A portable app is a “lite” version of a software, which can run without being installed on the host computer. It also doesn’t modify the computer’s configuration information. In other words, you can run it, use it, and no-one will ever know you were there.
Apart from offering more flexibility and security when working on public computers, another good use for portable apps is to keep your number of installed apps to an absolute minimum. Installed programs take up space and can cause a computer to run slower, so the less you have installed the better. My personal policy is that I never install something if there is a portable version available. (You can even run a portable version of Windows on a USB stick.)
But which portable apps are the best? There are so many to choose from. What you need is for MakeUseOf to lead the way and show you which ones to look at first. Follow me.
In this article: Audio & Video Players | Audio Editors & Extractors | Video Editors | Image Viewers | Image Editors | Communication | Gaming | Productivity | Text Editors | Notes | Security & Privacy | System Tools | Web & FTP | Miscellaneous
Audio & Video Players
A nice little media player, with different skins, playlists, and the ability to play and rip audio CDs. It supports multiple formats, advanced tagging capabilities, and customizable keyboard shortcuts.
AIMP is a bright looking thing, which supports multi-format files, multiple playlists, audio converting, naming and sorting tags, easy music organization, and it even works as an alarm clock, waking you up to your favorite tunes.
A media player that needs no real introduction. VLC Player is hugely popular due to its ability to “just work”. It handles virtually any file format you care to throw at it. It plays DVDs, streaming video, and music. So really you could just install VLC and forget the rest if you really wanted to.
PotPlayer is a feature-rich media player that plays hundreds of different video and audio formats without any dependency on installed codecs, as well as streaming media and DVD video. Other features include configurable subtitles, audio and subtitles delay adjustment, video equalizer, playlist support, etc.
This media player is notable for the fact that the developer is actively developing a feature where you can have two sets of subtitles on the screen at the same time, side-by-side. This would be invaluable for language learners who can see their native language on the left, and the language they are learning on the right.
Please note however that the website tends to go up and down. However this in no way impacts the quality of the media player, which is excellent.
Media Player Classic is designed to emulate the original Windows Media Player. For those not familiar with the app, it’s similar to VLC Player in that it can play almost any video file around — and it’s open source. But above all else, MPC costs nothing while delivering one of the best viewing experiences around.
Audio Editors & Extractors
If editing audio is your thing baby, then Audacity should be at the top of your toolbox list. It’s the easiest tool available to cut, copy, splice, and mix audio, record live files, change the speed and pitch of a recording, and import/export some obscure file formats. It is also the best tool for making your smartphone ringtones, as well as other uses you may not have thought of.
Quite simply the best, easiest, and fastest CD ripper I have ever found. I have previously written about CDex, the easiest ripping tool. Its ability to rip the discs into MP3 files, along with its metadata (by connecting with a “remote database”). You can add all of the music to new playlists, as well as have the computer shutdown when the ripping has finished. So this is an ideal “start it and go to bed” app.
If CDex doesn’t manage to get you the metadata for your MP3 files, then that is where the tag editor Mp3tag comes in. Simply load the relevant songs into MP3tag, and from there you can fix the title of the song, the singer/band, album name, and album artwork. Save your work and bingo, your MP3 files are fixed.
The need for a multi-protocol IM program may be fading, what with Google Talk merging into Hangouts, and Windows Live Messenger merging into Skype, but there is still a place for Pidgin in your life. The XMPP protocol allows you to link accounts such as Slack and you still have AIM, ICQ, IRC, and Yahoo Messenger, if you are one of the internet oldies.
The grand-daddy of all IM and video calling programs, especially now that Microsoft have got their claws on it. Now Skype is integrated into your television, the XBox and all Windows Live Messenger accounts can be accessed through the Skype interface. Make free calls to other Skype users, pay dirt-cheap charges for calls to landlines and mobiles, and use Skype for sending SMS (credit required).
Google Hangouts has its supporters and detractors, but one of the things holding it back is the lack of a half-decent desktop app. So third-party developers have come in to fill the gap. The best one, in my opinion, is YakYak (yeah I know, terrible name), but the software itself is fantastic.
It works just like any other chat software for the desktop. Start conversations, receive them, get notifications of new chats, and send images. There is also audio and video integration, but that opens up in Google Chrome.
If the color scheme doesn’t suit, you can change it to blue or black. And it is all portable, no installation required. Cool, eh? This might actually make me start using Google Hangouts.
A favorite if you have friends and family who insist on forwarding you chain emails, with the dashes in them. If you want to pass on the chain email nice and clean, then run the text through Email Stripper. Once the text is inside the box, press 2. Strip It! and bingo, the text will appear nice and clean. Pressing 3. Copy puts the clean text on your clipboard, ready for pasting into a new email.
I don’t know why I play chess, I really don’t. I always get slaughtered by the program, within the first 5-10 minutes of play. This is me after a few minutes, and already my Queen is under threat (I’m the white team).
The only brutal part of it is the brutal blood-letting going on when I get it into my head that I am a chess grandmaster.
Now here’s a game that I win more often! This is a game which my wife and I are totally addicted to, and when I opened the game to write this section, I ended up frittering away about 30 minutes of precious writing time, determined to beat my score.
You need to use Universal Extractor to extract the files, and then go from there. It’s all explained on the download page. Now go forth and waste several days mindlessly playing this game. Forget to wash, eat, feed the dog…..
I am not clever enough for Sudoku, but when my brother-in-law heard about this article, he immediately recommended Sudoku, as that’s his brain food. He’s on the “Impossible” level. I’m on the “how the hell do you play this thing?” level.
If you’re clever enough to play this game, then this is a good one for when you are in doctors waiting rooms. Every time I walk into one, someone is playing Sudoku.
IrfanView is superior, in my opinion, for batch-editing of images, which is ideal if you are in my line of work (writing, in case you’re wondering. “Professional stalker” is my hobby). After inserting all the required screenshots, I just have to hit one button and voilà! They are resized or renamed. No sweat!
So why is it under “Image Viewer” and not “Image Editor“? Because it can do both. IrfanView is excellent also as a quick light app for viewing images (either individually or as a slideshow).
A nice simple app which scans your hard drive and presents the images to you for easy viewing. As well as looking at the pictures, you can also view its properties, including the EXIF data.
You can import 400 different file formats and export your photos in one of 50 file formats. Plus slideshows, printing support, and side-by-side comparison.
Who doesn’t know GIMP? The “poor person’s Photoshop”, because GIMP emulates a lot of Photoshop features, except for the fact that you are not paying through the nose for GIMP. Plus, like Photoshop, GIMP has a lot of features with a steep learning curve. I have been using GIMP for years, and I know I have only scratched the surface of it. Maybe I should be making use of MUO’s GIMP tutorials?
As the name of the app indicates, JPEG View is for….viewing JPEG’s? No surprise there then, but you can just as well use this great app for also viewing BMP, PNG, GIF and TIFF images. You can also do some basic editing on those images such as adjusting the contrast, lighting, sharpness, and a few others I don’t fully understand. No, as well as a chess grandmaster, I am not a photographer either. Is it that obvious?
It’s very easy to steal an image from the internet. I’m so beautiful that my picture gets stolen all the time. People seem to think that every image on Google is fair game and free to use. So it is absolutely necessary to claim ownership to your work by adding a watermark to the image, so everyone knows it’s yours.
Watermark Image by TSR Software is the best I have found for this task. Just load your picture in, decide if you want a text or image watermark, and use the easy-to-follow features. Then save your new photo, and then dare anyone to steal it then. Just don’t put it at the edge of the image where screenshot software can chop it off. Stick it in the middle of the image instead.
To get the free portable version, go to the download page link which is listed above, and scroll right down to the very bottom until you see this. That’s what you’re looking for.
At some point, you are going to need to wipe your computer. Whatever the reason, you are going to need the license keys for all of your paid software, and I am willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that you don’t already have them written down. Am I right?
LicenseCrawler is your savior. Before wiping your hard drive, run this nifty little program, and any license numbers stored in the Windows Registry will be shown in a handy text file which can then be saved. Just remember to save it to a USB drive or email it to yourself. Don’t leave it on the drive you are going to wipe, is what I’m saying.
This app has two purposes. What it does is that it disables the keys on your keyboard, for when you are away from the computer. So first, this can be used to stop your children from deleting and ruining that 100-page report to your boss. But secondly, and this is what I use it for, it can be used to clean the keyboard without watching the keys go crazy on your monitor.
Linux is a great alternative system if you are tired of the usual Windows or Mac scene. And we have covered Linux extensively over the years. LinuxLive USB Creator is an app which easily and effortlessly installs any version of Linux onto your USB stick. It falls under the “even your grandma could do it” category.
UNetbootin can take an .ISO image and burn it into a USB stick. That’s useful for when you need an installable medium for holding a Linux distribution. In my opinion, UNetbootin works even better than LinuxLive USB Creator because of its simplicity and ease of use.
Sometimes, when I am in the middle of a project on my computer, I need to make multiple new folders for different files. But it is tiring having to laboriously make each folder, so Text2Folders aims to help by making those folders for you at the click of a button.
You simply type the numbers of the folders you want in a text file. So if you wanted say 5 folders, you would type 1,2,3,4,5 in the text file. Save and close. Then with Text2Folders, navigate to the text file and start it. It will then instantly create 5 folders for you in the same location as the text file.
Obviously, you would have to rename the folders, but hey the folders have been made for you, which has saved some time, right?
Zip files are awesome for collecting and compacting lots of files together. But Zip files get corrupted, just like any other computer file. So how do you try to salvage what you can, when a zip file goes bad? You use Zip2Fix.
With Zip2Fix, it will scan the corrupted (and therefore unopenable) Zip file, and see if there are any files able to be retrieved. If anything can be salvaged, it will extract those files and create a totally separate Zip file with them inside. You can then dump the corrupted Zip file, and see in the other one what has survived.
This is freaking amazing. It has saved my bacon on more than one occasion.
With our digital packrat ways, it is very easy to accumulate stuff on our hard drives. In my photo folder for my dog, I know I have about six copies of every photo, as it’s very easy to whip out the smartphone and keep your finger on the camera button, snapping off picture after picture. So how do you weed out the duplicates and make space on your hard drive? Use Awesome Duplicate Photo Finder!
Just add the photo directories on your hard drive that you want scanned and it will get to work finding the duplicates. Don’t worry, nothing gets deleted without your say-so. When it has finished, it will find similar images, present them to you side-by-side with a probability in percentage terms of how likely it is that the photos are similar. You then decide which one you want to keep and which one gets tossed.
If you have a huge collection of anything, whether it be books, DVDs, belly-button lint, whatever, then you may want to catalog it all so you know what you have. That is where DataCrow comes in. Just choose your category, and add the details. It is a bit on the basic side but that will appeal to some people who are totally into minimalism.
The first thing that this has got going for it is that it can automatically detect downloads starting in both Firefox and Chrome. So there is no need to actually start it in Download Manager. As long as Download Manager is running in the background, it will know when something starts in one of those browsers. It will also monitor the clipboard for any downloads.
Overall, using an app like this often makes downloads faster, plus if the browser was suddenly to crash and close, Download Manager would be able to pick up the download where it left off.
AbiWord Portable is a free word processing program similar to Microsoft Word. It supports numerous file formats such as Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, Open Document (OpenOffice.org), Office Open XML (MS Word 2007), RTF, HTML, Palm and more. It has grammar and spelling checkers as well as other handy features including mail merge capabilities, plus a plugin system allowing you to add features with available add-on plugins.
Notepad++ Portable is a full-featured text editor for coders and developers. It has features such as syntax highlighting, syntax folding, auto-completion, drag-and-drop, macro recording and playback, and much more.
What I like about Jarte is its nice appealing interface and its huge number of keyboard shortcuts. It is based on the Microsoft WordPad word processing engine built into Windows, and all documents are compatible with Microsoft Word. It opens files with the formats RTF, DOC, and DOCX. It’s fast, and you can export to PDF.
PNotes Portable is an easy to use sticky notes manager with skins, flexible display options, and a built-in scheduler. You can place it on your USB flash drive, iPod, portable hard drive or a CD and use it on any computer, without leaving any personal information behind.
Are you the kind of person with lots of paper sticky notes lying around? Then ditch them all and try this. Stickies is a lightweight sticky note utility that allows you to place virtual sticky notes on your computer screen.
Microsoft Word is full of bloat, and has so many features that you end up playing around with them, and subsequently wasting time. Q10 aims to simplify the whole word processing experience by giving you a completely blank screen (white by default, but you can change the color). A word and page count pretty much completes the ensemble. Now get writing.
Security & Privacy
Never a day goes by without some kind of password hack being reported in the news. So it is essential that you do NOT use the same password for each account, and you make each password a bit more difficult than PASSWORD or 12345. Something along the lines of D?oqu?l8bhIY#|I+^\|&S~5Te is in order. But how the hell do you remember that? You use a password manager.
Many people swear by products such as LastPass or 1Password, but for me, KeePass is the one to use. It is easy to use and offers a portable version. You can put the database in your Dropbox folder and whatever computer you happen to be on, you will always have an up-to-date database, which is protected by a very difficult password of your choosing.
If you are selling your computer, or are generally a very security-conscious person when it comes to sensitive documents, then Eraser should be on your USB stick. Think of the Windows trash can but instead a trash can which REALLY deletes your files beyond all retrieval. The Windows trash can merely removes the file and gives you back disk space — but the file is still there. Anyone with the right software (readily and easily available online) would then be able to bring the file back. Eraser puts a stop to that nonsense.
Simply drag the files you want nuked into the Eraser window and let it do its work. By the time it is finished, those files will have been consigned to oblivion, and you can rest easy that your secrets are safe with you, and you only.
PWGen is a password generator which will create for you large amounts of cryptographically-secure passwords or passphrases consisting of words from a word list. PWGen provides lots of options to customize passwords to the users’ various needs. Additionally, it offers strong text encryption and the creation of random data files (e.g., key files).
ClamWin is an anti-virus program, which gives you features such as detecting viruses (obviously), as well as regular updates to the virus engine. You have to remember though that due to its portable nature, this is not a real-time scanner. This means that it will only detect a virus if you manually give it a file to check. Plus scheduled scans and updates are also not possible so you have to manually update it yourself.
If you are the paranoid type (and you should, because they really are out to get you), then Cybershredder is essential for making sure those deleted files stay deleted.
This is probably the best and easiest disc burning software app that I have ever used. Simply choose which one you want, then you will see your hard drive on the left and the disc space on the right. Then it’s just a case of dragging and dropping the files from your hard drive to the disc space. Then watch it start burning.
We are big fans of CCleaner here at MUO, and it definitely pays for you to give your computer a thorough cleaning now and then. Clear out all the crap files that are blocking up your system, and more. This is one thing you should schedule on a regular basis. The downside is that the portable version takes ages to start up.
When you uninstall something from your computer, it isn’t really completely uninstalled. Windows leaves behind junk files and empty folders, which over time can clog up the pipes. Geek Uninstaller uninstalls programs properly and makes sure that all the junk goes with it.
The portable version of Recuva lets users undelete any file that they’ve recently sent to the garbage. We call this a file recovery tool because it recovers deleted files. There are many kinds of recovery files out there, but the difference is Recuva offers a degree of flexibility that eclipses many paid undeleters.
If you ever accidentally delete something, Recuva should be the first app to check out.
Avidemux is a video editor designed for simple cutting, filtering, and encoding tasks. It supports many file types, including AVI, DVD compatible MPEG files, MP4 and ASF, using a variety of codecs. Tasks can be automated using projects, job queue, and powerful scripting capabilities.
VirtualDub Portable is a video capture/processing app. It has batch-processing capabilities for processing large numbers of files and can be extended with third-party video filters. VirtualDub is mainly geared toward processing AVI files, although it can read (not write) MPEG-1 and also handle sets of BMP images.
Do you have TV show files on your computer with messed up file names? Then Filebot will access various television-related websites such as IMDB and TV.com to get the full episode list for the relevant TV series and your titles will be automatically fixed for you. Pure genius.
Web & FTP
The Tor Project combines several features into a single package: A Virtual Proxy Network (VPN), a secure browser, and a few other security features. While Tor doesn’t fully protect against illegal surveillance, it does help prevent unwanted eavesdroppers from prying into your personal business. It’s great for everything from researching gift ideas for your loved ones to looking into political candidates.
While the downloaded package will install itself if you run it, Tor Browser can simply be unzipped and run — which means you don’t need to install it.
FileZilla has been really annoying me with its refusal to connect to my website, so I started looking for a Windows alternative. I found it in the form of WinSCP.
You simply add your FTP details and it will connect almost instantaneously. You can then start dragging files from your computer and from your domain.
There is an installed version on the WinSCP site, but the portable version is virtually identical and just as fast. So it makes sense to just pop the portable version on your USB stick for when you need to update your site.
Opinion is divided over which is the best browser, but it practically seems to come down to two possibilities – Firefox and Chrome. In my opinion, Chrome is the winner, due to its superior syncing abilities, its speedy connection to the net, and the availability of extremely useful add-ons.
If downloading torrents is your thing, then uTorrent is your friend. This claims to use no more than 6MB of bandwidth, so you pretty much forget that it is there. Features include bandwidth prioritization, scheduling, RSS auto-downloading, and more.
Which portable apps are on your USB stick? Which ones can you not live without? Let us know in the comments below so we can fall in love with them too.
Originally written by Mark O’Neill.