Technology is at its best when it makes your life easier, and that’s just what you’ll get from portable apps.
Portable apps are programs and software that run directly from any storage device – including a USB thumb drive – so you don’t need to install them on the computer you’re using. All of the programs’ settings are also stored on that device, so when you unplug it, none of your personal data or settings are left behind.
There are tons of these take-'em-anywhere programs to choose from: everything from web browsers through to entire office suites.
It's easy and quick to build a library of programs to carry with you, wherever you go. Want to use your own web browser, with all of your bookmarks and settings, while you’re at an internet café? No problem. Need to do some image editing at a friend’s house, without installing software on their PC? Simple.
You can house your portable apps collection on any kind of writeable storage, such as a memory card, smartphone or a portable hard drive. But USB memory sticks are a particularly good option for this task as they have stuff-it-in-your-pocket portability and you can get one with 16GB of memory for less than £20 from the likes of PC World.
These days, you can get a lot of USB stick storage space for a little cash.
Loading up a USB stick with all of your favourite programs gives you a brilliant companion for computing on the move. Installing software on a borrowed computer is, at best, time-consuming and impractical. By carrying a USB stick crammed with portable apps, you’ve got instant access to the programs you need, when you need them.
As an added bonus, those programs are safe from any problems that might befall your main computer system. If your computer’s hard drive gives up the ghost, you’ve still got all your favourite software and settings ready to use on your USB stick.
Where can you find them?
Your first stop when hunting for portable apps should be the excellent PortableApps.com website. This site makes it simple to fill a USB drive with portable programs thanks to its free installer, the PortableApps.com Platform.
Once you’ve downloaded the installer and chosen to install PortableApps on your USB stick, you’re presented with a huge list of available apps.
Once the PortableApps Platform is installed, adding new programs is as simple as ticking the right boxes.
Tick each one you want to download, keeping in mind the space available on your storage device. Each program is accompanied by a brief description, but if you need any more information, you’ll find full descriptions of each one on the main website. Many programs are simply portable versions of well-known free apps, so you may recognise some.
Once you’ve selected the apps you want, hit Next and they’ll be installed onto your USB stick. Bear in mind that the installation process might take a little while (especially if you got a bit carried away and selected stacks of apps!). But once it’s finished, you’re all set.
Now, when you plug your USB drive into a computer, it will appear as a separate drive called PortableApps.com. Open it and double-click Start to view the Portable Apps Launcher, which pops up on the right-hand side of the screen, above the Notification area of the Taskbar . It looks a lot like the traditional Windows Start menu. Here, you simply click on any of the programs to run them. If you want to download more apps, just click on the Apps option in the Launcher and then on Get More Apps to return to the app selection window.
PortableApps.com will look automatically for updates to your apps each time it’s launched.
This is a really quick and easy way to get started with your portable apps. You’ll want to discover your own, but some of our favourites are LibreOffice Portable, GIMP portable and Scribus Portable. Download those three and you’ve got an office suite, an image-editing package and a desktop publishing program – all stored on a USB drive. Save a selection of files to that drive as well and you can work on the move from any computer.
Where else can you get apps?
PortableApps.com is ideal for downloading this kind of software, but it’s not the only option. Not every portable application ends up on there – if you have a program you use often, it’s worth going to that program’s website to see if there’s a portable build available.
A good place to go hunting for more portable apps is DownloadCrew.com, while SnapFiles also has a list of its favourite 100 apps. Finally, Apps To Go rounds up some of the most useful, along with links to other portable apps sites.
GIMP is a powerful image-editing program that you can run as a portable app. Load some pictures onto your USB stick as well and you can edit on the move.
If you find an app this way, you can often still use the Portable Apps Launcher to install it. Open the Launcher, then click Apps > Install a New App and select the app you have downloaded.
If that process doesn’t work, you’ll need to install the app manually. Find the file and double-click it to begin the installation process. Look out for a tick box that confirms you want to install the program as a portable app. Then choose the ‘Portable Apps’ folder on your USB drive as the destination folder.