Saturday, October 20, 2007

Portable Apps

Originally Created:Saturday, April 14, 2007

2:02 PM

At my old Blog Site.

Title: Portable Apps

Introduction

Technology is still in my mind the most dynamic field in the market today. Everyday new gizmos and gadgets appear. Some seem to me not to be so unique or useful, but others certainly get my attention. One of these technologies that has caused me to stop and look, is the "portable apps" technology. I first saw this in the U3 USB drives [ http://www.u3.com ], but now Portable Apps [http://portableapps.com ]has also caught my attention. That is what this article is about. Software Applications, that are "portable", and specifically the Portable Apps version.

Description

First, let me describe what a portable app is. From my perspective, a portable app is any application that will run on any removable device such as a thumb drive, solid state drives (SD/Compact Flash, etc.), eSata, USB or Firewire. They must also be able to stand on their own. That is, that there is no need for installing any code to the Operating System of the computer to which the device is attached. Also the portable app should not leave behind any trace or files on the host computer. Every thing should be encapsulated in the removable device where the portable app resides.

Similar Product Comparison

Let me also explain that the biggest difference that I saw between the U3 and the Portable Apps version is that with the U3, you have to have a U3 enabled drive, and that the menu system is built already into the drive. In the Portable Apps version, since you can add it to any drive, it is not built in. The difference is, that when you plug in a U3 enabled device, and the Host Machine detects it, it can install the U3 Auto Launcher on the Host Computer. It creates two drive letters, one appears like a CDROM, and the other the drive. If the Auto Launcher is not put on the Host Computer, you can manually double click on it and run it. Then you can access the second drive letter. The Portable App essentially has an Autorun.inf file and works just like any CD that has an Auto Run. If you have turned Auto Run off, you just double click on the StartPortableApps.exe. Both systems will put an icon in the system tray. When you click on the icon, you get a Menu System somewhat like the Start Menu in a Windows Operating System.

The second notable difference between the two, and this is a plus for U3, is that in the U3 I can password protect the whole drive so you can't even do anything without the proper password, with the Portable Apps, I have not seen that, and I have not found a good way to protect the drive from access by unwanted intruders.

Technical Details

Where to get it:

To get Portable Apps, go to their web site http://portableapps.com.

Versions:

The version right now is 1.0. There are three different downloads though:

Standard - The Standard download is about 80 megs and already has a whole range of applications with it.

Lite - The Lite download is about 30 megs and has fewer apps with it.

Base - The Base install is just the menu. This is really cool, because you have the option to download and install what you want. This is also great for those small thumb drives 128 megs or less.

Cost:

One of the great things is that it is absolutely free.

Platforms used for testing:

I tested portable apps on my home PC running Windows XP with service Pack 2, on my laptop running the same version, and on a laptop running Windows 2000 Service Pack 4.

I used three removable drives - an eSata drive, a 128mb USB thumb drive, and USB Hard Drive.

I installed the Standard on the eSata, the Lite on the USB hard drive, and the Base on the 128mb Thumb Drive.

Installation:

Installation is pretty straight forward. After you download the executable file, first make sure that your removable device is already plugged in and ready to go. When you run the program, it will ask you for a destination. All you have to do is point it to the root of the device. That is it. See the Screen Shot below for the folders and files it creates.




To start, you plug in the drive and in XP you will get the familiar choice of what to do - Browse, run a program, etc. You will see the StartPortableApps Choice (Note Autorun must be turned on for that to take place). Once you start the app, you will see it down in the system tray. Click on it an you will get the menu choices. It is the first Icon on the left.




Clicking on the icon brings up the menu system (the screen shot is from their web site because the menu would disappear every time I tried to capture it!)




Demonstration or highlights of features:

The coolest thing about the portable apps technology is the ability to take programs that you love with you, or at least programs that you need. For example, I think there are three essential programs that you should have on a portable drive:

1. A browser - Firefox is a great application for your portable drive. I have run this little app when I was at a training seminar and the PC that they were having me use is on the internet. I can browse, do whatever I want and not worry about leaving anything in the local cache. Also, most of those PCs only have IE, and I love using Firefox.

2. Email - I have been using Thunderbird Portable. Again in the same situation as above. And, since my personal email server is an IMAP server, I pretty much do not have to pull all emails down. So it works pretty much like I want it too.

3. Antivirus - Portable Apps comes with it or you can download ClamWin Portable. This is great, because you can scan any computer that you are attached to for possible virus infections along with of course your portable device.

After these three, you have quite a large selection to use including Open Office, or if that is too large, AbiWord which is a word processing program. There are games, instant messaging and graphic programs. I did not test them all.

The Portable Apps menu gives you access to "Documents", "Pictures", "Video", and "Music" folders which are created on your portable drive during the install. You also have an "Explore" function that opens up Windows Explorer and lets you browse the contents of your drive.

You also have a "Backup" function. And a choice of "Complete", "App Data", or "Documents". The full backup backed up everything, including, as I noticed the "Recycle Bin". I did a quick backup of the "Documents" folder, then I deleted all the folders and files, and then I did a restore. That worked perfect.

The Options menu contains the following choices:

1. Change Fonts - Large or Small for the menu.

2. Install a New App - If you have downloaded a portable app from the web site, this allows you to point to the download which must end in ".paf.exe" - that extension designates it as a portable app application.

3. Remove an App - Basically this opens up the folder on the device where the portable apps are. Then you delete the folder, and, then you must exit the Portable App Menu to Complete the Uninstall. Those were the instructions, but I found that you need to Close the StartPortableApp Menu first, then go to the folder and delete the folder containing the application to be removed, then start the StartPortableApp menu again.

4. Refresh App Icons

5. Get More Apps - This opens the default browser and brings you to the web site to download more apps.

6. Search - You an search the drive, the computer or the web. The Drive and the Computer just open up the Windows Search, while the Web opens up Firefox to search the Web.

Un-installation:

What I did to uninstall it, is to first make sure that the StartPortableApps.exe is not running in the system tray. Then I deleted the "Documents" "PortableApps" folders along with the "Autorun.inf" and "StartPortableApps.exe" files from the root of the device.

Problems:

Some of the problems I ran into were that on my 22" wide screen monitor, the Menu was out of line. It did not prevent me from clicking and starting the program and options, but the Close "X" which is suppose to exit did not work and I had to kill the process using task manager. I think this was a result of the screen corruption.

When I tested the USB drive in the Laptop with Windows 2000, it did not run and generated an error. It never ran. On both of the XP machines it ran fine and the Menu work perfect on Screens that were not "Wide Screens".

Also, the lack of disk protection or encryption for at least the data folder is weak to me. This is important because a portable drive is easily lost or stolen and you could have sensitive data stored in a portable device.

Summary

I find the whole portable app technology interesting, fun and useful whether it is U3 or the Portable Apps version. I think that the version 1.0 of Portable Apps has too much of a version 1.0 feel. As it grows I hope it will compete better with the U3. But you can't beat free in any area, and having programs that you can add to your removable devices is just adding functionality to an already useful technology. So you have nothing to lose, and hopefully a lot to gain.

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