Get around MS software when using Windows with portable apps

Posted by tadelste on Feb 13, 2006 11:34 AM
LXer; By H.Kwint

  LXer feature

On a lot of locations, you are forced you to use Windows, but you are not allowed to install anything on your networked PC. Probably, you think this also forces you to use other MS software; like MS Office and Windows Messenger when using the MSN IM-protocol. Well, think again, because It is possible to put 'portable' apps like Firefox, OpenOffice and Gaim on an USB stick, and use it in Windows without installing anything.


A friend of mine recently told me about portable Firefox. Portable means, the Firefox executable and all the files Firefox could ever need, are located in one single directory.

When put on an USB stick, this means, you can run Firefox without installing it. For example, installing software could be forbidden because of sysadmins being afraid of Win-viruses, or it could be useless because an image is put on your hard drive if your PC crashes in a network environment.

At a first glance, you would say: Nice, but why do I need it? Well, here's why: not only are you able to carry Firefox with you along with your keys, but Firefox also stores its extensions, cookies, passwords and cache on the USB stick. This means, no private data is left on the PC you are using. Moreover, you always have your personal configuration, for example Greasemonkey scripts and your adblock filter-rules, your saved sessions and passwords.

There are more portable apps than only Firefox: interesting are Thunderbird, to keep your mails close to you and prevent the synchronization problem, and with the ability of a calendar plugin, and GAIM, the multi-IM-protocol program.

There is even a site dedicated to portable apps, it is called As you probably will notice, there will be far more portable programs in the future, since the people over there are working on even more stuff, like for example SSH, media players and web development tools.

However, there are a few drawbacks, my friend noticed: The USB stick normally relies on FAT, and FAT isn't a very good filesystem. If you remove your USB stick when Windows hasn't 'released' (unmounted) it, Thunderbird could hang, and I could imagine it could even corrupt your filesystem. I suggested using NTFS instead of FAT, but my friend argued, it would make the USB stick less 'portable', since Win98 doesn't support NTFS. Also, because of the USB interface, it takes a rather long time to boot the software from the USB stick: It took seventeen seconds to boot Portable Firefox on a brand new PC.

So, if the security policies on the Windows boxes enable you to use USB-stick and you are tired of IE and MS Office (not even able to read the OpenDocument format), use portable apps instead, and regularly check on to see if more portable apps are added!

Thanks to Parko Janssen for making me aware of portable apps

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