There’s an updated version of this post at the following link:
“The Best of the Best Portable Applications for 2011“.
A Portable Application is a computer software program that is able to run independently, without the need to install any files into the system upon which is running, from different hardware devices attached to a computer, such as a hard drive, USB drive, or an iPod.
If you are “on the move” (who isn’t these days) using portable applications males all the sense, because you can take your “computer setup” along with you, keeping all your favorite software in one suite. That surely is a more intelligent approach than, for example, trying instead to minimize the number of programs you install, so their installation can be recreated on another device.
Another big advantage of using Portable Applications is that by running independently they have a lesser incidence of problems related to installing, and more often, to uninstalling software (you just delete the application without worrying about failed installs or incomplete uninstalls). This feature allows for extra flexibility in copying and moving software to different locations on a portable device or on a PC. Not only that, they also help to improve privacy and security by writing all preferences and activity logs in the portable device, without leaving any trace behind in the host computer.
The idea is not new. Certain operating systems such as the AmigaOS, use portable applications by default. Even its Operating System is portable in the sense that you can just copy it and transfer it onto another computer, where it will boot up with no fuss. However, other operating systems such as Microsoft Windows need to be installed and traditionally require that software programs that run on top of it write to the Windows registry or store its configuration files (such as an INI file) in the user’s profile.
There are thousands of portable applications available, many of them are versions of installable programs. Using the list below, put together by techsupportalert.com, you can build a very powerful suite with the best of the best portable apps for different software categories:
Best Free Portable Anonymous Surfing Browser:
xB Browser — Download
“A portable version of Firefox with a well integrated Tor engine that uses the free Tor network. It’s easy to setup and doesn’t require advanced knowledge, but you will have to use it as a second browser for anonymous surfing in contrast to Vidalia or JonDo that also support normal browsing.” (Creates an empty folder in the user profile.)
The drawback to xB Browser is that it’s browser specific to Firefox. Users who prefer to use a different browser, can try JonDo. JonDo works with other browsers, but you may have to follow guides to get all the settings right. But JonDo also recommends a Firefox solution:
Another option is to use a Portable Firefox with the JonDo-Portable service and the JonDoFox configuration. The advantage is that the JonDoFox configuration comes with many other specially selected security addons (NoScript, CS-Lite, Adblock Plus), installs as an alternate profile (allowing you to switch between normal and anonymizing profiles), and allows proxy switching between the Tor or JonDo anonymizing networks. However, the JonDo-Portable service requires Java and is more resource intensive.
Best Free Portable Anti-Malware:
ClamWin is a popular choice for portable malware scanning; it makes the top spot here mainly for lack of competition from truly portable apps! In any case, it scans for both viruses and spyware. But it won’t provide real time protection, and it doesn’t have scheduling or program updating in the portable version. It allows you to update the database with the newest threats any time you want (or use ClamWinPortableDBUpdate for auto updates), but dialup users will have great difficulty getting them initially, if they are patient enough to get them at all (it took me a morning while surfing around doing other stuff!).
Be sure to upload any newly downloaded or suspicious files to an online multi-scanner such as Virustotal or Jotti before copying them to your flash drive and use ClamWin for regular scanning. Additionally, I suggest periodic scanning with your regular antivirus and antispyware software when you can. Many of the best antivirus and antispyware scanners/removers must be installed.
Additional Portable Apps for Anti-Malware Removal
Best Free Portable All-in-one PC Tune-up:
Comodo System Cleaner continues to improve since the first time I saw it. It has three main cleaners (disk, privacy, registry) and a “clean my computer” one-click button to run them all. It uses a two step “safe delete or registry protection” procedure to prevent you from deleting essential files or registry entries, including a built-in backup and restore tab and a restart of the computer. The second step requires you to restart the computer before finalizing its actions. In addition, it allows you to set a new restore point before cleaning for a third safety precaution. Why all the fuss? Well, automated cleaning is risky business, so also be sure to have a good backup of your files and a drive image.
It also comes with many other cleaning and system utilities. You can manage autorun entries (startup-up programs, services, etc.), erase selected files/folders or the free space, view system information, uninstall software, and tweak system settings. It downloads a help file through an updater if you need it; otherwise, the internal updater is disabled in the portable version. Creates files and folders in your user folder (“ComodoGroup” in “roaming”).
Best Free Portable Disk Defragmenter:
“A solid combination of performance, stability and usability from Piriform. With a very clean interface design based on the common Windows defrag interface.
Defraggler is incredibly easy to use and offers all the options you need to keep your machine running smoothly – including the ability to defragment individual files and folders as well as an in-built defragmentation scheduler.”
Best Free Portable File Cleaner:
One of the essentials for a portable collection and getting closer and closer to an all-in-one utility. It hits several of our articles for different purposes and could compete for many more. “It’s very effective in freeing up disk space by removing unused and temporary files, cookies, Recycle bin entries, history and cache files in many applications, and much more.”
Plus it cleans the registry, manages the startup, uninstalls software, securely erases anything it deletes, wipes the free space and MFT, deletes old system restore points, manages cookies, or runs as a task with the /AUTO command argument.
Best Free Portable Memory Optimizer:
CleanMem — Download
Some people argue that memory optimizers aren’t needed anymore. “But CleanMem seems to work and it helps you automatically recover memory and file cache space to improve performance. The program will install and run every 30 min via the windows task scheduler. It doesn’t run in the background constantly.”
Just extract the ZIP download file to a folder of your choice and click “schtasks.exe” for it to run automatically by the task scheduler, but don’t use either of the BAT files since they aren’t needed in the portable version and they install files to c:\windows\system32.
Best Free Portable Secure Delete:
It’s easy to recover deleted files unless you routinely wipe the file data away. Eraser “overwrites the data area with your choice of random data patterns, and also wipes data in the recycling bin, unused disk space, and a number of other places where data can secretly lurk.” Creates an INI file in C:\windows.
Many file cleaners include secure erasing such as CCleaner and Revo Uninstaller. But even if you securely delete files with something like CCleaner, I recommend regular free space wiping to increase the effectiveness of erasure (1 pass is usually enough on modern drives).
Best Free Portable Program Uninstaller:
Revo uninstalls software and scans for any leftover remnants. It’s “the only freeware product I know of that will make a decent job of cleaning up a failed install.” Additionally, click “Tools” for its startup manager, list of windows tools, and junk files scanner. Don’t miss the “Tracks Cleaner” right below the Junk Scanner for its several other cleaners (browser cleaner, Office cleaner, Windows cleaner, free space wiper, file shredder).
Best Free Portable Startup Manager:
Autoruns — Download or Run Online
If you have many unnecessary startup programs and tray icons hogging your RAM space and slowing your PC, then you can get many specialized startup managers beyond CCleaner and Revo above. For users who want to manage all possible startups, Autoruns is a gem. It allows you to manage auto start programs by simply unchecking them (so you can turn them back on if you really did need them), but you can also manage scheduled tasks, services, drivers, sidebar gadgets, and many other things. Writes settings to registry.
Best Free Portable Windows Tweaker:
Ultimate Windows Tweaker — Download
Sometimes windows comes with more extras than you need or want, and sometimes its default applications have a mind of their own and represent a privacy or control threat to the user! You won’t be able to completely get rid of Windows Media Player or Internet explorer with this tool, but it takes a good shot at them!
“UWT is a well equipped tweaker utility that supports Vista/Windows 7 (32/64 bit). Besides others it covers user account, security, performance and internet tweaking. The only thing that did not work on my 32Bit Vista Home Premium was the Network tweaking option. I received an error message and the page would not show. Still, UWT is a great tweaking utility worth a try.” Copies files/folders to the system directory.
Best Free Portable Digital Photo/Image Viewer:
XnView is “a heavyweight champion. Like Irfan, it’s very versatile; it can read and display nearly 400 types of graphic files, and convert any of these to more than 50 formats. It displays images very quickly, and these may be viewed full screen, as slideshows or as thumbnails. It’s quite capable at processing images, too; you can rotate, crop, resize, adjust brightness and color, apply filters or effects, create a web page and much more”.
To make it fully portable, see here.
Additional Portable Apps Image Viewing
Best Free Portable Digital Image Editor:
If you just need a simple, basic editor than Lightbox is the top pick. It “has an attractive user interface that is straight forward, and offers intuitive slide-bar adjustments for your images. It also has split screen views to help you compare your images before and after the corrections have been made. It includes simple tools to correct red-eye, sharpen, crop, re-size, add borders, and print. The free version is a gem that you will want to check out”. If you need more powerful features, check the alternatives below and the product review article.
Best Free Portable Web Browser:
Firefox is an excellent Internet browser to use for portable surfing, with many built-in security measures and addons. Additionally, you can run it from your flash drive so that most of your tracks will be stored on the flash drive and not on the computer you use. Note that some addons may not be portable. Creates crash files by default in the user AppData folder. In order to make it fully portable, see here.
Portable Firefox is excellent for use in a flash drive since it’s specially configured to reduce reads/writes to the disk and to run faster from a portable device. But note that you must run only the FirefoxPortable EXE file, otherwise it won’t be portable anymore. PortableApps is currently working on a portable version that allows trace free updates with the internal Firefox updater (at current it now works but with writing to the user folder).
Also note that the portable version is about 40 MBs more resource intensive than an installed version, so for home browsing you might want to use an installer rather than a portable version.
PortableApps has an excellent and informative download site for their version of Portable Firefox (use the PortableApps Guide for installation tips). You can also get the winPenPack X-Firefox version, but it’s much more difficult to setup unless you use their suite.
Best Free Portable Email Client:
“It’s a highly customizable email client with an intuitive user interface. Highly expandable through add-ons.” I was surprised by how quickly it works and how easily it interacted with my online email provider (Gmail). It made a complete copy of my Gmail account and checked for any new messages regularly. The interface is very easy to navigate, considering it’s just like Firefox (and that happens to be my main browser). That said, it’s not a light application and some extensions may not be portable.
If you want a lightweight email client to run from the tray and just check your mail, then POP Peeper is an excellent option. See these steps to have POP Peeper store your data in its own folder. Another option is to set it to never store data to the disk, or manually enter its “data” folder path in the storage options.
Best Free Portable Instant Messenger:
“For most users, I think Pidgin currently fits the bill best. It’s easy-to-use, cleanly-designed, and very functional. Being non-commercial, open-source software makes it even easier to support. I can confidently recommend Pidgin as the first choice for a multi-protocol IM client.” It aptly calls itself “the universal chat client.”
Check its home page for a long list of supported clients.
Best Free Portable BitTorrent Client:
“Bittorrents are fast, equitable, and efficient download formats, and µTorrent is the most popular client for this format. Its positives are: Excellent performance on all test torrents. Small, lightest (tie) on system resources but has all the needed features. Excellent support. Always improving as a bittorrent client. Negatives: Several ‘highly critical’ security alerts (now patched) were issued in 2008 by Secunia.”
Follow these steps to force it to write settings to its own folder.
Best Free Portable Download Manager:
“A good choice for its stability and support for various browsers. Supports IE, Firefox, Opera, Chrome and Safari. Other features include simultaneous multi-part downloads, flash video download, restart and recover, powerful scheduler, management of downloaded files, downloads from RapidShare, prioritized and partial torrent downloads, etc.”
Writes some non-user oriented settings to the registry.
Best Free Portable FTP Client:
“FTP clients are programs that reside on a PC, enabling fast bulk file transfers between the PC and a server. They are very useful when you need to download or transfer more than a few files and are an essential tool for website management.”
“With a robust feature set, ease of use, and browser integration, FireFTP should serve the needs of all (except perhaps the heaviest power users) and is quickly becoming one of my favorite FTP clients.”
Additional Portable FTP Apps
For More information and additional portable software, please visit: