A couple of people have written and asked me to mention Portable Apps. PortableApps.com is the most well-known source for portable software, but there are many more programs that will run on a USB thumb drive. Many programs will even run from a thumb drive with little or no modification, for example, Skype on linux (and possibly on Windows too).
Portable Apps as offered by PortableApps.com are Windows programs that you can put on a USB thumb drive (or on any kind of storage device) that will run without needing to install them on the computer. The advantages to this are:
- You can take your programs and settings with you wherever you go
- You can use your favorite programs without needing 'admin' rights to install them on the computer
Portable Apps are highly useful, especially tools like Portable Firefox, Portable GIMP, Portable Filezilla, and Portable OpenOffice. If you find yourself at an Internet cafe that doesn't have Microsoft Word but you need to edit a Word document, just download Portable OpenOffice and you will be able to edit the file. If you find yourself at a computer without Yahoo Messenger but don't have admin access to install the Yahoo Messenger program, just download Portable Gaim.
There is a great selection of Portable software available, including:
[Note: all of the following software, or equivelents, can also be found on Linux live CDs.]
- Portable Firefox — The best browser for surfing the Internet.
- Portable Filezilla — An excellent free FTP program.
- Portable ClamWin — anti-virus software. If you do not have access on the computer to install a scanner like Ewido then this is a possible alternative.
- Portable VLC Media Player — This is a great media player to have as it can play files that Windows Media Player cannot by default.
- Portable Thunderbird — A mail client that makes a good replacement for Microsoft Outlook Express.
- Portable GAIM — A great instant messenging program that can connect to MSN, Yahoo, AIM, IQC, IRC, and other networks all at the same time.
- Portable AbiWord — A word processor that can read and write Microsoft Word files.
- Portable OpenOffice — A full office suite that includes powerful word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software and a database. It is compatible with Microsoft Office.
- Portable NVU — A simple WYSIWYG web page editor.
- Portable XAMPP — This is for web site development and includes Apache, PHP, MySQL, phpMyAdmin, SQLite, and other packages.
- Portable Miranda IM — Another instant messenging program.
- Portable Sunbird — A calendar program.
- Portable GIMP — The GIMP is an excellent photo editing program that can resize your photos for you, remove red-eye, and perform complex image manipulation.
- And several others...
It looks like PortableApps.com may be also be releasing a "Portable Operating System" that may be a Linux live CD or a version of Linux that easily installs to a USB thumb drive.
Portable Apps and Computer Security
Using tools like Portable Firefox to do your online banking on a Windows computer will not provide significant protection against malware on a computer. There are a few ways that security can be compromised:
Method: Store Firefox passwords on the USB thumb drive so that you don't have to type them in, bypassing keyloggers.
Problem: Someone can secretly remote desktop into the computer and copy your thumb drive, including the passwords. Even if you set the master password, it can still be cracked. There are already tools made for cracking the master password on Firefox. I mention this example because it happened to me, except my passwords were not saved in Portable Firefox. Also, not all software that steals your password works by logging keystrokes.
Method: Encrypt your USB thumb drive with a tool like TrueCrypt, or just use an encrypted thumb drive.
Problem: Encryption will protect the data on your thumb drive if you lose your thumb drive, but it will not protect your data once it is unencrypted and sent through a compromised operating system.
If the operating system is compromised, there is little that you can do while working inside of that operating system. That is why it is better to completely bypass the hard drive and run Linux from a live CD if possible. If there is no other option, at least read this section and try to clean the computer up as much as possible before submitting your personal data.