4 of the Best Sandbox Applications for Windows to Keep You Safe

Bucket With Sand And A Spade On Beach

Even though Microsoft introduced various security enhancements in Windows 11, you still can’t be too careful when downloading mysterious software from the Internet, opening suspicious email attachments, and so on. That’s why you may want to familiarize yourself with sandboxing. A sandbox is a virtual environment where you can install and run new or untrusted apps without letting them harm your system. In this post, we’ve gathered some of the best sandboxing applications you should try.

1. Windows Sandbox

Windows has a built-in Sandbox feature you can activate from Windows Features. If you don’t want to download an additional third-party application, this could be the solution for you.

Windows Sandbox environment view.

Click Start and search for “windows features.” Click Turn Windows features on or off. In the new window, scroll down, check the Windows Sandbox box, click OK, and reboot your PC. Search for “Windows Sandbox” through the Start menu.

Note: if you don’t see the Sandbox option, you may need to go to your motherboard BIOS (normally by pressing the Delete, F2, or F8 keys as your PC is booting), and have a look around to enable hardware virtualization.

When launched, your Sandbox will feature a pristine version of Windows, which also includes the Edge browser and File Explorer, by default. Download the software in the Sandbox, open it, and play around with it while seeing whether it behaves suspiciously in a safe isolated space. If the software checks out, download the software for real!

Tip: check out these Windows emulators that you can access straight from your browser.

2. Sandboxie

Sandboxie is one of the most popular and most used applications to sandbox and isolate programs from the underlying Windows operating system. Two great aspects are that Sandboxie is very lightweight and free. You can install and run almost any Windows software through Sandboxie.

Sandboxie app view running on Windows PC.

Besides installing software inside Sandboxie, you can run any already installed program, like your web browser, via Sandboxie by selecting Sandbox -> Default Box -> Run Sandboxed -> Run Web browser. If you want to run any other application, select Run Any Program.

When you run a program or app in Sandbox mode, you will see a thick yellow border around the window to let you know you are in a sandboxed environment. You might also want to take a look at Sandboxie-Plus, a fork of Sandboxie by a different developer that introduces additional features, such as security-enhanced sandboxes, compartment mode, and virtual disk integration.

3. SHADE Sandbox

SHADE Sandbox is yet another popular, free sandboxing application. Compared to Sandboxie, the user interface of SHADE is much simpler, straightforward, and beginner-friendly.

SHADE Sandbox app view running on Windows PC.

To sandbox an application, just drag and drop it into the SHADE Sandbox window. The next time you launch the application, it will be automatically sandboxed. When in use, the SHADE Sandbox isolates your browsing history, temporary files, cookies, Windows registry, system files, etc., from the operating system.

SHADE stores any downloaded files in the Virtual Downloads folder, which you can access straight from the SHADE interface. If you are looking for a sandbox application with a simpler user interface, then SHADE Sandbox is for you.

Tip: sometimes you just need to shut down your PC’s screen quickly by trying these methods.

4. Virtual Machine

What all the above sandbox apps do is generally known as light virtualization. That is, the apps you are testing are still running on the host operating system, albeit in a limited way.

If you want full virtualization, there is no better way than to create a virtual machine of the operating system of your choice. For example, you can legally download a Windows virtual machine. This can be handy if you want to try Windows 11 without nuking Windows 10.

The two most popular virtual machine software are Virtual Box and VMware. If you find that you can’t decide between the two, check out our Virtual Box vs. VMware comparison to help you choose between the two. It could also be useful to learn how to convert a virtual machine from VMware to Virtualbox and vice versa.

Tip: if you want to clean up your PC, start by uninstalling the programs you no longer use.

Another alternative to safely experiment with different software is to enable Test Mode. This will enable you to install apps from sources that may not be considered safe. Alternatively, try preventing the apps from accessing the Internet.

Image credit: Freepik. All screenshots by Alexandra Arici.

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Alexandra Arici

Alexandra is passionate about mobile tech and can be often found fiddling with a smartphone from some obscure company. She kick-started her career in tech journalism in 2013, after working a few years as a middle-school teacher. Constantly driven by curiosity, Alexandra likes to know how things work and to share that knowledge with everyone.

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