Windows tips: Go with portable apps to avoid installs

We have all had this happen to us when we work at a Higher ED institution: You go into a classroom to teach something and open up Firefox to get to a webpage. Someone’s changed the language to Russian, installed 13 toolbars and plugins, the home page is set to an adult website oh and it needs to update taking 30 minutes to do so. My personal favorite is when it’s not even installed. With a thumb drive or (Dropbox account) and portable apps this can quickly become a thing of the past.

You might be asking yourself what the heck a portable app is. Typically Windows apps (or programs for those of us non-hipsters) come in an installer that puts files all over your system. While this works there are a lot of problems with it:

Defragments your system

Puts crap everywhere

Doesn’t always uninstall cleanly

Portable apps on the other hand are self contained meaning you install them and they don’t put files everywhere, just in one location. Some Portable Apps include:



VLC Media Player

Pidgin (IM)

Sumatra PDF

And there are a ton more.  All you need to do is download the app and put it into a folder on something portable (thumb drive, or install Dropbox on the machine) and there you go! From one machine to another you can take all of your apps and their settings with you. No need to install, no need to worry about losing something.


Now I can’t sit here and tell you this is all 100% amazing there are a few drawbacks:

Not everything is portable – Not every app you use will be portable, and you’ll have to do some research to find out if there are ones that do what you need. I recommend searching around for apps.

Speed – Yes portable apps can run a bit slower. If you’re running it off of a thumb drive you may see a bit of lag appear when first opening the app. Personally I’m willing to sacrifice some speed for the security that I’m not going to have to worry about what the last person did to the app I want to use.

Associations – Since you’re not installing anything the computer you’re using won’t know to auto-open files with your desired app. This can lead to some people being confused. All you need to do for a workaround is right click instead of left click and select OPEN WITH. Then browse for your app.


In the end I have started making a portable apps drive so whenever I go into a classroom to present I don’t have to worry about not having my settings, or having the app I need to get work done. While it has some drawbacks it’s 100% worth the effort


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