Carry a PC in Your Pocket

Snag the Best Software

Once you've got the flash drive of your choice, it's time to stock up with the tools you'll need when you're away from your regular system. The term "portable software" usually refers to an application that can run from a single folder (usually on a removable device) without adding any files or Registry entries to the host system. Although this leaves out the traditional behemoths like Microsoft Office or Adobe's Creative Suite, you can still find a lot of handy software that meets the portable requirement.

Your suite is waiting. If you want an all-in-one package of basics--spreadsheet, word processor, graphics--you can have your pick of portable suites, all completely free (in some cases, donations are accepted).

An excellent collection is Portable Apps, which comes in two sizes, Standard (260MB installed) and Lite (105MB installed). Both versions include an antivirus program, a Web browser (Mozilla Firefox), an instant messenger (Gaim), a Sudoku game, a calendar and task manager (Mozilla Sunbird), and an e-mail client (Mozilla Thunderbird). The Standard version also comes with a portable version of the OpenOffice suite, while the Lite version has the AbiWord word processor instead.

The free winPenPack gives you an entire suite of mobile software for your thumb drive.
Another all-in-one free collection can be found in winPenPack. The winPenPack suites come in more flavors than Portable Apps--Essential, 1Gb, School, Game, Web--and there is even an option to make your own. You can also download individual applications. The offerings fall into a wide range of categories--from office, Internet, graphics, multimedia, and development to security, system, and utilities. The choices include considerable overlap with PortableApps, with both offering Mozilla and OpenOffice products, for example.

PStart is another great free option for organizing and launching mobile software on any PC.
What's for launch? Running your portable applications will be easier if you have a pop-up menu launcher. You'll find one in U3 flash drives, as well as in both PortableApps and winPenPack. In each case, an icon is added to the taskbar tray (the icon-studded area near the clock); click it to see a Start-menu equivalent that lists the applications on your flash drive. Personally, I find the winPenPack launcher to be the most flexible and easiest to customize. You can download this launcher separately from winPenPack. If none of those meet your needs, you can try still another free portable app launcher, PStart, from Pegtop Software.

Roam the lands of the free. But big collections are not the only place to find portable applications. Sometimes you can find a portable version of your favorite program just by using your favorite search engine, entering the application name and then "portable" as keywords.

Other good places include sites like Portable Freeware and the portable freeware section of Ned Wolf's Absolutely Free Software site. Another site where you can find a portable section is Snapfiles.

Finally, try entering the keyword "portable" in the search box of your favorite software download page--for example, at (where else?) PC World Downloads.

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