Tools: Apps on the Go

I manage a lot of my day-to-day work from my home office, so I’ve invested in a fairly powerful desktop computer as my primary machine. It runs the tools I need, has the required hardware to run virtual machines when necessary, and lives in a pretty stable and cool environment. It’s a trusty rig and has yet to fail me in any significant way.

However, the flip side of that is that I don’t have a primary laptop. My partners let me borrow theirs from time to time, and some hardware finds its way into my hands, but sometimes I need to be hands-on with something at a client’s location and I don’t have my own portable system handy. In those cases, there are a couple of toolkits I turn to for critical apps that I can use on the go. Both of these kits share the drawback that I wind up requiring the use of someone else’s Windows-based computer or some preconfigured Windows environment emulation software, but given the general constraints of time and budget under which I (and a lot of others) operate, these kits make the task of moving a lot of useful tools from one place to another just about as easy as it gets.

Kit 1: PortableApps.com

PortableApps.com is the world’s most popular portable software solution allowing you to take your favorite software with you. A fully open source and free platform, it works on any portable storage device (USB flash drive, memory card, portable hard drive, etc), cloud drive (DropBox, Google Drive, etc), or installed locally. With millions of users all over the world and a full collection of open source software as well as compatible freeware and commercial software and partners in the software and hardware industry, PortableApps.com is the most complete solution for life on the go.

Like the description says this toolkit is a hugely popular multi-app installer. My use case is to download included system diagnostic and troubleshooting tools and create a USB key, which I then slip in a pocket and take to a client’s offices with me. In cases of malware infection or where clients have concerns about the privacy of their data, I can use some of the included tools to wipe the USB stick before leaving the client site, or I can leave the stick with them at a fairly trivial cost.

Installation is incredibly simple. Download the installer, plug in a USB stick, and follow the steps; then launch the platform and click Apps > Get More Apps. On subsequent launches, the platform will automatically check for updates to the installed apps and will walk through a wizard to install them. On a reasonable Internet connection, the total download and installation time for an installation of around 200 of the apps is under an hour, so rebuilding your USB key if you lose it, leave it with a client, or need to wipe it for any reason doesn’t require you to sacrifice a day’s work (unlike, say, rebuilding a laptop if you don’t have adequate protections in place when you connect it to a client’s network).

Kit 2: GEGeek Tech Toolkit

A complete collection of over 300 Portable Freeware Tech Related programs, all accessible from one Menu Launcher Utility. There’s even a program to update all the essential programs automatically, all contained on a USB⁄Flash drive for travel. It’s a Personal tool kit I put together for my job and peers that I am just sharing with everyone to help make everyone’s jobs a little easier. So Enjoy!!!

A little more focused on IT work, the GEGeek Tech Toolkit has a simpler install process than PortableApps.com’s and also has a different set of apps available for installation and a different update method. Because of this it takes a little more work to get the right set of apps for your use case loaded into the toolkit, but the author has configured the process so that you can have the toolkit on your hard drive and maintain your installations there, then just copy the folder to a USB stick when you want your apps to be portable.

The update process is manual rather than automatic and uses the Ketarin update manager, which the toolkit’s author recommends running once per week. Like the PortableApps.com installation and update process, with a reliable Internet connection this is pretty painless – you just have to click through some license agreements once in a while while you enjoy your cup of coffee.

Both of the above toolkits have come in useful at various times and for various reasons. In the next few weeks, I’ll pick some of my favourite tools out of each and provide some tales from the trenches on their use. If you have a specific tool you’d like to see highlighted, leave a comment!

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