As a professional, you probably find yourself moving from office to meetings, to a colluges desk a lot. The same could be said for a home user, moving from your laptop, to the kids computer, and your desktop.  When you do, you also probably find yourself wishing you had your standard set of apps, tools, and documents at your fingertips.

One cool way to meet those needs is to start with a launcher platform like the one provided by PortableApps.com.  On its site, you will find the free and open-source Portable­Apps.com Platform as well as a number of portable apps that can run solely off of a USB flash drive, memory card, portable hard drive, or digital music player.

Applications On the GO

There is also a PortableApps.com Suite. This handy download includes a bundle of the available portable applications along with the base platform, all in one installer. There are two versions of the suite. Suite Light includes Mozilla Firefox, Thunderbird, and Sunbird along with ClamWin antivirus, Pidgin for instant messaging, the Sumatra PDF reader, the KeePass password manager, the AbiWord word processor, an audio player, and some simple games. Suite Standard includes all those applications, as well as the OpenOffice.org office suite, which contains Writer, Calc, Impress, Base, and DrawIn addition, there are a number of other open-source applications that have been made “portable” on the site, including FileZilla for FTP, PuTTY for telnet and SSH, WinSCP for SFTP and SCP, PNotes and Task Coach for quick lists, 7-Zip for archiving, a command prompt, Eraser for wiping files, InfraRecorder for CD/DVD burning, WinDirStat for visualizing a disk’s content, winMd5Sum for verifying files, and WinMerge for file and directory diffs. (Frequent readers of my Toolbox column might notice that I have covered a number of these apps in previous installments.)

Where to get support?

There is also a very active user community, which is working on portable versions of such network utilities as WinPCap and Wireshark. (These two tools can really help with your administrative and troubleshooting tasks.) The forums even provide a place specifically for suggesting applications to make portable.
These applications are self-contained on the storage device you use. If they write tothe registry or require any “off-disk” access, they should return everything to its pre-run state on exit. And you can run the apps without the PortableApps.com Platform—they are available wrapped in their own installers for doing just that. But, that aside, you will most likely want the features of the Platform anyway, and the Suite is a great place to start a customized environment that you can carry with you.

Ease of use

The PortableApps.com Platform is set up for autorun. Thus, when you insert your USB flash or portable drive into the Windows host machine, you will get the option to run the platform application. Once you launch the platform, a system tray icon appears. Clicking this icon pops up a menu that resembles the Windows Start menu. This application launcher provides quick links to all your portable applications along with links to document folders on your portable drive, an indicator of how much space is left on your drive, a backup utility for the documents on the drive, a search tool, and a link for installing new portable applications. You can customize this interface and choose one of more than 30 interface languages.

How much does it cost?

The PortableApps.com Suite and Platform is free. It contains no spyware. There are no advertisements. It isn’t a limited or trial version. There is no additional hardware or software to buy. You don’t even have to give out your email address. It’s 100% free to use, free to copy and free to share.

License: Free / Open Source (Mozilla apps: MPL, Others: GPL)

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