PortableApps makes a great emergency toolkit for PC and Internet diagnostics

Gibbs discusses the Kickstarter campaign to turn the LiveCode system into open source and PortableApps, a free, open source platform for portable applications

If there are two terms that define what is driving computing today they're mobility and portability. We want to be able to run whatever we want anywhere and on anything.

For example, here in Gearhead last week I looked at a new product that allows you to run Android apps on Windows and OS X and, the vendor claims, eventually Windows on Android!

I must digress for a moment and point out that even app development tools have become capable of generating code that redefines what it means to be portable. LiveCode, a programming system I much admire that's published by RunRev (I covered this company several years ago when the language was called Runtime Revolution), not only enables rapid application development in more-or-less plain English, it also allows you to build for iOS, Android, OS X, Windows and Linux ... all from the same development system.

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RunRev recently started a Kickstarter campaign to turn LiveCode loose as open source and make the system free to educational users. This could be huge, but the campaign needs your backing ... go on, throw a few bucks their way and let's make this happen.

Anyway, while we're talking about portability, I just came across a really cool free, open source tool that delivers portable Windows apps. Called PortableApps, it can be installed on and run from a local or remote subdirectory, a USB drive or cloud storage.

PortableApps provides a menu panel for launching applications and a huge online library of free applications, with automatic updating of installed apps, as well as portable storage for documents, images, music and videos.


The PortableApps menu

PortableApps even includes a built-in backup app that will back up or restore part or all of your portable system to or from whatever directory you select, optionally with compression.

PortableApps can be configured to hide all desktop icons when it starts and change the host machine's wallpaper to a specified image and even load any special fonts that you want your portable apps to use.

In principle any app can be used with PortableApps, but in practice software that hasn't been engineered to the PortableApps Format may not be as well-behaved as it should be to be truly portable (programs may, for example, modify the host system's Windows registry or leave files on the host drive). The PortableApps website has a whole section on developing and modifying apps to be portable.

The default installation places PortableApps in the Windows system tray. When you click on the system tray icon the PortableApps menu is displayed, and when you launch an app the menu will disappear. I found that rather tedious, but after digging into the documentation I discovered there is an option -- "RemainVisible=True" -- that you can add to the PortableAppMenu.ini file (it goes in the "DisplayOptions" section) that keeps the menu on-screen all the time. This tweak will hopefully be included in the PortableApps options menu in a future release.

The PortableApps store offers more than 300 apps and they are all free and legal to use, installable by a single click (though sometime it can take a couple of attempts to get a connection to the store), and will be automatically updated. Application categories include accessibility tools, development tools, educational software, games, productivity apps, media development and editing tools, Internet tools ... it's an incredible list that includes many of my favorite Windows utilities such as FileZilla (a great FTP client and server), WinMTR (a ping and traceroute tool I'll cover next week) and Process Explorer (a Windows system tool).

I've found that PortableApps makes a great emergency toolkit for PC and Internet diagnostics and I've run it without any problems from local subdirectories, USB drives and Google Drive. If you use Windows, this is a great tool you'll find all sorts of uses for, so PortableApps gets a Gearhead rating of 4.5 out of 5.

Gibbs is not portable in Ventura, Calif. Reveal your degree of fixity to gearhead@gibbs.com and follow him on Twitter and App.net (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater). And check out Tech Predictions

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