What are Portable applications? - a FAQ

Portable softwares are the new mantra for the world of software applications (or apps, for short). Here are some commonly asked questions about portable software and their answers

  1. I think I understand what applications are, but "portable" applications?Simply put, a portable application is something you can carry along with you - without having to take your computer with you. This is handy for those of us who work on more than one computers (for example, a home computer and an office computer) and want to have the convenience of having the same applications available wherever we go.
  2. How does a portable application differ from a regular one?
    A regular application needs to be installed on your computer. What this means is that the installation software copies files to certain locations on your hard-drive, makes changes to your system registry (for instance, to add a uninstall shortcut in your add/remove control panel program) and creates shortcuts in your start menu and optionally on your desktop.

    A portable application doesnt do all of this. It comes as a ZIP file or a single executable.
  3. So how do I install a portable software?
    Actually you dont, you basically unzip it and find the main executable (usually easy to spot and will usually correspond with the application name. Eg. Teracopy.exe). all you need to do is double click it to start using the software.

    Again, No changes are made to the registry, no other files are updated. Usually, the maker of software will have included a shortcut in the zip file. You can copy this shortcut to a place that you can easily find it (Example, the desktop). If there's no shortcut provided you will need to make one.

    But that's about it! Nothing else needs to be done except for you to start using the app :-)
  4. How do you uninstall a portable software?
    That's the simplest part. Find the folder you unzipped it and simply delete the folder. You may also want to remove any shortcuts you made to this app.

    Remember this folder may also contain any settings or preferences that you may have set in the meantime.
  5. So what does one carry these "portable" apps on?
    Typically on a removable storage drive (something that you can easily detach from your computer and attach it to another one). An example could be a USB drive or an external hard drive.

    These days USB drives (also known as ""Thumb" or "Flash" drives. See picture) are available in large storage sizes and can easily carry thousands of files. Their small size makes it easy for them to be easily carried around in your pocket, attached to your key chain or even worn a jewellery!

    I, for instance, carry over a 100 apps in my 4 Gigabyte USB drive and still have ample space left for documents and media files.
  6. I see, but why would I want to use a portable app?
    Everyone has a favorite application - one that you are most comfortable using. Common sense suggests that productive time can be lost finding your way around new softwares or working on ones you just dont like (for whatever reason).

    At times, this app could also be an older version of the software. For example, some people I know are still fond of using the browser Netscape Navigator though it's not available any longer.

    In my opinion, the best part of portable apps is that they not only let you carry a specific version of the the software, but usually also let you carry your settings around.
  7. Hmm, that's interesting tell me more..
    Such apps can also come in handy when your installed application is not working for any reason. Not to mention that, like me, at times you can do away with having to install the application at all. This saves your hard disk space.
  8. Do portable apps *have* to be carried around on a removable drive?
    No, not really. You can simply unzip it in a seperate folder on your disk and start using it.
  9. Can i move this portable app (say to make space on my USB drive)?
    Absolutely! Just move the folder to a new location. Remember to update any shortcuts you may have made to the application.
  10. OK, I'd like to try this. Where can i find some portable applications?
    If you haven't used one before, I would recommend starting with ones on the list of my favourites. Once you get the hang of it, try looking through PortableApp.com. Look in their categorized list of applications to find one that you like and get going!

    These days, several software makers (typically the ones creating open source or free apps) are releasing portable versions of their software. So next time you download your favourite software look around to see if there's one.

    Alternatively, search for it :-)
Related articles: