In the “old” days computer programs consisted of an executable file and maybe a configuration or settings file. Programs were completely contained on a floppy disk and didn’t require installation. You simply inserted your floppy disk and “executed” the program from there. Of course if you were lucky enough to have a 20 megabyte hard drive (like we did growing up – thanks Dad!) you could save your programs to the hard drive and execute them from there.
When the world adopted Windows everything began to change. Programs began to integrate with Windows and required installation. “Start Menu to Control Panel to Add or Remove Programs” was a phrase that joined the vocabulary of computer users. The configuration and settings for the programs were integrated with the Windows Registry. This meant you could no longer just copy the executable file from one computer to another and expect that it would work. The program had to be setup and installed correctly before it would work.
Windows users were stuck like this until around 2004 when a guy named John T. Haller wanted to have access to Firefox wherever he went. A “portable” version of Firefox was created which contained the files necessary to run in Windows. Like the “old” days the program could be executed from the removable drive and didn’t require installation. The portable version’s files were modified to force Windows to use everything in the portable version’s file location – whether that was a folder on the hard drive, flash drive, SD card or even on your phone’s internal memory.
Here is the official definition from PortableApps.com:
A portable app is a computer program that you can carry around with you on a portable device and use on any Windows computer. When your USB flash drive, portable hard drive, iPod or other portable device is plugged in, you have access to your software and personal data just as you would on your own PC. And when you unplug the device, none of your personal data is left behind.
As mentioned in the definition above your personal data stays on the device with your portable application so none of your data is left behind. Needless to say the idea of having access to programs you like and your data all contained on a portable drive that won’t leave any personal data on the computer when you are finished took off. Today there are hundreds of portable applications that are free to download and use. Portable Suites were also created so your portable device would have a start menu like menu of applications that could be launched from the task bar. A good review of different suites was published by Lifehacker.
PortableApps can be found in various categories including accessibility, education, games, graphics, internet, music, security and utilities. Check out www.portableapps.com for more details.