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Portable apps on netbooks


5 Aug 2011
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Unlike usual applications, portable ones do not need to undergo an installation procedure. They can be executed to run from portable storage devices such as external hard drives and flash drives. They are smaller in size and usually not as feature rich when compared to their installable counterparts. The most distinct feature of portable applications is that unlike other applications, they don’t store any information on the system. All the configuration settings, data and registry entries are stored on the removable media, unless you specify otherwise. Also they don’t create any shortcuts on the system such as Start Menu items or Desktop icons.

Why should you use them?

Let’s say that you want to use particular software on your netbook and at the same time you’re a bit tight on the money front. No problem, there are loads of free substitutes available which can serve your purpose. You can download portable applications (on CHIP DVD) and use them on your netbook and/or notebook for free. They save space, spare you the registry issues, and they don’t clutter your Desktop with icons or your Start Menu with shortcuts.

Depending on your needs, there’s a plethora of applications designed for specific purposes. For instance, there’s OpenOffice Portable, which is free and portable. A similar example is of the GnuCash Portable which is a financial management application. Then there’s KompoZer Portable that helps in developing a basic static website from start to finish in no time. This is just the tip of the iceberg, there’s a lot more for you to explore. But in the mean time, let’s look at some of the applications in detail.

Here’s a quick question, what software do basic office computers need? Lets say an office suite, image editor, webpage editor, PDF reader, instant messenger and a few entertainment applications. Here are some portable applications that you can use to replace installble software.

Office applications

OpenOffice Portable (239 MB)

A portable version of the OpenOffice suite, this comprehensive suite comprises of office applications which are similar to that of Microsoft Office. On execution, the main interface lets you choose which document you wish to create, documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings and so on. For people who prefer to use them seperately can do so by executing the individual files. Free of charge and miniscule in size, all applications collectively suffice for almost all tasks that are expected from an office suite.

The Writer closely resembles Microsoft Word in looks as well as in features. It’s good at almost all tasks that are expected from a decent word processor. It also features some utilities that many word processors don’t. For instance, it has a built-in media player and a save-as-PDF option. You can also type a letter and export that document as an attachment to your default email client.

Then there is OpenOffice Draw, which lets you do everything that Paintbrush in Windows can do. In addition, Draw lets you add effects to your work such as gradients, transparencies, 3D shapes and work with layers. Overall, it’s a good option for basic clipart work.

Another useful application is the Excel look-alike, the OpenOffice Calc. Even though it resembles Microsoft Excel, its features and layout are not as intimidating; however it is as effective as Excel. Nonetheless, the Calc will suffice for advanced calculations, formulae and macros. Some functions may require a Java environment for OpenOffice to work. Some built-in features such as the media player and save-as-PDF are common to this application too. Overall, it’s a good option for regular office work.

There’s something for presentations too, it’s the OpenOffice Impress. It does impress us with its easy to use interface and quick and intuitive steps. It’s a good substitute for Microsoft Powerpoint. The predefined master pages can give you a good head start for making super quick presentations. The various layout templates and table designs give you an array of options to choose from. Also you can add various effects to your presentation such as slide transitions and numerous customizable animations. In the unlikely event that you run out of design options, you can choose colorful patterns from the gallery.

Up next is a portable database, called Base, which lets you create tables, queries, forms and reports. Creating databases and tables, using wizards and so on, require a Java environment when using OpenOffice. You can acquire it from a Sun Java 1.5 or higher installation and place it into the ‘CommonFiles’ folder. If your work involves multitasking, this database is a very good option.

GIMP portable (20.2 MB)

The GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is a powerful image editing application which delivers professional results. It closely resembles Adobe Photoshop in more than one way. The initial screen displays three disconnected windows, a canvas area, the toolbox and the third window is for channels, layers, brushes and such. GIMP is feature rich and it lets you work with layers, filters, various innovative brushes and much more. Similar to Photoshop, GIMP also has different tools for selection, applying perspective effects, dodging, cloning (stamping) and more. Although the interface is not the most user-friendly one, its features make it a powerful image editing program. Considering the fact that it is as light as 20MB, and to top that off it is free, this one’s a great option for a portable image editor.

Eraser portable (1.40 MB)

This decent looking and user-friendly application is primarily intended for secure deletion of specific files, folders and for wiping unused disk space. You can opt to use the Gutmann method (see tips) for the process. It even offers to deliver reports for all scenarios. While being a portable application it doesn’t modify or create new entries in the local machine, but can be added to the context menus for convenience and quick operation. Finally, the Eraser Portable features a scheduler, which allows automation at users’ convenience. So all in all, it’s a fairly useful application. If someone needs your help to securely delete data from his hard drive, just plug your flash drive in and put the Eraser Portable to the task.

GnuCash Portable (100 MB)

Now, this is an application which unlike most portable applications is packed with features. Although the initial launch takes a few seconds, the application offers a series of choices which help configure your account settings that are specific to your needs. For instance, it offers choices for the currency of the account and the types of accounts to be maintained such as a simple check book, business account, car loans, child care expense, common accounts, fixed assets and a few more. Each account type has subcategories. For instance, the common account has entries that include Books, Education and Laundry etc. And the most elaborate ones such as a Business account involves categories such as Assets, Equity, Liabilities and each category forms a tree structure to further elaborate that specific account. To top it all, there’s a feature of online banking within the application. So it’s safe to say that the program’s size on disk is largely owed to the numerous features it offers. So overall, the GnuCash Portable with its elaborate feature set is certainly worth a shot.

AbiWord Portable (9.84 MB)

Other than a few features, AbiWord Portable mimics the Microsoft Word beautifully. Even the interface, the layout and the look of the application isn’t very different. If you’re looking at basic word processing, such as typing documents, formatting, tables, headers and footers, date and time, page breaks and so on, this is a good standalone option. This application does all of this and more and it is also compatible to the Microsoft Word file format. So we’d say it’s a good application for a simple word processing scenario.

SumatraPDF Portable (1.51 MB)

This one is your average PDF document reader which offers all the standard features such as various page viewing styles, printing, zooming in and out, rotating and book marking pages and so on. However, one feature that deserves attention is the various language interfaces, two of which include Indian languages too.

Portable WordWeb (13.6 MB)

A portable version of the WordWeb, this is a fairly comprehensive program which is intended for Microsoft Windows. It can be used to find the meaning of words from any program in a single click. The default settings let you right-click on a particular word to display its definition, pronunciation, synonyms and related words. So if you need a one-click portable dictionary and thesaurus, using WordWeb on your portable flash drive is an excellent option.

TIP: There’s another portable dictionary called the Lingoes which is included in the April month's CHIP DVD.

Multimedia and chat

Audacity Portable 1.2.6 (4.33 MB)

Audacity is a basic audio editing program which lets you work with almost all standard audio formats such as WAV, MP3, AUP, AIF and so on. It allows recording at various sample rates in mono or stereo mode. In addition to these features, the program lets you add audio effects to a track such as amplification, bass boost, changing the pitch, speed and tempo, and do a lot more with a track. So, at a modest 4.33 MB, it’s quite utilitarian.

MPlayer Portable (7.41 MB)

The MPlayer Portable looks and works like any other standard media player. However, it plays a variety of media files for which many other players either need plug-ins or they can’t play them at all. For instance, the MPlayer is compatible with DivX (AVI), MP3, FLV, music CDs and DVDs. You can also set the aspect ratios automatically or manually.

aMSN Portable (23 MB)

This application has almost everything that the installable version of MSN messenger features. The default skin looks quite plain but you can get some more skins by going to Account | Select Skin. Not bad at all.

All the applications mentioned above need less than 500 MB on a portable drive or a hard drive. Even though these applications reside in the memory when executed, they do not affect registry or modify system files. Ideally 300 to 400 MB of space should be sufficient for installing standard applications which are needed in desktop PCs, netbooks and notebooks.

source : Chip Magazine.
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