Lifestyle and Emerging Technology In Plain English

How to run your favourite desktop utilities from almost any computer using Portable Applications

photo.JPGIn the course of my day, I use two or three main desktop and laptop computers in two or three different parts of the city.

And yet, working on different devices, I still have access to a core set of tools and utilities that I find essential to my daily work. Here’s how I do it.

Some of the computers are ‘client’ managed, so I don’t have complete control over the software suite I have available to me.

There are two options that I use, though I find myself moving to one more often these days.

But before I get ahead of myself, let me write a little bit about the applications.

Portable Apps
One of the important features I look for in a tool or utility is it’s ability to ‘stand alone’ or be ‘portable’.

To quote Wikipedia:

A portable application (portable app) is a computer software program that is able to run independently without the need to install files to the system it is run upon. They are commonly used on a removable storage device such as a CD, USB flash drive, flash card, or floppy disk.

And the beauty of a portable application, is that any customizations or application setting tweaks made on one computer are available to all your computers as they’re stored in the application folder, as they would be if the program was ‘installed’ in the traditional way.

In my case, the portable apps I use are text editors, system network tools, file transfer tools, and image editors.

My first solution
In the past I used USB flash drives a lot. It was easy to plug them in and have immediate access to the programs and data I needed.

The system worked well, just plug in the drive, navigate to it and the programs I need, and I’m in business.

Unfortunately there’s a bit of a downside to these thumb drives:

  • need to be encrypted to ensure the data was safe in the event the drive was lost or stolen
  • always scanned for malware upon insertion into the computer, and occasionally that hung the computer
  • needed to back up the data should the drive be lost or stolen

My current solution
DropBox is my go-to solution. Sure, any Cloud storage solution would do, but for me DropBox is the cat’s pajamas. Here’s why:

  • when installed onto the system, the DropBox folder is available to all computers added to your account
  • all applications and data copied into the local DropBox folder are immediately copied to the DropBox folder on all the other computers attached to my DropBox account
  • backup copies of the data are automatically stored on all computer systems I use regularly
  • data can be encrypted for safe storage in the cloud

And here’s how it works for me. My home computers and one virtual workstation at my client’s location have the DropBox client installed.

When working from home, I simply store my client work in the appropriate folder on DropBox. Then, when at the client’s site, just open up the same folder and files on my virtual workstation and carry on.

And, if I’m at a client site without an installed DropBox, I can easily access the data or apps by logging in to DropBox’s web interface.

If you’re looking for another solution, check out SugarSync.

3 things that make this work
My solution is obviously dependent on a few things to work optimally:

  • Installed DropBox on all my systems
  • Internet access
  • Applications that are developed for ‘portability’

Otherwise, I’m back to the modern version of ‘sneaker-net’ with the USB drives :smileyhappy:

This works for me, but what about you? How do you compute in multiple locations?

And if you’re looking for some portable applications to get you started, check out
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4 Responses to How to run your favourite desktop utilities from almost any computer using Portable Applications

  1. Hi Brad,

    I like your DropBox solution. Probalby I’ll give it a try some day. I’m a freelance writer and some times I have to work out of two or three different desktop computers. For this, I carry my own portable apps in a thumb drive. This work for me 90 percent of the time. However, some appliations refuse to run on a different desktop if the program was set up originally throuh an specific drive port (a, g, k, or M drive, for example) and they recorded a file as installed on a specific drive. When I go to a different computer, the app cannot find the file needed to run (a database file, for example) becuase now it is running through drive K instead of the original G drive.

    Is there a way around this issue that you know? Thanks for your advice in advance.

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