It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of portability. I love to be able to get to every file of mine from anywhere and edit it. Recently I heard about PortableApps, a suite which runs programs directly off of a USB drive with no need for local installation.
The first thing I noticed was that the install took forever (somewhere around a half hour.) This may have been because I decided to install the full edition instead of two smaller ones. The full edition includes all the base programs plus a portable edition of OpenOffice. The “lite” edition replaces OpenOffice with the AbiWord word processor, and the “base” edition only includes the suite and you can install whatever programs you want manually.
The first programs I tried were the OpenOffice Writer and Calc. These programs take a while to open installed on my machine, and from my USB drive they took even longer. Writer took no less than thirty seconds to open up on any of the four computers that I tried. Because of this I would recommend only installing the lite edition as AbiWord consistently started in less than five seconds. There was nothing specifically wrong with the OpenOffice programs themselves; after I opened them they generally ran normally. I just felt that they took so long to open, it effectively destroyed the purpose of being a portable program, since I am usually trying to access a file quickly if I am on the go. AbiWord itself works well, it has all the features of a standard word processor like tables and formatting options. It also can open both Microsoft Word and OpenOffice Writer files, which helped as I didn’t have to open different programs to view or edit files in different formats.
There are a lot of other programs, 40+ in total. One of the others that caught my attention was Notepad++, a source code editing program with syntax highlighting. I used this program for a couple of school projects already and it was great to have on my USB when every computer I was on didn’t have an IDE (Integrated Development Environment,) and it was better than just using regular Notepad or a word processor. Another program I used a lot was Pidgin, an instant messaging client which I used for both AIM and Google Talk, but it also supports MSN, Yahoo, IRC, and oddly enough MySpaceIM. This ran pretty smoothly and it was nice to be able to run this rather than log into Gmail or AIM Express through the computer’s browser. Miranda IM, a similar program supporting multiple protocols, is also available.
Some of the other programs that caught my eye were GIMP, an image editor similar to MS Paint, FileZilla, an FTP program, and 7-Zip, a file archiver and compressor. One program I was surprised to see was Audacity, a popular audio editor and recorder. This program is great for simple recording needs and supports multi-track mixing and digital effects, as well as importing and exporting multiple file formats (WAV, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, etc.) There are also a couple of games available like Sodoku (which I have to admit I still can’t get into,) Minesweeper and Texas Hold ‘Em.
The suite also comes with a backup utility, which creates an archive file (zip by default.) It can back up either all the data on your drive, just the application data, or just your file information stored in the documents folder of PortableApps. There is also a more advanced backup program available called Toucan, which supports synchronizing two directories and incremental backups. While these features were useful it would have been nice to be able to schedule backups or use different formats besides zip and 7 zip. Installing and removing programs from the suite is pretty simple, once you download the install file you just select the install option in the suite, and then navigate to the install file and it moves the files to the USB drive.
With a review like this it may just seem like I am reviewing the individual programs instead of the suite itself, but I felt it was important to point out the functionality of the programs as it would be a waste of everyone’s time if there were a great portable suite but no quality programs to run on it. Overall, PortableApps definitely lived up to it’s slogan, “Your Digital Life, Anywhere,” and despite the small issues I had with it, it can prove useful if you are working at a computer that doesn’t have a certain type of program installed. PortableApps covers the bases when it comes to program versatility, and considering it’s free you would be doing yourself a favor to at least check it out.
You can download PortableApps for free at portableapps.com.