Take your computer on the go with Portable Apps

Portable Apps is like having your own computer—when you don't have your own computer.
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Portable Apps lets you access all your go-to apps anywhere, anytime—regardless of whether you are using your own computer or not.

With more than 400 apps, 980 million downloads, and available in 55 languages, Portable Apps allows you to access your favorites via a USB flash drive, a cloud folder, or just about any portable storage device. Portable Apps is like having your computer without having your computer.

Portable Apps is released under the GPL and MIT licenses, and it is compatible with Windows XP through 10, or Linux and MacOS via Wine or CrossOver. Developed by John T. Haller, a computer science major at Binghamton University and the developer of Portable Firefox, Portable Apps launched in November 2006 and has been in development since 2004. The current version, 15.0.2, was released on May 17, 2018. Plus, Portable Apps is supported by 200 volunteers and 220,000 community members.

Portable Apps to the rescue

Portable Apps was a lifesaver for me when I agreed to teach a graphic design class for high schoolers at St. Lawrence University last year. As I explained in a previous article, I was not allowed to install any apps on the university’s Windows computers and needed a way to share certain ones with the students—namely GIMP, Inkscape, and Scribus.

With the first day of class quickly approaching, I searched for ways to share the magic of open source graphic design with my students and rediscovered Portable Apps. I had been briefly introduced to it in a computer forensics classes two years previously, where we used Portable Firefox, so I knew there had to be a way to do it. And, thanks to open source software, there is.

To share Portable Apps with my students, I purchased USB flash drives and had the university’s logo imprinted on them. The students got to keep these branded Portable App flash drives after the class ended.

I copied Portable Apps over to each student's flash drive from the master flash drive. The process was very slow, and I tried reformatting the drives between FAT and NTSF, but that made little difference. Using my open source apps and the Adobe Suite, which was already installed on the computers, I was able to teach my students graphic design, comparing how open source apps and Adobe apps worked in much the same way.

Part of the teaching process involved having the students find and install their own portable apps on their flash drives. The students chose their own apps to install, and the most popular choice was PokerTH Portable.

What's your type?

Fonts are, of course, an integral part of all apps. Portable Apps supports the installation and use of standard font formats. As the website says:

The Platform supports the ability to take standard font files (TTF, OTF, etc.) with you and use them on any computer without the need to install them into Windows. Just copy the font files you'd like available to the X:\PortableApps\PortableApps.com\Data\Fonts directory in a standard platform setup.

Portable Apps is available through its website, PortableApps.com, and on SourceForge. John Haller’s website, Rare Ideas, encourages people to share their own ideas and projects.

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Jeff Macharyas is the Director of Marketing at Corning Community College in New York. He is a writer, graphic designer and communications director who has worked in publishing, higher education and project management for many years.


I've had the same experience. In my case, I didn't have to use a USB stick because I had some space allotted to me on the network server at work. What this meant was that I could access Portable Apps Scribus from any computer on the network, so in the end it was a better alternative than installing on a single computer.

Great article Jeff! I learned about Portable Apps about ten years ago at a NYSCATE conference and like you I used to buy flash drives and distribute them to students in my classes. It's another great example of the power and utility of open source software in education.

It's been quite a few years since I've used (or written about) Portable Apps. Good to see the project is still going strong.

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