Windows Sandbox: How to Safely Test Software Without Ruining Your Computer
The Windows Sandbox is a temporary virtual machine built into Windows 10 and Windows 11 that allows you to run software without it affecting the rest of your system.
Do you want to check out and test new software programs and Windows features but don’t want a potentially risky program or setting harming your current environment? You need a way to safely isolate such programs or changes so they can’t interfere with the rest of your operating system. For that, you can turn to the Windows Sandbox, which is available in both Windows 10 and 11.
The Sandbox provides an isolated, temporary virtual environment through which you can download, install, and run unknown and untested apps. The version of Windows accessible in the Sandbox is the same version on your host environment, meaning Windows 10 or 11.
Beyond using the Sandbox to run unknown applications, you can use it to check out websites that seem suspicious, install unfamiliar browser extensions and add-ons, change key settings, and play with other items you might not want to run in your regular Windows environment. You can also use it to install trial software you don’t want cluttering up your core Windows system.
If any malware or other dangerous content rears its head, it’s restricted to the Sandbox, so the rest of Windows remains safe and protected. After you’re done with the application, setting, or other change, simply close the Sandbox, and all is gone and forgotten with no lasting residue.
The Sandbox is lightweight; it takes up only 100MB of storage space. The main downside is that Sandbox is supported by Microsoft only in Windows 10 and 11 Professional and Enterprise. Now, let’s dig into the Sandbox.
First, ensure that your PC supports the virtualization required by Sandbox. In Windows 10, right-click the Taskbar and select Task Manager. In Windows 11, press Ctrl+Shift+Esc or click the Search icon, start typing Task Manager, and then select Task Manager from the results.
At the Task Manager window, click the link for More details if necessary. Select the Performance tab and make sure the entry for Virtualization says that it’s enabled.
Enable Windows Sandbox
Now you need to actually add the Sandbox as a Windows feature. Open Control Panel in icon view and select the applet for Programs and Features. Click the link to Turn Windows features on or off to display the Windows Features window. You can also reach the Windows Features window by clicking the Search icon and typing optionalfeatures.
At this window, scroll down the list until you see a checkbox for Windows Sandbox. Check the box and click OK. After Sandbox is installed, you’re prompted to restart. Reboot your PC and sign back in.
One more way to enable the Sandbox is through a PowerShell command. In Windows 10, click the Start menu, scroll down the Apps list, open the folder for Windows PowerShell, right-click the shortcut for Windows PowerShell, and then select Run as Administrator.
In Windows 11, go to All Apps from the Start menu, scroll down the list, right-click on Terminal, move to the More option, and choose Run as administrator. At the prompt, type the following string: Enable-WindowsOptionalFeature -Online -FeatureName “Containers-DisposableClientVM” -All. Reboot your PC if prompted and sign back in.
Open Windows Sandbox
The Sandbox is now ready for your command. To open it in Windows 10, click the Start button, scroll down the Apps list, and click the shortcut for Windows Sandbox. In Windows 11, go to the All Apps list from the Start menu, scroll down the list, and select the Windows Sandbox shortcut.
If you plan to use the Sandbox on a regular basis, right-click its shortcut from the All Apps list in Windows 10 or 11 and select Pin to Start to add it to the Start menu. Move to the More option and select Pin to Taskbar to add it to the Taskbar.
The Windows Sandbox opens in its own window with a clean, pristine Windows 10 or 11 environment. Only the built-in Windows features and apps are installed, such as File Explorer, Control Panel, Notepad, and Microsoft Edge.
Install Programs in Sandbox
If you’d like to try out a particular software program, your next step is to make that program available in the Sandbox. You can do this a couple of ways. If you haven’t yet downloaded the program and it’s accessible online, open Microsoft Edge in the Sandbox and download the program from the web. But that’s not your only option.
Though it runs in an isolated mode, the Sandbox can interact with the rest of Windows in certain ways. As one example, you can copy and paste files back and forth between the Sandbox and your regular Windows environment. If you’ve already downloaded the application you wish to install, copy it from your host Windows system and paste it into File Manager in the Sandbox. Install the file as you normally would in Windows. Launch it and you can now use it fully.
You can resize the Sandbox window just as you can any other window. Maximize it to take up the full screen. Restart or shut down the Sandbox session via the Windows Start button and shut it down by clicking the X in the upper-right corner. Just note that if you restart or shut down the Sandbox, you lose any apps you’ve installed and changes you made. But that’s the whole idea.
When you finish testing or using an application or other item, you close the Sandbox window as you would any window, and everything you did goes kaput. The next time you rev up the Sandbox again, it will present you with a new, clean, and pristine virtual session for you to use.
Remove the Sandbox
If you decide you no longer want to use the Sandbox in Windows 11, you can remove it a couple of different ways. Return to the Windows Features window in your host environment, uncheck the one for Windows Sandbox, and then reboot. Alternatively, open Windows Terminal or PowerShell as an administrator and enter this string: Disable-WindowsOptionalFeature -FeatureName “Containers-DisposableClientVM” -Online.
Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com.