The Internet is filled to the brim with a never-ending stream of new software. Interesting new applications and exciting new games continue to appear day in, day out.
Unfortunately, not all of them are clean. One wrong turn and you may end up downloading a program that is unstable or malicious. It may tamper with your hardware or mess up your operating system. Or in case of malware, infect your PC with adware or viruses.
When testing or running new and untrusted programs, perhaps the best way to stay on the safe side is to use a sandbox environment.
A sandbox is a virtual environment that you can install your unknown apps without letting them harm your system. And if you find a problematic program, all you have to do is delete the offending article.
We take a look at how sandbox software works below, and round up some of the best sandbox programs available for Windows.
What is a Sandbox program?
Without getting overly technical, sandboxing is a solution that creates a virtual environment for testing applications before they are installed on the device itself. This is a secured environment that does not allow any kind of malware to seep into the computer or its OS.
This makes these applications ideal for running shady software, a tidy solution to protect yourself when experimenting with new programs.
Particularly, when you don’t have spare computers lying around. So powerful is this way of isolating rogue programs that it is not only used in Android and iOS powered mobile devices, but Windows is also in on the action.
The Windows 10 S Mode uses a sandbox of sorts to prevent x86 and x64 programs from running, limiting the operating system to Microsoft Store apps only. And not just that, Windows Defender now also has sandbox support to prevent attackers from using exploits to compromise the OS.
Microsoft has already developed Sandbox feature available to Insiders at the time to writing this article. It is designed to let administrators execute programs from unreliable sources in a sandboxed environment.
But while this feature is expected to debut in the next version of Windows 10 set for arrival in the first half of 2019, there a several quality sandbox applications available that you can download today.
Best Sandbox software
There are a few different sandbox programs available for Windows users, many of them available as freeware. Pretty much all of them allow you to test new software programs and applications for safety before actually deploying them on your main system.
Let’s see what’s on offer.
This is one of the most popular and widely used applications to isolate programs from the underlying Windows operating system. The reason for this is that Sandboxie is both lightweight and free, and allows you to run almost any Windows program within its secure sandbox environment.
Adding applications to the program is easy, though its user interface is not quite there. To distinguish between your programs, you will see a thick yellow border around the window to let you know that you are in a sandboxed environment.
Sandboxie is offered in both free and paid flavors, with the free version being perfectly fine for most home users. Upgrading gets you access to some handy features like forced programs and the ability to run multiple sandboxes.
Handy feature set
Good for beginners
Very small footprint, lightweight
UI not the finest
Developer: Sandboxie Holdings
2. SHADE Sandbox
SHADE is another great free sandbox program that is very popular. It comes with a minimalistic user interface that makes it effortless for anyone to get up and running with. Even the menu options are limited to what is necessary, and the sandbox itself couldn’t be easier to control.
What makes SHADE an excellent choice for novices is its drag and drop system. Simply find the program icon you want to sandbox, then place it in the application box. Presuming SHADE is also active, your chosen application will automatically start sandboxed.
In other words, you get an extra layer of security without having to worry about turning things on or off. All your browser history, downloaded data, Windows registry entries and system files will be isolated from the operating system.
Short learning curve
Programs can always start sandboxed
Perfect for novices
Lacks advanced options and features
Download: SHADE Sandbox
If you like a little cloud to go with your sandboxing, then this stylish new program fits the bill. More than a program, this is a full service. You will need to sign up at the website and then login. But once you do you will be able to run thousands of apps online, instantly, on all your devices, desktop or mobile.
Turbo.net basically packages applications into individual virtual environments called containers, and runs them on top of your operating system. Think of these as lightweight virtual machines that are completely isolated and never directly interact with your system.
However, unlike a full virtual machine that runs a whole operating system, like BitBox below for instance, Turbo only uses a fraction of the resources. You can also link individual containers via virtual networking. Great for developers, excellent for everyone else. This one is very much worth a look.
More of a service, than a software
Clever use of containers
Runs everything on the cloud
Stylish UI, snappy performance
Requires good Internet connectivity
Only works with select programs
4. Browser in the Box
If you’d like something that specializes only in Internet safety, this sandbox tool may be the one for you. Essentially, it creates a virtual machine with an instance of Linux designed specifically for browsing. Sandboxing is already implemented in safest web browsers but you get to create containers with this app.
One downside to this is the high resource consumption — the whole setup is a lot more memory demanding than usual. But the advantage being that you do get safe navigation and secure browsing, and it also disables your microphone and monitors all host interactions.
BitBox, as it is also known, also has the capability of downloading files to your actual PC, so it is important to set things up properly before diving in. Once done, though, you and can easily download and run whatever your heart desires.
5. Time Freeze
And now for something a little different. Unlike most other sandbox programs on this list, Toolwiz Time Freeze works in a rather unique fashion. Instead of creating a separate environment, Time Freeze creates a virtual copy of your entire system settings and files and saves the state.
You are now free to use any application you want, in any way you want. After you are done, just reboot your system and it will be automatically restored. Your actual operating system will not be affected in any way — all the action will happen in the virtual copy of your system.
This type of approach comes in really handy if you want to test something thoroughly without limitations but don’t want it to make changes to your system. Understandably, Time Freeze is not for everyone, but it is ideal if you want to test the stability, quality and other factors of your applications.
Runs whole system in virtualized mode
Easy restore and recovery
Supports all versions of Windows
UI a little clunky
Only free for home users
Download: Time Freeze
6. Shadow Defender
Just like Time Freeze above, Shadow Defender is a tool that virtualizes your system drives and any other drive you want. Once your system is virtualized, any and all changes you make to it are discarded the next time you reboot your system.
Of course, Shadow Defender allows you to specify files and folders to exclude from Shadow Mode, and it also lets you pick and choose which changes to keep and what ones to discard. This can be done by clicking on the commit button when you download a file or make a system change.
Usage of this program is just a tad more complicated, what with the busy menu and UI. However, most people will be able to find their way around without much fuss. If drive mirroring is something you prefer, then this is good option to take on a test drive.
Complete system virtualization
Plenty of features
Can exclude files, commit changes
Old school UI
Developer: Shadow Defender
Download: Shadow Defender