A computer term you should be familiar with is sandbox. Software developers often run their untested code in a protected environment called a sandbox. If the software misbehaves, the sandbox is shut down and everything returns to normal, no harm done. It’s a great way to prevent viruses and other malware from infecting your machine while browsing the web. The top, free sandbox program for windows is Sandboxie. It runs only on Windows and is Vista-compatible. Run Internet Explorer, Firefox, or any other program under Sandboxie and you should be safe.

Another way to operate securely is from inside a virtual machine. This is different from a sandbox in that you actually run an entire operating system, rather than a single program. Many people, this Geek included, use it to run alternative operating systems like Linux. In a virtual machine, you can do everything you do on a real machine and like the sandbox, if things go wrong, your computer won’t be harmed. Microsoft provides the free Virtual PC and VMware provides its free VMware Player and VMware Server. For the Mac, there’s Parallels (not free). Check out the secure browsing applicance provided for VMware Player.

When surfing the web, testing unknown programs, or engaging in other activities with the potential to harm your computer, use a sandbox or virtual machine to protect your base system from harm.

Have a question? It can be about anything from cooking to science, whatever you’re interested in: Click here to Ask the Geek! Kenny “The Geek” Harthun has been playing with geeky stuff since 1965. He’s a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer with Connective Computing, Inc. and loves to learn about anything and everything.