What are the advantages of portable applications
What is a "portable" app and why is it important?
Wearable applications offer some definite advantages over their traditional counterparts. They are lightweight and allow you to switch between computers while taking your apps and settings with you. Here's why they're different, and why sometimes - but not always - they're good choices.
How are regular apps installed?
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To understand what makes an app portable, it can be helpful to take a quick look at installing traditional apps in Windows. When you install an app on Windows, the installation files are placed in different locations. The majority of the app files are usually copied to a single folder in the C: Programs folder. Files that contain settings that apply to all users of the app may be created in the ProgramData folder.
Settings that are specific to different usersAccounts on the PC are stored in files created in the hidden AppData folder in each account user folder. Most apps create entries in the Windows registry that may also contain various configuration settings. Many apps use shared code libraries that are installed with the .NET Framework and Visual C ++ Redistributables, among others.
This separation has distinct advantages of functions. Multiple apps can share information in registry entries or shared code libraries to avoid unnecessary duplication. By storing user-specific settings in one place and system-wide settings in another, apps can make better use of many different Windows functions that were designed for a multi-user system. For starters, every user can rely on their own settings being loaded when they start the app just because they are logged in with their own Windows account. Functions such as file and share permissions are based on this structure. If you save all program settings in specified areas, the security of your system will be increased.
What is a wearable app and why should I use one?
A portable app is simply an app that no installer uses. All of the files needed to run the app are in a single folder that you can place anywhere on the system. If you move the folder, the app will still work. Instead of installing a portable app, you usually download it as a zip file, extract that zip file to a folder, and run the executable for the app. If the app allows you to save settings, those settings will be saved to files in the same folder.
The main benefit of using portable devicesApps go without saying - they're portable. For example, if you put them on a USB drive, you can move them from computer to computer. They don't leave any traces on the PCs you run them on. Everything, including the settings you have saved, is saved directly to the portable app's folder on the USB drive. It's very similar to the days of MS-DOS and Windows 3.1.
Portable apps can be helpful even if you don't move between computers. For one, they take up less space on your PC. They're usually lighter than most installable apps because they don't need to be installed. You can sync them (along with their settings) with your other PCs using Dropbox. Or you can use an app just once without worrying about Cruft staying on your system.
Sure, there will always be apps that you need to install. Either they're just too big or too sophisticated to run as a portable app, or they need to take advantage of the multi-user or security features of Windows. However, many apps come in both flavors, so you can choose between an installer and a zip file when downloading.
CONNECTED:Understanding User Account Control in Windows 7
Of course, there are some drawbacks to using wearable apps. Windows User Account Control (UAC) does not work for portable apps as it does for installed apps, so they tend not to be subject to administrative processes. You can think of this as both an upward and a downward pillar. The upside is that you can likely run a portable app even if you're on a network - at work, for example - that you can't install a regular app on. The downside is that the IT department and the security protocols they put in place may be less effective.
Another disadvantage of portable apps is that they are usually not designed for multiple users. This is probably not a big deal as you will likely be creating a portable drive that you can just take with you for yourself. However, if multiple users need to use an app, they either all need to use the same settings, or you need to have multiple copies of the apps folder on your portable drive.
CONNECTED:Do you really need to safely remove USB sticks?
Lastly, if you're running portable apps from a USB drive, extra care should be taken to properly eject the drive instead of just pulling it out. Otherwise, you may damage the apps or not save settings properly. This problem occurs even on PCs that are not good at handling USB drives when they go into sleep or hibernation. This is less of a problem on modern PCs than it has been in the past, but there are still PCs out there that are not good at handling sleep.
However, the advantages of portable apps tend to outweigh the disadvantages - especially if you are often on different PCs.
What types of portable apps are available?
CONNECTED:The Best Free Portable Apps for Your Flash Drive Toolkit
When you think of portable apps as mostly system people who provide technical support for utility companies, you might be surprised to find that there are all kinds of portable apps out there. You can check out some of them in our guide to the Best Free Portable Apps for Your Flash Drive Toolkit. Of course you will find system utilities here, but also apps for almost all of your requirements - productivity, communication, graphics and image viewing and much more.
In addition to all of these standalone apps, you can also download application suites that you can install on a USB drive. These suites usually offer a start menu for accessing the apps and some also coordinate the app settings for you. Many of these suites have hundreds of free portable apps to choose from, which you can use to essentially create a complete, portable workspace. PortableApps, CodySafe, and LiberKey are some of the most popular suites.
Well worth taking the time to take a look at the various portable suites if you're interested. In some cases, portable apps are only available through such a software suite. For example, PortableApps.com provides access to hundreds of portable apps that you can download and install on your PortableApps hard drive. Many of these apps can only be installed in the PortableApps suite and do not have a portable version that you can use without the suite. The advantage of PortableApps is that you can choose exactly which apps you want to include. In other suites, all portable apps are included in the main download. However, each suite may have specific tools that you won't find for other suites. So before you decide, take a look at which apps are available for each suite.
When recommending third-party utilities in many of our articles, we often choose portable apps instead of installable ones.
Can I make regular installable apps portable?
CONNECTED:Transform Install Only Applications into portable applications
It's often possible to make a regular app portable, but it can be a bit tricky and usually takes a bit of work. If the app is a very simple app - for example, a utility that obviously doesn't need to be an installable app - these instructions can sometimes extract these files from the installer and turn them into a portable app . This is by no means a method that is guaranteed to work, but it may be worth trying out.
CONNECTED:Use Portable VirtualBox to take virtual machines with you wherever you go
Another option for creating an installable app portable is to virtualize the app. This usually requires a fair bit more setup. Essentially, however, you need to create a portable virtual machine that can run the required operating system and app (s), and then load that virtual machine onto any portable media. Portable VirtualBox is the most widely used tool, and we have an excellent guide on how to use it to take virtual machines with you wherever you go. VirtualBox itself is a free offering for Oracle virtual machines that can run on almost any desktop operating system. Portable VirtualBox is a wrapper for VirtualBox that makes it a portable application that you can install on a USB stick or external hard drive.
CONNECTED:What is a "portable" app and why is it important?
Cameyo is another interesting virtualization option. Instead of running an entire virtual machine from your portable drive, you create a virtual machine on your desktop system. Then use Cameyo to record the installation of an app on this virtual machine. Cameyo then creates a single executable file that you can drag onto your portable drive and run anywhere you want. Cameyo is also free for home users or small businesses. If you're interested, we also have a guide on using Cameyo to create portable apps.
Whichever method you choose, it's worth it to discover what portable apps have to offer. There's nothing like the feeling of freedom and flexibility knowing that with the USB drive tied to your keychain, you can carry out all of the critical aspects of your computing life.
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