Hardware

DIY: Portable apps on a stick

Jack Wallen recommends using the free PortableApps tool to manage a USB drive that has your go-to applications.

My latest "it's almost too cool to be real" discovery is PortableApps. This free tool allows you to install various applications that can all be run from a USB drive thanks to an incredibly handy menu system. This means no more hunting around the directory structure of your disk drive to find that .exe file — your flash drive has become a sort of portable OS with some handy applications ready to serve.

PortableApps can also install numerous applications from the included app manager. If an application isn't included in the manager, you can install other portable apps onto the system. These are some of the applications that can be installed from the app manager (go to the PortableApps site to see a complete list):

  • Firefox
  • Database Browser
  • gVim
  • Notepad++
  • NSIS Portable
  • Nvu
  • XAMPP
  • Blender Portable
  • The GIMP Portable
  • Inkscape Portable
  • FileZille
  • Juice
  • Pidgin
  • PuTTY
  • Skype
  • WinWGet
  • OpenOffice
  • GnuCash
  • ClamWin
  • Eraser
  • Spybot Search and Destroy

Installing PortableApps

  1. Download the installer file.
  2. Insert an empty USB flash drive to be used.
  3. Double click the .exe file.
  4. Select the inserted USB drive as the installation location.

When the installation is complete, go back to the top directory of the flash drive, and you'll see an executable called Start.exe — that's how you fire up the PortableApps menu.

Installing apps

In order to install applications, start the PortableApps menu and then click the Manage Apps entry in the menu (Figure A). Figure A

This is the menu that appears when the Start.exe is double-clicked.
From the Portable App Directory window (Figure B), select the check boxes associated with the applications you want to install and click Next. Figure B

From this window, select as many applications as you want to install and click Next to walk through the simple wizard.

The installation of the application will continue. Depending upon the installation, a EULA might be required. And, depending on the size of the app being installed, the installation might take quite awhile, so I probably wouldn't install numerous applications at once. I ran a test to see how long it would take to install seven applications (one of which was OpenOffice portable), and that installation took almost 45 minutes.

Installing third-party portable apps

If you have another portable app that you'd like to include with PortableApps, the "installation" only requires you to follow these steps:

  1. Open Explorer.
  2. Navigate to the PortableApps folder.
  3. Create a new directory within PortableApps.
  4. Copy all of your Application files into the newly created directory.

Your new portable application should show up in the PortableApps Menu.

Using applications from PortableApps

It's simple to use an application from PortableApps; however, apps you run from PortableApps will run a tad slower than if they were installed directly on the machine.

To open an application, follow these steps:

  1. Open Explorer.
  2. Navigate to the directory of the USB drive.
  3. Double-click the Start.exe file.
  4. Select the app you want to run from the menu.

It may seem like nothing is happening at first, but remember that these applications are running from the slower USB device, so depending on the application, it may take awhile to start.

Conclusion

I find that having my go-to applications on a USB drive helps me save time and avoid frustration. PortableApps is one of the best ways to manage that USB drive full of applications.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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