Portable applications – an alternative approach to mobile computing

This content is 17 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

I’ve been playing around with the idea of running operating systems from USB flash drives for a while now but the main problem is USB boot support in the hardware I use (most notably the Fujitsu Siemens Lifebook S7010D that I use for work doesn’t support it).

A while back I wrote about my experiences of booting Windows PE from a USB flash drive (and I believe that new versions of PE make this easier) but the reality is that I haven’t needed this – it not really anything more than a challenge that I set myself to see if it could be done and for those (up to now, theoretical) “system down” occasions there are CD-based solutions that I can use (e.g. Knoppix STD, Trinity Rescue Kit or Winternals Administrators Pak).

For other occasions (like working on someone else’s PC), there is the option of a portable application. I tried out two such packages tonight (my favourite Windows FTP program – FileZilla – and Mozilla Firefox) and was very impressed. Neither of these applications is installed on my wife’s Windows XP PC and yet I was able to run the portable versions of the them both from my USB flash drive without leaving any files behind. It’s the ultimate in mobile computing – literally anytime, anyplace, anywhere – as long as you can borrow a (Windows) PC!

There are alternative solutions such as U3 and MojoPac but, as far as I can tell, these rely on kernel hacks to implement technology such as roaming desktops and the beauty of the Portable Applications solution is that, even though there is an application “suite” available, I can just run the individual applications that I need, on any Windows PC, without any specialist hardware – and it’s free.

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