Last week, I saw a friend’s post on FaceBook announcing her switch to Chrome because it can be installed without admin privileges.
I suggested that she used portable apps which doesn’t even require installation. I also provided her with some instructions on how to get Adobe Flash working on portable Firefox and Chrome and she had the fully functional browser that she was looking for.
I’m quite surprised that portable applications remain fairly unknown despite their ease of use and portability. Perhaps it’s because Microsoft have us all trained with the mindset that installation is the only way to get applications working on Windows. That coupled with the fact that default Windows installation is with full admin rights make application installations seem like the natural thing to do.
Portable applications (or portable apps, as they are more commonly known) are applications that have been modified to run separately from the underlying Windows OS and store application settings and data in files rather than in Windows registry. This takes away the reliance on Windows and makes the applications self-sufficient and portable between various Windows machines. PortableApps.com is the goto place to find all apps portable. It has a full online community dedicated to make applications portable.
I started using portable apps more than a year ago when I had problems with Windows on my laptop which was running rather slowly, probably due to the clutter from the installed applications. I searched online for standalone applications that does not require installation and found PortableApps.com.
Now, I carry my apps, such as Firefox (with all my favourite plugins and extensions), gVim, 7-zip and OpenOffice around with me on my portable harddisk and USB flash drive. On my office laptop, I have Firefox, putty, Chrome and Thunderbird running off the harddisk for better performance. Because they are portable versions, I can archive and backup my emails easily by simply copying the data directories. At home, apps like XnView and mplayer are run off my network drive on my home machines for viewing photos and videos.
Another thing I like about portable apps is the ability to maintain multiple versions of a particular app on a single device. Currently, I have 3 versions of FireFox on my flash drive. I normally use Firefox 3 for normal browsing, but I use Firefox 2 occasionally at work to access legacy webpages. And I’m testing out the new Firefox 4 beta, and loving it! It also makes upgrading a breeze, all you need to do is download the new version, click on the .exe, and select your present application folder to unpack and upgrade. All this done with your data intact! Do make sure that the application is not running when you are upgrading though.
The freedom of being able to carry the applications I prefer around and using them on any USB-enabled Windows machine is great. Although being portable does mean that the applications have slightly bigger footprints and might run a bit slower than their Windows-integrated counterparts, I think it’s a fair compromise for the convenience they provide.
- No installation required
- Convenient to use
- Portable on removable media like flash drives and USB harddisks
- Maintain different applications versions in separate directories
- Upgrading is a breeze
- Slightly slower
- Not all applications are portable
- Bigger footprint
- Download Firefox Portable or Chrome Portable
- Extract the browser application to a directory
- Download Flash installer from http://fpdownload.macromedia.com/get/flashplayer/xpi/current/flashplayer-win.xpi
- Use an archival software like 7-zip Portable to open the package
- Copy the files, flashplayer.xpt and NPSWF32.dll,
- For Firefox: into the Data\plugins directory
- For Chrome: into the App\Chrome-bin\Plugins directory (might need to create the Plugins folder)