Minimal IT logo and link to home page
Research, training, consultancy and software to reduce IT costs
Home | About | Newsletter | Contact
Previous | Next Printer friendly
14 August 2007

Portable applications - interim report

By Andrew Clifford

It is practical to run a PC environment from a flash drive. Additional work is required to make the environment really flexible and easy to use.

A few weeks ago I wrote about my experiment with portable applications. I thought I would give an update on progress so far.

To recap, I am trying to recreate my PC environment on a USB flash drive. I want to transfer my work between Windows XP and Vista PCs easily, and make sure that I can continue my work immediately if one PC fails.

I have now largely managed to recreate my environment on a flash drive. My conclusions so far are:

  • provides a strong and growing collection of office products and utilities that run directly from a flash drive.
  • The PortableApps version of Thunderbird, run with the Lightening calendar plug-in, provides a usable alternative to Microsoft Outlook. Because I want to be able to access and send email anywhere, I have had to find an alternative to my ISP's outgoing email service because that is only available when connected directly to them.
  • Most of the development tools that I use are easy to run from a portable device because they have not been designed to be Windows-specific.
  • Flash drives have different speed characteristics than disk. I have not noticed the speed differences for reading data or for writing a small number of large files. However, writing a large number of files to the flash drive is very slow indeed.
  • Because of the speed characteristics, some software runs very slowly from the flash drive. I have got around this by using a version installed on the PC where available, and relying on the flash drive version only when on a borrowed PC.
  • For backup, it is relatively easy to copy an entire flash drive, compress it, and write it to a CD. Recovery is simple because the entire environment is just a bunch of files. There are no registry entries or file permissions to worry about.
  • Some software does not run properly from a flash drive. I have copied the installation files for these to the flash drive so that I can install the software as required.
  • I found it rather unnerving moving to a portable environment. Files and programs are not in their familiar places, and I have to be paranoid about not losing the flash drive.

I still have more work to do.

  • I want to recreate lost shortcuts, file associations and startup programs. This would then give me the best of both worlds - a PC that feels like it's my PC, but with all the flexibility of portable applications.
  • The environment still assumes fixed locations for software and data. To make it more flexible, I want to restructure the environment into bundles of functionality and data that can be moved round. This would, for example, let me simply copy a directory to the hard drive to speed up software that does not run well from a flash drive. It would also let me split the environment over many devices - for example keeping little-used data on a different device.
  • I want to create a more efficient backup, using incremental backup or synchronisation.

I will let you know as I progress.

Next: Journey to the sixth circle of hell


To subscribe to the newlsetter, simply send an email to
Privacy policy

Subscribe to RSS feed

Latest newsletter:
Magical metadata

We use the term "metadata-driven" to describe IT solutions in which functionality is defined in data. Taking this to the extreme can provide unparalleled levels of speed, simplicity and versatility.
Read full newsletter

System governance

System governance helps you implement high-quality systems, manage existing systems proactively, and improve failing systems.

Try it for free!

Find out more