Swiss Army Knife Software – portable, install-free, indispensable

This text was originally published on March 1, 2007. Parts of the facts stated herein may no longer be valid. For example, if you pay 20 bucks for a 1 GB USB stick, you are getting ripped off. And I have stopped caring about file sizes.

I was about 9 when I learnt what a Swiss Army Knife is, and I was fascinated. I was a boy scout, of course, and very devoted to the motto “Be Prepared”. Since long, I was collecting all kinds of pocket-size gadgets that could be good-to-have: mini-pliers and screwdriver, pocket radio, miniature dictionary, various key rings with extra functions, and so on. But the Swiss Army Knife. That was something else. All the models, the quality, the versatility in the different blades. Always at hand, always solving the problem. I got my first one – Victorinox of course – with 24 functions including scissors for Christmas after putting in on all the top-ten positions of my wish list. It served me very well for seven or eight years until a security guard at an outdoor discotheque [Alingsåsparken] found it in my pocket and confiscated it. It never crossed my mind that I shouldn’t bring it – it had basically become a part of me.Enter 21st century. My scouting days are over and I am surrounded by computers everywhere, Internet connected PCs. Whenever I have a little problem to solve, it is more likely to be related to some PC than to a jammed door lock or a sudden need for carving a barbeque stick.

With 1 gigabyte USB-sticks available on every street corner for 20 dollars, this has created something that I can carry around in my pocket at all times, to help me out in emergencies, just like my first Victorinox once did. Swiss Army Knife Software. Smart little applications and utilities that run right off a UBS-stick without installation.

There is at least a couple of websites that run communities devoted to this: No-Install software or Portable software. The genre ranges from command line tools of a few kilobytes to entire Linux operating systems, or the office software suite Open Office.

Portableapps.com for example have put together a free-to-download package that require no more than a 512 MB USB-stick and contains Mozilla Firefox webbrowser, OpenOffice, ClamWin antivirus, Gaim instant messaging, Mozilla Sunbird for calender and tasks, and Mozilla Thunderbird for email. All of it wrapped with a special menu utility.
www.no-install.com has a download section that you can access after registration, where you are presented to 229 different downloads in 24 categories, including operating systems such as Damn Small Linux and Putty Linux. Many of the downloads are commerical software (not freeware).

I discovered these two websites when I had already put together my own little package, which I did by manually going through all serious freeware download sites I could find, looking for the keywords “portable” and “no installation”. In my own collection, I have excluded applications that I found too heavy (too large files, too many files). Along the same lines, the ones I like best are those that do not break the 1024 kilobyte line. My portable-package is 87 MB in its current version and includes 127 different tools, utilites and applications, although there is some redundancy in functionality. Initially, I had the intention of listing all the apps and tools I have found as part of this blog post. I got wiser, and since there are so many websites out there totally focused on listing portable software, I’m just gonna list some of those sites instead. I’ll just mention one tool: PStart, the Portable Start menu. It makes a big difference, trust me. Get it.

Oh, and one more thing. A lot of software that are not presented as portable actually are, especially if they are freeware and hence do not depend on any license key registry entry etc. How do you know? Install it, copy all files from the installation directory to your USB-stick, uninstall it, then try to run it from the USB-stick (and delete any unnecessary language files). Some software have dependencies (e.g. Java runtime, .NET Framework, VB runtime). Now, Java runtime* and .NET must be installed, so we have to give up there. But in some cases, such dependency files can be carried along on your USB-stick and added to the PC you work at for the moment.

*: There is portable Java runtime nowadays
Portable Software websites
www.no-install.com
portableapps.com
www.portablefreeware.com (a non-commerical, community driven site which I highly recommend)
www.freeportablesoftware.com
Nedwolf’s portable freeware list
www.xtort.net – good things and links to more
www.tinyapps.org
www.roadkil.net – smart, small, free utilities
www.nirsoft.net – even smarter, small, free utilities
www.sysinternals.com – Windows system tools and network utilities so good that Microsoft bought the whole package, but it is still freeware

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