Portable Apps, the Way of the Future?
I remember Microsoft Windows first becoming popular around version 3.1. Back then it was possible to move an application from one installation of Windows to another simply by finding all the application files and copying them. On occasion it was necessary to also find some configuration settings that were in shared files, but this was still relatively easy to do. Then, Microsoft introduced the Registry. What a colossal blunder that was.
The idea behind the registry was to have a centrally located repository for all configuration settings related to the software installed within the Windows environment. In addition, Microsoft thought it would be smart if programs could share resource files (e.g. DLLs or dynamic link libraries) so they architected a system where such files were stored in certain locations and referenced by a myriad of entries in the Registry. The end result of this was a complex web of dependencies between applications that it became impossible to copy a program from one computer to another. It even became next to impossible to just copy your settings from one computer to another. And if something went wrong with your Windows installation, it usually meant you had to start from scratch by re-installing Windows along with all of the applications you wanted. See how silly a mistake Microsoft made?
There is a movement afoot to help remedy this situation though. Through the use of a certain category of software called portable apps, you can eliminate the dependence on the registry and shared files. Although the list of such software is relatively small, there are still quite a few such that I've been able to make the switch for all but the largest suite of applications like Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite. I first heard about portable applications from a co-worker and I blame him for the hours I spent last weekend researching and downloading!
Here are some of the software switches I made over the weekend:
|Old Application||Portable Application|
|Acrobat Reader||Foxit Reader|
|FileZilla (FTP client)||FileZilla Portable|
|FileZilla Server||FileZilla Sever Portable|
|Newsgator (RSS reader)||Greatnews|
|Sonic CD Burner||Deep Burner Portable|
|Trillian (instant message)||GAIM|
|WinAmp||VLC Media Player|
An added advantage of this switch is that I can take these applications on USB drive (2GB for $50) anywhere and use them on work or shared computers without needing any special security privileges to install software. For added security, I've even used TrueCrypt to create a secure volume in which all of this applications reside. This secure volume can be accessed only with a password. So even if I lose the USB drive, I can rest assured that my data is safe.
If you're interested in trying out portable applications, check out the list on Wikipedia. The list isn't complete so I highly recommend you explore some of the external links at the bottom of the article as well.