operation (see also the flowchart below). Thinstall provides replacement API functions for more than 300 Win32 API functions, which adds new abilities to existing applications and libraries with no source code changes!

Now that we see what Thinstall does, let's take a look at some of the inner workings of Thinstall as well as the ease of the program itself. It needs to be pointed out and remembered that Thinstall is not like other self-extracting programs. Rather, once Thinstall has packed your program it runs completely in its compressed state and never extracts (or needs to), any files to the hard drive! One of Thinstall's newest features is in its compression methods. Yes folks, it even compresses better than WinZip and most of the time better than RAR! By looking at the diagram above we see that during the Run stage your program is executed as normal. When your program makes a call to any Windows API then Thinstall will perform all required operations and return the results back to the application.

THE NITTY GRITTY DETAILS
Thinstall uses what it calls the Virtual Operating System (VOS). The VOS is responsible for loading EXEs and DLLs into memory. The VOS takes up only about 90KB of disk space and around 1MB of memory while running (depending on which components are loaded). Once the VOS has been loaded it will then load an EXE from the package that you have archived. The VOS redirects all of the Windows API calls to itself before your application is given the go ahead to run, which then gives the application new abilities. When an application is loaded and running by the VOS, it would look something like you see here to the left.

Even though your actual application is being run it does not actually appear, or exist on the user's hard drive. Since your application does not distinguish the difference between a virtual file from a normal file everything is transparent. Thinstall recreates and makes it appear as though all the files you packaged are extracted and since we know that real files and virtual files can exist at the same time, Thinstall allows you to set various properties for that when packing your EXE. Since virtual files stay in the compressed archive form within your very EXE none of the virtual files are extracted to disk (they don't need to be). As your program reads a file, Thinstall decompresses small chunks of that file into memory and provides it directly to the application.
Even though your actual application is being run it does not actually appear, or exist on the user's hard drive. Since your application does not distinguish the difference between a virtual file from a normal file everything is transparent. Thinstall recreates and makes it appear as though all the files you packaged are extracted and since we know that real files and virtual files can exist at the same time, Thinstall allows you to set various properties for that when packing your EXE. Since virtual files stay in the compressed archive form within your very EXE none of the virtual files are extracted to disk (they don't need to be). As your program reads a file, Thinstall decompresses small chunks of that file into memory and provides it directly to the application.
A VIRTUAL REGISTRY?
Yes, you heard right! If you have a VOS then why not have a Virtual Registry? Thinstall makes Registry Keys appear to exist for your applications as well. Virtual Registry keys are overlaid onto the system Registry so that your application can use entries from either the System Registry or the Virtual Registry. So what happens when you close your application? You won't have to worry about doing any real modifying to the actual System Registry from your application since any changes made to it by your application will be non-existent once your application is terminated. How's that for virtual reality?

Now that we have seen some of the technical sides of how Thinstall works and even though you can use Thinstall Studio to pack your files into one EXE you can also use it to create personal installation applications. In case you were wondering, Thinstall Studio supports a number of essential features for NET programs. Let's look at how a typical Install is created. To begin you would uncheck the box at the top of this dialog screen (seen below). If left checked it would only create your EXE and you would then need to use a 3rd party installer program but since Thinstall comes with this capability let's use it.
Here you can see that you have many options to control how the install portion will work. You can further customize your installer by going through each of these options (Tabs) to define, and refine how you want the final installer to appear to the end-user. By selecting any of these options you will have many choices from the drop-down boxes so you can create some professional looking install programs.

Your next options are whether or not you want to create any Shortcuts. A word of note here is that Thinstall allows for Administrator rights only or for only the Current User. If a user has limited rights to the system then you can adjust for that here in placing Shortcuts for only the Current User or those with full rights so that anyone can then be able to run your program (by Default Thinstall uses the All Users options to comply with XP requirements). Your next two options are to set any parameters for your Version information as well as any License information you want the end-user to read (self explanatory). Then finally you have your Uninstall options. Using Thinstall as your program to create your installer you can double check the Help files for a listing of how you can be sure that your program complies with the "Designed For Windows XP" requirements.
Thinstall also allows you to create Shareware for your programs. By utilizing this feature you tell Thinstall to add trial-demo capabilities to your program with no other programming changes! In this way if the user has not entered a registration key for your software then the software will display a message informing the user the amount of time they have remaining before the software will expire. If the user decides not to register then your software will expire after the time allotted you set has expired. If the user does decide to register then all they need to do is click on the Register button and they will be given the opportunity to enter in a license key that you have set. If you do want to create your own Shareware type program then you have these following options available:

1. No locking - This mean that Serial numbers will work on any computer. If this option is turned on then Thinstall permit you to generate a series of serial numbers to a text file. If turned on then you can generate only one serial number at a time because you must enter the Machine-ID for each user.

2. Lock to Windows Serial Number - Here the Serial numbers will only work on computers with the same Windows Serial Number.

3. Lock to Drive C Serial Number - Here the Serial numbers will only work on computers with the same Volume Serial number for drive "C".

4. Lock to Computer Name - This option allows for Serial numbers to work on computers that have the same Computer Name.

5. Keygen Password - This value is used to prevent other people from generating keys for your software package. Say for example that you have two versions of your software and you only want to allow users from version 1.0 to continue using the same key they had registered in the past then you should make sure you use the same keygen password for 2.0.

6. Trial Period - This is the value that controls the number of days until the trial demo no long allows the user to click on "Register Later".


So far Thinstall Studio looks pretty impressive doesn't it? We have seen how to create our own personalized install program as well as how it creates one executable for all of your files into a self contained and tightly secure environment. Therefore, speaking of security I think it would be appropriate to look at just how well Thinstall Studio performs. Even though this program has been around only for a short time it has already developed a large following by some of the biggest names in the business. It has been used by 100's of companies, which thereby passed on their software to millions of users and as of this review, not one EXE has been reported as being cracked! Thinstall is being continually updated to thwart any future attempts at hacking and because there is always someone, somewhere that will try to crack your program, Thinstall keeps ahead of the game by implementing measures to circumvent any such events and gives you those options in other dialogs when creating your EXE! For example, because of the way EXE files are loaded into memory and run, their instructions cannot be protected against a low level program that is able to read kernel memory directly. Thinstall has a security feature that will make it difficult to reconstruct your original EXE if any such crack tool is used.

Will Thinstall Studio work with your programming language? Here is a list of the current languages it is known to work with (others may be compatible as well):

1. Microsoft Visual C++ (all versions)
2. Microsoft Visual Basic (all versions)
3. Microsoft .NET Platform programs (C++/VB/Java)
4. GNU GCC/G++
5. Sun Java JRE
6. MS Java
7. Borland Delphi
8. Borland C++
9. IBasic
10. Bash shell + scripts
11. Assembly programs
12. Game Engines (you can package the engine plus any scripts)
13. Engines such as: 3D Game Studio (all versions), 3DRAD, Blitz3D


Although Thinstall Studio can be used as a standalone program, in order to compile your final EXE you must be connected to the Internet. You can gather and create your package but cannot actually compile until you have an active connection. There are a number of reasons for this besides security issues and the Servers to which it connects seem to never be down. By utilizing several Servers across the country you can be assured that you will always be able to compile your EXE. If you need to, or desire not to be conformed to this type of connection in order to compile there is a USB Dongle that can be purchased separately and is useful for those corporations or users that have strict firewalls.

Bottom line: Thinstall Studio has great compression methods, is the stealthiest, most secure way of packaging your files that I have seen to date! You can now distribute your program packaged into one EXE knowing that it has the latest and greatest technology behind it. Thinstall Studio is constantly being upgraded to insure you have the best wrapper around. Any bugs found are fixed and minor updates are freely downloadable from their Web site. The download version can be used for 14 days but if you really need more time you can contact the company. Thinstall Studio is the next best thing to come along since the invention of Shareware! Since it is currently only distributed in electronic form you should visit their Web site, check out some more in-depth specs, and be prepared to be impressed.

Performance
User Friendly
Cost
Ease of Installation
Support
Reviewed by Robert Hall

Purchases can be made online from their Web site.


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