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Friday, April 03, 2009

Portable Apps – Making sense on Desktop

Note :- This blog entry covers only Windows based PCs. Mostly for 32-bit Windows PCs, with 64-bit (where notified)

“My PC has gone so sloooowwww!!”,

“I’m getting too many errors!!”,

“What does this BLOATware do??”

We’ve heard these rants from PC users all too many times to even count. You buy a Fresh-Off-The-Rack PC or Notebook, load up your Operating System, and it’s all Zippy and Fast and Clean and you’re all happy getting hands on with your new tech baby. BUT as they say – GOOD TIMES DON’T LAST FOREVER. As you keep using it, you find it getting slower and slower over time and throwing up niggling errors, freezes and system crashes now and then just to frustrate us ‘gentle’ and ‘calm’ users into a state of plentiful stress and sometimes, sheer fury.

The Low Down

Before we tackle the issue head on and provide (hopefully) a lasting solution to the problem, we must analyze where the problem arises and why. The primary culprit in this phenomenon of “ever slowing” PC experience is ‘the storehouse of information’ in the Underbelly of Windows – The REGISTRY!

As software gets installed and uninstalled over time, the registry size increases and it gets cluttered with obsolete and orphaned entries with keys pointing to nowhere and all that nastiness. Not only does this exact a increasing memory cost to load that registry, it also causes application crashes and BSODs.

The Solution

Of course the simplest solution is, don’t install anything new. But then again, that’s impossible to actually undertake. No Operating System comes with all the tools one needs and even if they did, users typically install their own favourite ones over the bundled ones. Therefore we look at 2 different ways to have a lean and clean PC and avoid these registry problems to the maximum extent possible.

  • Solution A – Use 3rd party uninstallers and registry cleaners to get rid of all traces of an uninstalled program. This is a favoured solution of power users. There are several good Freeware uninstallers which do an amazingly good job at this.
    • Revo Uninstaller – Has a Advanced remove option which removes an application using built in uninstaller, and then scans for leftover files, folders and registry entries and shows them to the user for manual removal.
    • Eusing Free Registry Cleaner – Does an amazing job of cleaning obsolete registry entries. Another notable mention is Wise Registry Cleaner and Regseeker(for advanced users only).
  • Solution B – Use Portable Apps. Portable apps are applications which are optimized to be self-contained and run from USB pen drives without requiring any installation. While the premise of portable apps is just that – Portability, one can make a case of using portable apps on the desktop with similar ease with the single most beneficial attribute – NO REGISTRY ENTRIES!

What all applications can best be used as a portable app?? Practically anything!! Though for daily usage for most of us who’re not power users, i’ll shortlist a few which have none or minimal changes in usage whether it’s a installed or a portable version.(All softwares named are available as portable AND install versions. Choose carefully from the software website before downloading)

  • CD/DVD Writing App : My personal favourite is Infrarecorder. Available as both 32 and 64-bit executable.
  • PDF Viewer : FoxitReader. Light, fast, small download and overall, LOADS better than the Adobe Bloatware.
  • Download Manager : WinWGet. Does everything that heavy download managers can do including scheduled downloads
  • Zip Manager: 7-zip. Handles all archiving formats including RAR, GZ, ZIP and more.
  • Media Player – VLC Player and Winamp Portable. VLC Handles DivX/Xvid Video files without need of Codec Packs to be installed.
  • Browsers: Portable browsers allows one to test run a new browser without the hassles of installing. Portable Chrome, portable Firefox, portable Opera are all available, along with instructions on the web to create your own portable version.
  • System Cleaner – CCleaner. Cleans out temporary files, internet caches, cookies and even registry entries.
  • Remote Desktop – AMMYY Admin. Connect to any PC in a few clicks.


  • No Installation required. Simply Unzip and Use.
  • No registry entries after installation or orphaned entries after uninstallation.
  • Don’t Want the app?? Simply Delete the folder.
  • Small install base
  • No chance of required files being scattered all over the Windows partition and System folder.


  • No Accessibility from Start Menu : Users have to create manual shortcuts for the apps.
  • No preset File-handling: Apps like 7-zip, VLC Portable and so on have to be manually connected to the file types the user wants them to handle. One time issue though.
  • Slower(?) WinXP and Vista/Win7 have superfetch with loads software into memory for quick loading. It is not known whether portable apps can be superfetched. Therefore loading time of Portable apps can be slower than installed apps.

While there are also portable Antivirus softwares and anti-spyware, such system critical apps are best installed on the host system and updated regularly.

Where Can I Get Them??

  • : Most popular portable apps site. Site offers categorized lists of softwares which can be used standalone, or inside the launcher and suite software.
  • : One of the largest listings of portable apps. Also has instructions on how to make your favourite app into a portable one.
  • Wininizio Pensuite : Preset suites of portable apps inside executable launchers.
  • Lupo Pensuite : 3 Suite options of Full, Lite and Zero.

Portable apps along with regular housekeeping such as ChkDisk/Scandisk, Disk Defragmenting and power tweaking can help keep the system fast, clean and Happy(user too) for a long long time. If one is REALLY BRAVE, one could do a fresh install of the OS, and install Portable Apps for all functionalities that are covered by apps available, and then use regular install versions of apps whose usage is not taken care of by portable apps.

Update:- The idea of a Fresh Install is appealing,, especially for those whose systems are FUBAR with months and years of neglect and loose installs and uninstalls. But this option comes with a HUGE drawback,, especially for users saddled with low internet speeds. That drawback is the need to install all the security fixes and service packs from Microsoft for your OS. Therefore i would suggest you use this option only as a last resort, and also keep the latest service pack offline installer handy for quick updates with all the latest patches without the need for time-consuming internet linkups. Power users can use Nlite of Vlite and slipstream the service packs into a customized installer.