I’ve written a page about U3 and why I think it doesn’t deserve much of the scorn thrown its way by people who haven’t used it and therefore can’t appreciate its usefulness in certain circumstances. Now I turn to an alternative available for non-U3 USB sticks that lets everyone take advantage of application portability.
PortableApps is a project run by John T Haller. The PortableApps Menu is GPL, most of the software offered on the PortableApps site is GPL (or another open source license such as the Mozilla products), and it operates similar to U3 with a few distinctions.
First, the PortableApps menu doesn’t fire up on insertion. You must manually start it. That’s something about which others have expressed contempt for U3, even though that’s a Windows setting and not a U3 setting. Anyway, you open your stick up in an Explorer window to view the contents, find the PortableApps directory (however you choose to nest it), and there’s a PortableApps menu icon to start it. All the self-contained app folders contained in the directory where PortableApps menu is located will be displayed on the menu.
Second, PortableApps has less overhead than U3. The applications seem to be much “tighter” and leave more room on the USB stick for your files (should you want to carry only one stick). I loaded up this stick (even added GIMP after the screenshot) because I usually carry several sticks.
Third, PortableApps has bundled suites together. I installed their main suite on a 512MB stick. The main suite contains Firefox, Thunderbird, and Sunbird from Mozilla; Gaim chat suite; Open Office Suite (the whole suite); ClamWin Anti-Virus; PuTTY SSH/telnet; and Sodoku. A Lite Suite is also available that substitutes AbiWord for OpenOffice. I also added Audacity and KeePass and GIMP. Some space could be saved by deleting Sunbird and adding Lightning (the calendar extension for Thunderbird). There’s plenty of room for data files after adding all these apps to a 512MB stick.
In addition to a variety of open source applications, PortableApps also has a guide for “MacOS 7 on a stick” and has a coming-soon page that will offer “Linux on a stick” (presumably running it embedded) as well.
Why is PortableApps useful? It means you can carry around applications you need to get your work done or to communicate with others or transfer files or securely reach your own computer through PuTTY wherever you have access to a Windows computer. You don’t have reboot the computer to use your favorite open source applications, you won’t touch the host computer’s hard drive with your applications or your settings (which stay with your USB pendrive wherever you go) or your data. Stick it in, launch PortableApps, and you have a menu with your applications and the data you store in its directory nest. Then when you get home or to work and can access your Linux (or whatever) computer, you have files available in a format with which you normally work — Open Office or AbiWord, Mozilla files that can be imported/exported to sync with what you have on your computer and vice versa, etc.