Leave the laptop behind with PortableApps

Lighten your luggage with this Open Source software suite for your iPod, Flash drive or any memory device.

Most Webware.com readers who use Windows are familiar with two kinds of software: applications that run within the Windows framework, and Web-based applications. Using the former requires access to your own computer; using the latter requires password management and an Internet connection.

Now, the growing availability of software that runs off portable devices makes schlepping your laptop home for the holidays less of a necessity. PortableApps Standard Suite turns your memory device--iPod, Darth Vader Flash drive or even your digital camera's memory card--into a software and personal file manager.

Here's how to get started: Grab the PortableApps suite and run the installation file. Be sure to point the installation to your portable device, otherwise you'll have the suite on your hard drive, which is impractical for carrying to Grandma's house. The device should have at least 512 MB free for the Standard Edition, or 128 MB available for the Lite Edition. Then run the executable, which will load the red panel in the screenshot.

From there, it takes only one click to run any of the programs listed on the left, or to manage your files from the column on the right. There's a useful backup feature, so you can make temporary copies to the hard drive you're working with. The Standard Edition of Portable Apps comes with the OpenOffice.org office management suite, which includes a word processor, spreadsheet, drawing app and calculator, among others. There's also a Sudoku game, an instant-message manager, a virus scanner, and three programs from Mozilla--the Sunbird calendar, Firefox browser and Thunderbird e-mail client. The Lite Edition substitutes the AbiWord Portable word processor for OpenOffice.org.

Both suites include a link to the PortableApps Web site that lists the software that can work within the framework, so you can add or drop programs as you need them. The bottom of the panel has a memory bar that keeps you informed of how much room is left on your device.

The installation process takes a long time, but since you're getting a veritable plethora of applications, it's more than worth the wait. In the future, it'd be nice if there was a feature that allowed one-click synchronization between your home hard drive and your Portable Apps files and configurations, but I can forgive that for the flexibility and versatility that the suite provides.

What I can't guarantee is that Grandma will be as forgiving for spending your entire holiday on her computer.