Five Best Portable Applications

Five Best Portable Applications

Whether you got a shiny new flash drive over the holidays or your old thumb drive is looking for a new lease on life, pack it full of goodness with these five killer portable applications.

Portable Firefox

Lifehacker readers love their Firefox, and with Portable Firefox, you can take your web browsing experience and all of the accompanying tweaks and extensions you’ve come to know and love with you wherever you go. All of your customizations—including extensions, bookmarks, and configuration file edits—can be applied to the portable version. Minor changes under the hood of Portable Firefox make it more suitable for flash drive usage, such as the default disabling of read/write intensive disk caching. It also respects its boundaries as a portable application, forgoing the usual check to make sure it is the default browser. After you download a copy of Firefox portable, make sure to enable Flash support, customise your portable Firefox, and learn how to sync your Firefox installations.


Using the same tired password for everything is a big security risk and so last century. KeePass is an excellent password-management tool—in fact, it topped the list of the five best password managers—and is naturally portable, requiring no modifications to live on your thumb drive. Beyond its primary function of securely organizsng and storing your passwords, it also has a host of handy features, like secure password generation—even HAL wouldn’t guess the password for your account is $s2k230!nE$g^[email protected](hFod0*2E. KeePass also supports great plugins that do everything from automatically filling in password fields for you to importing your login information from other applications like Firefox.

VLC Portable

VLC is an open-source and cross-platform media player packed with features. Even if you never used it for anything more than enjoying some media saved on your flash drive, you’d be quite pleased. Beyond basic media playback, VLC can play ripped DVDs, stream media, and fix check out the sizable list of compatible formats it supports; you’ll be hard pressed to find something you can’t watch with VLC.


Although hindered by the pesky need for administrative privilege or a prior installation on the computer in question—TrueCrypt has to load a device driver for its on-the-fly encryption and decryption—TrueCrypt remains a reader favourite for thumb drives. In areas where you control the computers or have a friendly local administrator, it’s tough to beat the privacy benefits of TrueCrypt. TrueCrypt creates encrypted file containers that function as independent disk volumes. You could easily create a 2GB container on your 4GB flash drive and stash all your private data in it so that—in the event that you lost your thumb drive—no one could access your personal data. Programs and media can all be loaded from the container—once you supply the password and mount it of course—just like they can be from the unencrypted portion of the flash drive.

Portable Thunderbird

While many users get their email fix through of a combination of Firefox Portable and a web-based email service, many of you put in a passionate vote for Thunderbird as a portable email solution. Portable Thunderbird has all the features you’d expect from a standalone email client. It supports IMAP and POP3 servers, has tabbed message browsing, advanced folder management, and the kind of extensibility that everyone has come to love in its sibling Firefox. Short of having to comply with the whims of some mad corporate-IT-manager, most users will have a hard time finding reasons not to use Portable Thunderbird for their stand alone mail-application needs.

Whether or not your favourite program made the list this week, we’d love to hear about the portable programs that make your life easier. Sound off in the comments and share the portable app wealth with your fellow readers.


  • My favourite portable ‘application’ is a bootable live Linux distro. I usually have a Kubuntu with me at all times. Terribly handy for fixing major operating system meltdowns;)

  • TrueCrypt + TCUP + PortabelFirefox + Portable Thunderbird + CCleaner + ClamWin + FSCapture + KeePass = Golden Stick!
    If you need any other app except those above you should probably take your pc with you wherever you go.

  • Rather than using KeePass, I use RoboForm2Go ( I easily integrates with Firefox Portable and (when I HAVE to) Internet Explorer on whatever computer I’m on.

    Of course the best way to be portable is not to even use a USB flash/external drive, use Dropbox!

    Dropbox + Firefox Portable + RoboForm2Go = my digital life

  • My choice would be the Portable Adobe Photoshop CS3/4 ( I know, not ‘legally’ available, right? ) and the portable KMPlayer (a media-player that is actually better and more feature rich than VLC).

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!