Friday, September 17, 2010

Portable Apps—Now With Updates!

Once upon a time, it was possible to just drop a program on to your hard drive and just run it. At worst you might have to unzip a group of files into a folder and just run your program. But these days software is so complicated that it insinuates on putting pieces of itself on every corner of your computer. This often makes our computers slow, buggy, and hard to upgrade.

A few years ago, some people began taking advantage of the growing sizes of USB flash drives to create a new generation of software which has been helping fight this trend. Portable Apps can be installed on a flash drive and allow you to work with your own files and your own applications on any computer without making any changes to the computer which you are using. It's perfect for people who need to borrow someone else's computer or for people who often find themselves having to schlep files from one computer to another. For that matter, it suddenly occurs to me that users of files synchronization services like Dropbox would do well to keep a few frequently used portable apps in their Dropbox and cut the flash drive out of the equation.

I always keep a flash drive with a Portable Apps installation on my key chain just in case I ever find myself needing to do something on a computer but don't have one with me. But my biggest problem with this—indeed with the very concept of Portable Apps—is that software gets updated from time to time and it's very hard to keep up with software updates, especially when you have dozens of portable apps which are constantly being updated.

Enter Platform 2.0. The latest version of the Portable Apps software brings several interesting changes, like themes for customizing the look of the Portable Apps menu. But more importantly, you can now check for updates to your apps and Portable Apps will download and install them automatically. Platform 2.0 is currently in Beta so caution is advised. In my own personal testing, Platform 2.0 was able to update all but one (PNotes) of the thirty-nine applications on my my SD Card and another app (Notepad++) needed to update some of its plug-ins the first time it ran. Everything else ran perfectly. While it wasn't perfect (hence the "Beta" tag) this was certainly preferable to downloading and installing thirty-nine programs.

Overall, Platform 2.0 is a welcome update to a very useful application platform which itself was already a welcome addition to any large flash drive.

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