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Nearly everyone of us carries around a flash drive with some of our important information with us. But flash drives have evolved, not only are they now growing in capacity and speed. But with a small push from the software industry the humble flash drive will play an important part in the whole cloud computing phenomenon. As applications move from computers to the cloud, it is quintessential for the applications of the desktop to move around a bit as well, with the user I mean. The applications that cannot (at the moment) be realized from the cloud need to be for the user to be able to use. They also need to essentially provide another important feature i.e. not to leave any files on the host computer once you take them to your friends place. This is essentially something that separates a normal application from a portable application.
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How did I get into this is also an interesting story, I work on a construction site and IT facilities there can be a little poor. Like restricted internet access for an hour a day with ridiculously slow download speeds. Anyway, the company where I work is considerably large and the IT department there had issues with things like virus on machines being transferred from USB drives, people installing malicious software accidentally etc. So they decided to have a restriction on installing anything on the computer. That started some issues with inaccessibility to software, legitimate open source software included. In that scenario I was forced to use only the software on that computer like, internet explorer (of which I am not a big fan) and Office, no image editing tools etc. I had to work on a few image editing assignments as well as could not stand to use Internet Explorer. I wanted either Chrome or Firefox, firefox being the second choice. So like always necessity is the mother of all inventions and finds. Well in that scenario I tried to look for software that I could use without installing it, and walla a whole new world of portable apps greeted me.
The portable application suites that are available are built in such a way that you do not need to actually worry about your information being left on another computer, you plug in your USB into another computer, run the application and once your work is done; remove the USB and you are done. In fact there are applications that keep the data in the USB encrypted so in case you lose the USB drive the person who finds it will definitely not be able to see any information that is on the thumb drive.
If you have not been looking at the portable apps world, you will be surprised to see and know the vast libraries of applications that are already available either official releases from the companies who are making the software themselves, like firefox portable etc, and then there are unofficial releases done by Portable Application enthusiasts. Most of them work like a breeze. Essentially portable apps are available as individual applications but for starters or to better organize the portable apps on your thumb drive, it is better to use an application launcher like portableapps.com, liberkey, or geekmenu. Then there are those that come preloaded onto USB drives like the U3, which comes standard on all Sandisk drives; which although are not open source but definitely free with their drives.
Today not only do you get portable applications but also complete Operating systems that are portable on USB drives called Live USB. In fact windows 7 can be ported into your USB to make a portable windows 7 OS Drive. Well enough spoken about these nifty tools, let me just add some links for you guys to check them out.
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These flash drives make a great Holidays present to your geek friend also 😉 Load in one of the above mentioned portable app launcher and some apps for a great surprise. In case you cannot find your favorite application yet, then you can in fact create your own. Package factory is a portable application creator for the U3 launcher system. They claim that they can convert any application into a portable application, let’s hope it works. Check out the Package Factory here. Some of my favorite tools on my USB drive at the moment that I really use would be, Gimp portable, Sketch Up portable, Chrome Portable as well as Firefox portable, VLC portable, Picasa 3 Portable, Keepass portable, Thunderbird portable, Sunbird portable, convert All portable and last but not the least 7-zip portable. Most of these from the POrtableapps.com launcherAll awesome tools that let me do a lot without having to install them on my machine. Have also installed recently Opera tor portable which helps me access Flickr at work, which is essentially blocked in the UAE. Although I have to admit, for the one hour of slow browsing, Opera Tor is not really ideal. I hope someone makes a good chrome extension to mimic the performance of tor.