Large capacity, small-sized, affordable USB flash drives provide us with the ability to easily carry around gigs of data in our pockets. Why not take our favorite programs with us as well so we can work on any computer?
We have collected links to many useful portable programs you can easily install on a USB flash drive and create a portable version of your desktop PC.
Portable Applications Suites and Collections
There are several portable application suites that provide an way to collect a lot of portable programs and easily access them using a menu system. PortableApps.com, Lupo PenSuite, CodySafe, and LiberKey are some of the more popular ones.
Geek.menu is an enhanced menu based on the PortableApps.com menu. It has some additional enhanced features such as TrueCrypt support, categories on the menu, and the ability to customize the menu.
If you need to view and edit Microsoft Office documents on the go, LibreOffice Portable is the way to go. It’s compatible not only with Microsoft Office, but also WordPerfect and other office applications.
There are several options for portable Notepad replacements. Metapad can be run on a PC or from a USB flash drive. Notepad++ is a full-featured source code editor and Notepad replacement with syntax highlighting and syntax folding support and the ability to open multiple documents at once. It supports several languages. FluentNotepad is a Notepad replacement that contains the Ribbon UI.
If you need a minimalist, distraction-free word processor that allows you to just crank out text without all the extra bloated features you don’t need, FocusWriter is a good option. The program automatically saves your progress, and, when you open the program, it reloads the last files you had open, so you can jump right back into your writing. It runs on Windows, Linux, and Mac, and for Windows you can download a portable version from the PortableApps.com site.
TreePad Lite is a free personal information manager for Windows that allows you to store, edit, and search textual data, such as notes, emails, links, phone numbers, addresses, text copied from websites, etc. You enter text into articles that are organized in a hierarchical, tree format. It is easy to use and fully portable.
Image Editors and Viewers
There are several options available for portable programs to view and edit pictures. GIMP Portable has many features. It can act as a simple paint program or an expert quality photo retouching program. You can also use it to convert images among many formats. Learn about what you can do with GIMP Portable in our article about editing images and photos. If you need a vector image editor, Inkscape is an open source vector graphics editor with features similar to programs like Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw.
If all you need to do is view images and not edit them, XnView Portable is an easy-to-use photo viewer, organizer and converter. IrfanView Portable is a compact but fast image viewer for Windows that supports pictures, vector graphics, animated images, movies, icon files, among other types of graphic files. It also allows you to use basic paint tools to edit or enhance pictures and can batch convert pictures.
CamStudio is a free, portable application that allows you to record all screen and audio activity on your computer and save it to a video file or a streaming Flash video. It’s a free alternative to Camtasia by TechSmith.
Web and FTP
There are several options for portable web browsers. Most of the popular browsers are available as portable programs, including Firefox (the settings for which can be backed up using the portable program, MozBackup), Opera, Google Chrome, and even Chromium, which is the open source version of Google Chrome. You can also use Iron Browser, which is based on Chromium and is optimized for privacy and security. If you need to be able to browse the web anonymously, xB Browser is a free portable browser that encrypts your browsing activities so no one can track where you go and what you do online.
If you are creating a website and need FTP software, FileZilla is a good, free, portable option for a standalone FTP program. FileZilla has firewall support, SSL and SFTP support, and an intuitive drag-and-drop interface. FireFTP is a free, secure, cross-platform FTP client for Firefox which provides easy access to FTP/SFTP servers. It can be used portably if you install the add-on into Firefox Portable.
For developing websites, KompoZer is an easy-to-use web editor that is based on the same Gecko engine that powers Firefox and Thunderbird. It is similar to Microsoft Frontpage or Dreamweaver. Some of the many useful features are an FTP site manager, color picker, tabbed interface, CSS editing, and a fully customizable interface.
If you want to test out your website from any machine without having an internet connection, you can turn a USB flash drive into a portable webserver. XAMPP is a lightweight, preconfigured server that includes recent versions of Apache, MySQL, and PHP, allowing you to run most websites and web apps directly from it.
For sending and receiving email on the go, Thunderbird Portable is the best option. It’s the portable version of the popular Mozilla Thunderbird email client. It has support for IMAP/POP and RSS, quick message search, and customizable views.
Pidgin Portable is an instant message client that allows you to stay in touch with your buddies on Google Talk, AOL, Yahoo, MSN, among other networks. Use Skype Portable to make Skype-to-Skype calls, video calls, and send instant messages to your friends and family from any computer.
ImgBurn is a small, portable, but powerful CD/DVD burner that has other useful features. In addition to writing an image file to a disc, you can create an image file from a disc or from a collection of files and folders and write files and folders to a disc. The page containing the download for ImgBurn also provides instructions on how to make the program portable.
The popular VLC Media Player is also available as a portable program, allowing you to carry around and play your favorite audio and video files. It has support for many formats, such as MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, XviD, WMV, mp3, and ogg. You can also use VLC Media Player Portable to play DVDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols.
The easy-to-use audio editor and recorder, Audacity, is also available as a portable program. You can use Audacity to record live audio, edit sound files, and add effects to audio.
If you’re using a computer that does not have a PDF reader installed, you can view PDF files using a couple of different PDF viewers. The very popular Foxit Reader comes in a portable format. It’s very fast, has high security and privacy, and allows you to annotate PDF documents.
For a minimalistic PDF viewer, download Sumatra PDF. It’s a small, free, open source viewer for PDF, DjVu, and comic files that loads very fast.
Security and Privacy
TrueCrypt is a very good, free program for encrypting hard drives and creating encrypted vaults for storing your private data. There is a way to create a portable version of TrueCrypt and take it with you on a USB flash drive. However, you can only use the portable version on a PC if you have administrator rights on that PC. FreeOTFE is another option for a program that allows you to create encrypted storage vaults. There is a portable version of FreeOTFE available that does not require administrator rights to use.
If you need to access private information such as passwords on multiple computers, KeePass provides a good, secure option for storing your private information in a secure database that can be taken with you on a USB flash drive.
LastPass is a great option for securely storing your login information for websites, as well as other personal information. You can also use LastPass to enter your login information on websites automatically. LastPass is portable in the fact that your information is stored online and you can access it from any Windows, Linux, or Mac computer using a web browser extension. Because Firefox, Chrome, and Opera are available as portable programs, you can access your private information almost anywhere. However, what do you do if you don’t have an internet connection? LastPass Pocket allows you to download your LastPass information to a USB flash drive and export into a protected file on that drive. This allows you to access your information without an internet connection.
NOTE: You cannot edit and re-upload information to LastPass using LastPass Pocket. It is mainly to be used for reference.
Steganos LockNote is a small, simple method for securely storing chunks of information in text files. For example, you can use it to store product keys, passwords, and other private information. It is fully portable because it is one .exe file you run and save as a different name. Put the main program on your USB flash drive and you can use it to store any private text on any computer you use.
NOTE: Click the Overview link to download the file.
If you work with your private files on a public computer, you need a way to securely delete any files you copied to that computer temporarily. For several options, see our article about securely deleting files in Windows.
Antivirus & Antispyware
ClamWin is a free, standalone antivirus program for Windows with high detection rates for viruses and spyware. The virus databases are updated on a regular basis. However, you must check for updates manually as the scheduled scans and updates feature is disabled in the portable version.
There are a couple of good portable Antispyware programs you can use to protect your computer. SUPERAntiSpyware provides quick, complete, and custom scanning of many parts of your computer including hard drives, removable drives, memory, and the registry. A portable version is useful, even for your own computer, because many of the worst malware infections block you from installing malware removal software or block it from running if you manage to get it installed. The SUPERAntiSpyware portable scanner is saved under a random filename so that malware infections won’t block the scanner. The free, portable version of SUPERAntiSpyware does not include real-time blocking of threats or automatic updates. You must manually scan your files and check for program and definition updates.
Spybot Search & Destroy detects and removes adware and spyware, dialers, keyloggers, and trojans, as well as fix registry issues and clean usage tracks, which is useful if you share your computer and don’t want other users to see what you’ve been doing. Threats are safely removed by shredding and every problem is backed up.
Your portable flash drive toolkit can include many different system tools as well as other programs.
For compacting and extracting files on the go, there are two free, good tools. 7-Zip is a free, open source file archiver utility for Windows that has a high compression ratio and self-extracting capability for the 7z format and comes with a powerful file manager.
PeaZip is a free file archiver utility that is based on the technology of 7-Zip for handling mainstream archive formats and based on other open source tools (such as FreeARC and UPX) for supporting additional file formats and features such as strong encryption, two factor authentication, encrypted password manager, and secure deletion of files. It is a great all purpose zip utility that is natively portable and cross-platform. Tasks performed in the GUI can be easily saved as batch scripts, allowing you to run automated backups, for example.
For cleaning your Windows PC, CCleaner, from Piriform, is the best tool for the job. It protects your privacy online and makes your computer faster and more secure. It is available in a portable version and is easy to use. It cleans files from web browsers, the Windows system, and includes a registry cleaner for removing unused and old registry entries.
Piriform also makes a good tool for defragging your hard drives, called Defraggler. Use Defraggler to defrag your entire hard drive or individual files. It’s a compact and portable Windows application that supports NTFS and FAT32 file systems. You can schedule Defraggler to run daily, weekly, or monthly. For an option that defrags automatically and quietly in the background, you can use Smart Defrag. It’s always on to continually and constantly keep your computer defragmented. Smart Defrag claims to have the world’s fastest defragmenting engine that’s been designed for modern, large hard drives.
If you are running out of space on your PC or USB flash drive, SpaceSniffer is a portable, freeware program that helps you understand the structure of the folders and files on your disks and where the big folders and files are located. Another tool to help you see what is taking up room on your devices is GetFoldersize. It allows you to see the size of folders and subfolders on your computer’s hard drive or external drives. For each folder, GetFoldersize displays the total file size and the number of files and subfolders in the folder. GetFoldersize is available in a portable version, but the portable version doesn’t support Windows XP without any Service Pack installed and Microsoft Windows 2000.
While using your portable apps on your USB flash drive, you may want to associate file types with the apps on your USB flash drive. If you’re using a computer on which you can’t change the file associations (such as a computer in an internet café or a friend’s computer), you can use a tool, called Portable Extension Warlock (PEW) to create a database of file extensions associated with the portable apps on your USB flash drive. It creates a temporary drop zone on the screen where you can drag and drop files to open them using the associated programs. It’s not the same as double-clicking on a file to open it, but it’s a happy medium between that and having to open the app first and then open the file.
For help with uninstalling programs, there are two good portable options. Revo Uninstaller allows you to use a simplified interface to uninstall programs, even programs causing problems when you try to uninstall them using the Windows Control Panel applet. There are some features that make it easier if you have a lot of software installed. You can reorder the list of programs, list them by icon or detail, like you do for files in Windows Explorer, and even search for programs in the list by name.
ZSoft Uninstaller Portable is another option for uninstalling programs on your computer. It not only replaces the Windows Add/Remove programs feature, but also finds and removes the leftover bits of programs that have been previously uninstalled. ZSoft Uninstaller also allows you to hide entries from the list that you are never going to uninstall (such as drivers), making the list smaller and easier to manage. It also allows you to find and delete temporary files and empty folders.
Note that both Revo Uninstaller Portable and ZSoft Uninstaller Portable require administrative rights to operate.
There are also several options for portable utilities to tweak Windows (Ultimate Windows Tweaker), synchronize, backup, and encrypt your data (Toucan), and create mind maps for brainstorming and organization workflow (Blumind). There is also an easy-to-use alternative to the standard windows file manager, called FreeCommander Portable, with a lot of advanced and helpful features.
If you use the Windows command prompt often, Command Prompt Portable is a simple utility that allows you to have a custom command line setup on any Windows computer.
Portable Linux Software and Distributions
If you want to use Linux but you’re stuck with a Windows computer, you can install a Linux distribution to a USB flash drive so you can run Linux on any PC you come across. Some of the “thumb drive” Linux systems available are Puppy Linux, Damn Small Linux, and Fedora Live USB Creator. Once you set up your portable Linux system, you’ll need some apps for it. PortableLinuxApps is a website that provides portable versions of Linux software that you can install on your thumb drive Linux system.
Create Your Own Portable Programs
In this article, we’ve provided links to a lot of useful programs. However, what if you have a program that is not available in a portable version? There are methods for converting installed software into portable apps, and also some software programs that automate the process for you, such as Cameyo and P-Apps.
Lori Kaufman is a freelance technical writer who likes to write geeky how-to articles to help make people's lives easier through the use of technology. She loves watching and reading mysteries and is an avid Doctor Who fan.
- Published 04/8/12