FLOSS Friday: Portable Apps
As mentioned in my previous entry, I wanted to share with you all the joys of portable apps. As you’re no doubt aware, downloading or buying new software involves some level of installation, whether it’s running an EXE in Microsoft Windows, mounting a DMG in MacOS X, or using apt-get, Yum, or the like in Linux. Files and tidbits can be scattered about the file system, sometimes leaving crumbs behind even when doing a complete uninstall. Even worse than the install/uninstall hassle, sometimes you’re using somebody else’s computer, or perhaps a computer in a business center where you cannot install your own software and it’s not running your personal favorite tools. Enter portable apps.
The basic definition of a portable app is one that can be run from a machine’s hard drive, a portable hard drive, or USB stick without requiring any installation at the operating system level. Especially if you use a USB stick, you can have an entire computing environment of all your favorite tools ready to run.
The best place, if you’re a Windows user, to find out about portable apps is PortableApps.com. There is a huge and ever-growing collection of applications just waiting to be tried out. The process for their tools is that you get the EXE, run the EXE, specify where you want the resulting files to be saved, and then you’re all set. There are no registry changes, there are no services that get installed, and there’s no annoying “let’s call back to the mothership and let you know about an upgrade” programs installed. If you don’t want to use the app, just delete the folder that’s created. Gone and gone. Even better is to get the PortableApps.com Suite, which is an application manager/launcher program specifically for PortableApps.com apps. The menu lets you install other apps from within it, as well as give you direct access to documents that you might have stored on your portable device. Note that although you can run from a USB stick, you don’t have to.
OK, OK, I hear all the Mac people saying, “But what about us?”. Well, have no fear. The Mac community has developed their own Mac OS X versions of portable apps. Check out the FreeSMUG Portable Applications page or the Windows and Mac list of portable apps from MakeUseOf.com.
For the Linux folks out there, the offerings are as rich, but of a slightly different variety. Generally, portable Linux applications are entire Linux distributions that you can boot from CD or USB stick. I did find one article called Linux for Travelers where someone shows how to run a small Linux distribution from within Windows or Mac OS X. Since live CDs / live USBs are their own topic, I’ll be saving details on them for another posting.