Microsoft has officially confirmed that the next major version of Windows 10 will include a virtualisation feature called Windows Sandbox. This will allow Windows 10 users to run specific programs in an isolated environment that cannot harm their data or otherwise interfere with the running of their PC. Sandboxes or virtual machines trick software into thinking it is running natively on a PC, while only actually allowing it to perceive specific, isolated portions of the host PC’s hardware and software resources. If malware attempts to infect the host, it is usually unable to cross the boundaries of the sandbox. Windows Sandbox will be a part of the 19H1 update, expected to land in the first half of next year.
The feature will be available to users running Windows 10 Pro or above and will require a 64-bit processor with at least two cores. A quad-core CPU with multi-threading is recommended . Virtualisation will have to be enabled at the BIOS level on the PC. Users will also need at least 4GB of free RAM though 8GB is recommended, and 1GB of disk space, preferably on an SSD.
Microsoft officially describes Windows Sandbox as a “lightweight desktop environment”, and it is less than 100MB in size because it leverages existing Windows 10 system files. It will appear as a standard Windows program, and once run, it will appear to be a brand new installation of Windows 10 running within a window.
Once it is closed, anything you have created inside it is deleted, and you start from a clean image the next time it is run. Users will not need to download anything, but they will not be able to virtualise older versions of Windows or other operating systems. Windows Sandbox will allow files to be copied from the host system and pasted into it.
Sandbox is built using Microsoft’s existing hypervisor and Windows Container, which are used in professional environments for large-scale virtualisation. A separate Windows kernel is run, RAM is allocated, and a virtual GPU is created to address the host system’s GPU. On laptops, the host’s battery status will be visible to software running in the sandbox.
The Windows scheduler ensures that the sandbox is always subservient to the host system. According to Microsoft, one consumer-friendly enhancement is that the host system can reclaim its resources, which can be important on consumer PCs with modest specifications. Windows Sandbox effectively appears to be a software process, like any other running program.
Virtualisation has often been used to run unknown software, experiment with potentially risky configuration options, or deal with sensitive information online safely without requiring a whole separate PC to ensure that nothing on the host system is affected by unforeseen dangers. In the past, this has been difficult for casual users to implement, as additional hardware and potentially additional Windows licenses are required.