How to use Windows 11 Sandbox as a virtual machine


Lance Whitney / Snapshot

I often install and test different apps and features in Windows as part of my job. And most of the time, I don’t necessarily want these new or unknown applications and features to affect the main Windows work environment. The trick then is to keep any changes I make isolated from the primary operating system.

I rely on many Windows virtual machines running in applications such as VMWare Workstation and Oracle VM VirtualBox. But sometimes I just want a fast, temporary virtual machine to do something relatively quick and simple. In addition, getting Windows 11 to act as a virtual machine in a third-party application can be difficult due to its onerous requirements. This is where Windows Sandbox comes in.

Available in Pro and Enterprise flavors of Windows 10 and 11, Sandbox is a lightweight, temporary virtual machine with the same version of Windows installed on the host PC, meaning 10 or 11. You can install apps, set up different features, and run processes without worrying about your activities conflicting with your core Windows environment.

Simply open Sandbox, do what you want to do, and then turn it off. All your changes are gone in the Sandbox. The next time you open it, Sandbox appears as a fresh installation of Windows. At the moment, restarting Windows in the Sandbox is not supported, so restarting is the same as shutting down, which means that any changes you made are gone. However, Microsoft says that Windows 11 Build 22509 will support reboots in the Sandbox to allow for changes. This will definitely come in handy if you need to install an app or run another task that requires a restart.

Let’s see how Sandbox works in Windows 11.

First, make sure that the virtualization features of your computer are enabled. Boot into BIOS, find a setting for virtualization and make sure its switch is on.

Next, you will need to install Sandbox. You can do this in several different ways.

After booting into Windows 11, open the Control Panel and select the Programs and Features applet; On the next screen, tap an option Turn Windows features on or off. In the Windows Features window, scroll down the list and check the list for Windows Sandbox, click OK, and restart.

Alternatively, you can easily access the Windows Features window by clicking on the search icon and typing Optional features. In the Windows Features window, check the box for Windows Sandbox, click OK, and restart.

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All you need to know

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Another way to enable Sandbox is through PowerShell command. Open the Windows Terminal app as an administrator. At the command prompt, type this string: Enable-WindowsOptionalFeature -Online -FeatureName “Containers-DisposableClientVM” -All or this series: Disassemble/Online/Disable Feature/Feature Name: “Containers – DisposableClientVM” – All. Restart the computer if prompted to do so.

Sign back in to Windows. Open the Start Menu and go to All Apps. Scroll down to the W section to find the Windows Sandbox shortcut. Before you actually open Sandbox, add its shortcut to your Start menu and taskbar so you can access it more quickly in the future. Right-click and select Pin to Start Screen. Right-click again, go to More option and select Pin to taskbar.

If the Windows Sandbox shortcut does not appear in the Start Menu or All Apps list, you will get the executable file directly. Open File Explorer to Windows \ System 32 path. Scroll down until you see WindowsSandbox.exe file. You can then create a shortcut from the file and place it in a convenient location, such as your desktop.

Click the shortcut, and the Windows 11 environment will appear in the Sandbox but only with built-in apps and features. Click the Start button to see installed applications and then enter All Applications to see all installed Windows applications (shape 1).

Figure 1-windows-11-sandbox-virtual-machine.jpg

shape 1

Lance Whitney / Snapshot

Open an app like Microsoft Edge. You have full internet access through the host machine connection, so you can download and install the app you want to test in the Sandbox (Figure 2).

Figure 2-windows-11-sandbox-virtual-machine.jpg

Figure 2

Lance Whitney / Snapshot

After testing the app, you may then want to start over with another task. Just exit the Sandbox where you normally close Windows 11 or simply close its window, and any apps you’ve installed or changes you’ve made disappear.

Open Sandbox again. Now the program file you wish to install may already be on your host machine. No problem. You can copy and paste any folder or file from your host into Sandbox. Open File Explorer in both Host and Sandbox. Then select and copy the file you want to play or open and paste it into a folder in Sandbox (Figure 3).

Figure 3-windows-11-sandbox-virtual-machine.jpg

Figure 3

Lance Whitney / Snapshot

If you decide that you no longer want to use Sandbox in Windows 11, you can remove it in several different ways. Go back to the Windows Features window in the host environment, uncheck the window for Windows Sandbox and restart. Alternatively, open Windows Terminal as Administrator and enter this string: Disable-WindowsOptionalFeature -FeatureName “Containers-DisposableClientVM” -Online or this series: Dism/online/Disable-Feature/FeatureName: “Containers-DisposableClientVM” Then restart.

Overall, Windows 11 Sandbox is not as powerful as a full-featured virtual machine software like VMWare Workstation, especially since at the moment, you can’t restart it without losing all the changes. But if you want to test a single app or enable a specific feature in Windows without affecting your core environment, Sandbox provides a quick and easy way to do so.

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