After the unpleasantness, I could very easily have gone quietly but demonstrably insane. Left without a working computer, I was cut off: no social networking, no news, no music. Of course, I could always use an internet café, but what about my settings? What would I do without my usual files, my emails, my calendar? Could I really be expected to to recall the myriad logins and passwords for an untold number of websites? Luckily, being a fairly neurotic sort, I had already recreated the majority of the stuff I needed most on a USB stick.
The Portable Apps suite is a collection of portable versions of popular programs to help you take your computer with you wherever you go. Install the suite as it is and you will have Firefox for browsing, Thunderbird for your emails, Pidgin for instant messaging, the KeePass password manager for all the websites you usually visit and OpenOffice for all your documents. There’s even a version of ClamWin antivirus to give you some security! With a little bit of work, there is no reason why you can’t have an approximation of your hard drive on a USB stick, not only to make computing at different computers easier, but also so that you have a backup if you are as clumsy with screwdrivers and power sources as I am.
There are two versions of the suite available. The full-fat package needs at least a 512MB drive, as it will take up 355MB of space, though this is relatively modest when you consider the size of USB drives that are available. The Light suite is slimmer stilll, needing just 256MB of space; for this though, you forego OpenOffice and only get the AbiWord word processor instead. That’s still a lot of functionality in a tidy little package, though, and I haven’t come across any sub 1GB USB sticks for a while now.
The Portable Apps suite is incredibly easy to install. Simply download the installation package, plug in a (preferably clean) USB stick into a port and install. It’s not the quickest process, but once set up, you can open up the Portable Apps platform and have a look at the programs installed. There is also a folder for any files you work on that you wish to save. The one quibble I would have is that there isn’t a way to automate syncing between hard drive and portable programs, so you will have to take the time to recreate your accounts for a couple of the apps. Nevertheless, using the suite is more convenient than having to remember all of the details by several orders of magnitude.
USB sticks are great for carrying files around, but the Portable Apps suite means that you can take your programs as well. Even better, once installed, provided you have enough capacity, you can also install additional programs that aren’t included in either version. Visit the Portable Apps website and you can find a host of other portable programs, from graphics editors to systems utilities and more games. Adding them to existing suites is a breeze, and it means that you can configure your portable suite to your liking.
I honestly have trouble thinking of a more convenient way to carry my passwords and favourite programs with me when I’m not using my own computer. As I said, I could easily have become unhinged after my rig blew up, but thanks to the fact that I had backed up my identities and work files on to my Portable Apps suite, what could have been a travesty in the end was simply a major headache. You may not be religious about backing up, but if you’d hate to lose your most important data to a data meltdown, the least you can do is install Portable Apps on a USB drive today. Even if you just stick it in a drawer and forget about it for a while, you’ll know where to turn if things do go bad.