Printer Friendly

Getting started with portable apps: it's still possible to keep your applications on removable media.

MANY OF THE APPLICATIONS AVAILABLE FOR MICROSOFT WINDOWS, particularly the larger applications, such as office suites, are tightly locked to the specific machine on which they were installed. The reason for this is that much of their configuration information is stored in the Windows system registry. While you can install an application to an external drive, such as a USB drive, if you move this drive to another system, this registry information will be missing and the application is likely to crash. This is not universal; you can still find applications that avoid using the registry that can be moved Between machines simply by copying their executable files over, but they are becoming harder to find.

In reaction to this, groups have sprung up with the specific objective of creating portable applications. As this frequently requires the modification of application code, this is most often done with open-source applications. A Web site particularly active in this is, created by John T. Haller. He is the developer behind a number of portable applications, including Portable Firefox and Portable The goal of the Web site is to provide a centralized repository for multiple portable application development efforts.

What is a portable app?

While it might seem intuitively obvious, perhaps it's best to first look at what they mean by a portable app. They have only two requirements:

1. that it requires no special hardware to move from one machine to another

2. that no additional software is required to run the application under Microsoft Windows.

This basically reduces to downloading the application to any mobile storage device, be it a USB drive, a portable hard drive or even an MP3 player, such as an iPod. There are, of course, trade-offs with this approach. For example, the non-volatile memory used in USB drives and many MP3 players has a limited life in terms of the number of times you can alter the value of a memory location. This means that, eventually, the device will 'wear out' However, with the number of rewrites over a million and the cost of 1 GByte devices frequently falling below $10, at least on rebate, this is not a serious tradeoff.

The variety of applications that have been customized to meet the portable app requirement covers the majority of business applications and a number of recreational ones. For example, office applications include Portable, on which I am currently writing this column, Sumatra PDF Portable and the Mozilla suite of portable products. The latter indudes Mozilla FireFox, Thunderbird and Sunbird, their Web browser, e-mail client and calendar system respectively. Other tools include instant messaging clients like Gaim Portable and Miranda Portable and games such as Sudoku Portable. Essential tools such as the ClamWin Portable anti-virus scanner and 7-Zip Portable file compression tool also are available. For those interested in audio and video, there is also Audacity Portable and VLC Media Player Portable.

Getting started

The easiest way to get started is to download and install one of the PortableApps Suites. There are three versions available: Standard (89.5 MB); Lite (30.4 MB); and Base (<1 MB). The Base version contains just the essential components, such as the menu system and backup tools. The primary difference between the Standard and Lite versions is that Standard includes the office suite, where the Lite version substitutes the AbiWord Portable word processor, which allows the suite to easily run from a 256 MB USB drive. Additional applications are easily downloaded and installed using the Options menu option on the menu.

A caveat to remember is that, if you are attempting to run on a pre-Windows XP system, you first have to run their 1.0 to 1.0.1 Patch to fix a bug in the PortableApps Menu, which prevents it from opening. Once that patch is run, you are good to go. To exit your session and remove your media device, remember to first shut down the PortableApps Menu from the task bar. If you are using a pre-XP system, be sure to shut down your drive using the Unplug or Eject Hardware applet as well. While some of the applications may have specific system requirements, the Platform is designed to function on all versions of Microsoft Windows, from 95 through Vista. It can even be run under Linux/Unix using Wine.
* Portable Application Resources

O'Reilly and Associates

This is also an excellent tool for assuaging any anxiety you might feel for using open source tools. All of the applications that I've tried in the package have a very professional look and feel to them. In many cases, you'll find them clearly superior to commercial products for the same target market. The ability to keep your applications and assorted data files on removable media would be of benefit to anyone, but should have particular appeal to the road warriors out there.

Finding help

In tune with their professional polish, all of these applications come with extensive help files. This is particularly true with the applications. However, for anyone who has previously used word processors, whether it be Microsoft Word, Corel WordPerfect or another, using the basic functionality should be very intuitive. Full manuals for the various OpenOffice components can be downloaded from the Web site. Hardcopy versions can be ordered from the LuLu Web site. For those desiring more help with OpenOffice, Jean Hollis Weber's book Writer [O'Reilly and Associates, July 2004, ISBN: 0-596-00826-0, 234 pp] has an excellent reputation. While it targets version one of this product, much of its contents is also applicable to the version two of OpenOffice packaged in PortableApps.


An additional item to take into account is file security. With the small physical size of USB drives these days, it can be very easy to lose a drive or accidentally leave it in a borrowed machine. Fortunately, most USB drives include software for encrypting the drive's memory. For those that don't, you can easily find a number of programs to do the same job floating on the Internet. While you can encrypt the whole drive, including the PortableApps applications, this will tend to slow the operation of the applications. In many cases, it may only be necessary to encrypt your document folders. This is an area where you will need to evaluate your needs and determine which tradeoffs make sense for you. Carefully considering this decision can help remove any remaining concerns you may have regarding the use of portable apps. SC

John Joyce is the LIMS manager for Virginia's State Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services. He may be contacted at
COPYRIGHT 2007 Advantage Business Media
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Joyce, John
Publication:Scientific Computing
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2007
Previous Article:Soothsayer: how to sense impending doom like a pro.
Next Article:Silver: ACD/ChemSketch.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters