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 PortableApps.com
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4 Responses to How to run your favourite desktop utilities from almost any computer using Portable Applications

  1. Jim says:

    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.

  2. admin says:

    Hi Jim,
    Thanks for drop­ping by!

    Before you launch the applic­a­tions, you’ll need to remap your USB drive let­ter. This post may help: http://geekswithblogs.net/WynApseTechnicalMusings/archive/2007/07/13/113922.aspx
    – Brad

  3. Jim says:

    Thanks a lot for your help Brad. I’ll go ahead and reas­sign the drive let­ter.
    Jim

  4. […] device, log in, and your files are instantly access­ible. I’ve writ­ten before about Drop­box here and […]