Portable apps usually offer the same functionality and advantages as the regular versions of your favorite software, but without any installers involved. That means portable apps come in really handy as executables and any files associated with their operation are contained within a single folder, meaning you can run them directly from a USB drive or a cloud folder synced across PCs.
Portable apps don’t modify the Windows registry or leave behind configuration files on the host computer. This is especially useful in situations where you may not have administrative rights to install software, on public computers at a library, university, or at work.
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While phones can certainly allow us to be productive on the go when needed, it’s not always as glamorous as it sounds. It may be technically possible to do things like hammering out a document for your boss, touching up a photo, or editing some code thanks to the cornucopia of mobile apps on the market, but we’re most efficient when we have the right tool for the job, and often times that tool is a bona fide computer.
A laptop is the logical solution that most users will arrive at in terms of flexibility, but did you know that you can effectively carry around a comprehensive suite of productivity software, handy tools, media players and even games complete with user preferences intact and use them on virtually any PC?
In this article we’ll highlight the best standalone apps across a variety of categories. We took an internal survey among TechSpot staff members, what we use to be productive, and then researched more available portable titles that could be useful to carry around with you.
Since we started this list, we’ve kept on adding more portable apps on TechSpot downloads which are kept up to date regularly, and as usual we’re accepting your suggestions and recommendations to grow this list further.
Here’s a quick and dirty list of all the apps mentioned in this article. Click to download or scroll further down for more information and context on some of the apps.
Click the app name to download.
We prefaced this article with a focus on productivity and we stand by that. Web browsers may seem like the gateway to procrastination but the truth is, having Internet access is absolutely advantageous when attempting to get stuff done. From research and collaboration to blogging or learning something new, it all starts with a connection to the outside world.
Portable versions of both Chrome and Firefox are readily available, allowing you to run your favorite browser and surf the web without leaving behind any personal information. Alternatively, the open-source Ungoogled Chromium is a rare case of a product’s name that says exactly what the product is.
If you like Chrome but not Google, it may be an interesting choice for you. The problem is that while Ungoogled disables many services that rely on Google (Safe Browsing service, etc.), it doesn’t always replace them with something else, so you should only use it if you know what you’re getting into. On the other hand, the browser uses HTTPS by default, forces pop-ups into tabs, and prevents Windows from setting a security zone identifier on downloaded files. By default it clears all cookies upon quitting, but you can change that in chrome://settings/cookies. If you know what you are doing, you can enjoy a Chrome-like browser without the privacy implications.
Office Productivity & PDFs
Office applications are essential for productivity and in the world of portable apps, there are few better options than LibreOffice Portable. This fully featured suite features a word processor, a spreadsheet tool, a presentation tool, a drawing package and a database management solution that is compatible with Microsoft Office and other popular applications. Best yet, it’s free to download and use. If you can’t hop online for Office 365 or Google Docs, this is as good as it gets.
Clipboard managers make it much easier to re-enter text or anything else that you’ve recently copied and pasted, adding an array of new capabilities to the default Windows clipboard. Ditto and CopyQ are straightforward solutions that are also portable, if you want a solid clipboard manager (highly recommended!).
Other tools that can come handy include QOwnNotes, for keeping notes with the advantage of plain-text markdown support. Sumatra is a slim PDF viewer, and Balabolka Portable can aid in converting text to speech.
If your work involves writing and editing code rather than Word documents, you’ll want a copy of Sublime Text Portable to run on your borrowed Windows PC. Other excellent alternatives include Visual Studio Code and Notepad++ Portable.
They’re all compatible with multiple programming and markup languages, offer handy features like split editing support for widescreen monitors and are highly customizable.
Sublime Text Portable is free to download and evaluate but the company says you’ll need to purchase a license for continued use. If you’re working with a lot of text files, WinMerge can be a godsend to visually differencing and merging text files. And if you need to securely upload files to a server, WinSCP is the best tool for the job.
If you’re doing serious photo manipulation (and are not paying for Adobe’s suite), you’ll want something like GIMP Portable. This full-featured image and photo editor can accomplish tasks like photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. Paint.NET is also highly regarded and does come in a portable version.
If you’re more into painting than image manipulation, then Krita is the free app you’re looking for.
IrfanView Portable is also handy for viewing a multitude of image formats (the list of supported formats is immense), it also lets you quickly crop or rotate images or save them on a different file format.
Password managers are a must-have for for governing login credentials across the web, allowing you to employ an array of complex passwords while only having to memorize a single master password. Two popular choices on the market are LastPass and Keepass and you may be surprised to learn that there are multiple usage options available should you not have installation rights on a particular PC.
There’s no portable version of LastPass, so the easiest way to work with it is to install the add-on on your portable browser (Firefox or Chrome above) and it will work as usual. Another favorite among privacy conscious users is Bitwarden, which is open source and also comes in a portable package. This means you can run it from a USB drive and effectively carry around your encrypted password credentials.
Streaming and Screen Capture
OBS Studio is a free and open source streaming app that works across a number of platforms. OBS is quite capable and sought-after (and yes, free!), in fact it’s so popular that YouTube, Facebook and Twitch contribute to maintain the project since it’s used by many streamers on those platforms. With OBS you can do HQ video/audio capturing and mixing, create scenes made up of multiple sources including window captures, images, text, browser windows, webcams, capture cards and more.
To go along with OBS, Shotcut is a cross-platform video editor that’s also free and open source. It’s not as complete (or complex) as DaVinci, but Shotcut can be run from a portable environment. HandBrake Portable can help you converting video formats, while Audacity is great for multi-track audio recording and editing.
PrivaZer deletes data from your drive without leaving a trace. It works by overwriting data several times using specific patterns, so it cannot be recovered afterwards with other tools. As the name indicates, Bulk Rename Utility is a godsend for renaming files in bulk, with a myriad of possibilities for formatting and organizing files.
If you require more advanced file management, Total Commander and Q-Dir are two old favorites to replace the standard Windows File Explorer. Then Everything is both an app launcher and Windows search replacement (which honestly still sucks in Win 11). It will scan and index your drive for superior search and better results and it can be used on portable form as well.
SpaceSniffer (shown above) is a graphical disk use tool that lets you visualize how files and folders are stored on a drive. The freeware analyzer offers drag and drop support, zoom elements, filtering, support for NTFS Alternate Data Streams and more. If nothing else, it affords a fascinating look at the structure of your files and makes it easier to discover files and folders buried in areas that you might not otherwise look.
Free Download Manager splits files into several sections and downloads them simultaneously which usually results in resumable, faster downloads on spotty internet connections.
7-Zip is a popular compression utility that’s been around since 1999. It uses its own 7z archive format but can read and write several other archive formats including ZIP, TAR, RAR and ISO, just to name a few.
And if you’re dealing with compressed files, having a copy of Zip2Fix can help you deal with corrupted files or salvaging what’s left in good condition from a given archive. Both are handy assets that you’ll likely want in your traveling toolbox.
Disk cleaners are a dime a dozen but finding one that’s portable, free and comes highly recommended is a bit of a tougher task. The portable versions of these apps are usually better as they don’t tether to the operating system in anyway (which would defeat the purpose entirely of using one).
Wise Disk Cleaner (Portable) does the sort of basic things you’d expect from a disk cleaner – erases temporary files, history, cookies and auto-complete forms but also includes handy features like a “slim down” mode that removes excess junk from Windows installations like sample photos, videos, music and help files – stuff that you’ll likely never use that’s just taking up space.
Either BCUninstaller (Bulk Crap Uninstaller) or GeekUninstaller are a good complement to the clean up tool, taking a different approach in helping you uninstall programs without leaving leftovers on your PC.
VLC is the quintessential open-source cross-platform media player, supporting a wide variety of audio and video file formats. The portable version can run from a cloud folder, a local folder, or an external drive. It’s free and works great, making it a must-have for most portable software collections.
Having that said, VLC is not the only game in town and there are alternative media playback programs that are honestly quite good. Among the ones that have a portable version, you could try MPC-HC and PotPlayer.
For music on the go, just remember to bring along some of your favorite MP3s…
Winamp Portable is a legacy app in this list but at just 2.7MB, it’s not exactly going to take up a ton of space on your drive. Winamp was one of the most beloved music players during the pre-streaming era when Spotify and YouTube didn’t even exist. been conceived. The portable app supports playlists, plugins and skins, time markers and more.
Foobar2000 is an advanced music player that goes way back and offers a ton of functionality in a simplistic UI. More recently other good options have arrived like MusicBee and AIMP Portable, both of which are worthy of consideration.
There are plenty of gaming favorites we could think of — Terraria portable is possible! just get the GOG version — but we’ve included a small selection of portable titles that have high replayability and are better suited to an emergency pen drive.
A Dark Room is an open-source, text-based role-playing game for web browsers. A text-based adventure game might sound as if it’s a better fit for an 80s computer game, but just like a good book, it’s easy to get lost in the words. And now thanks to this portable app, you can dive in on virtually any computer.
The Legend of Edgar is a 2D platformer akin to the adventure games from 16-bit era consoles. It pits you in the role of Edgar who embarks on a quest to search for his father who he believes may have been captured by an evil sorcerer.
Warzone 2100 is a free and open-source 3D real-time strategy game, originally developed by Pumpkin Studios and published by Eidos Interactive in the 90s, it’s now kept by the community and runs on fairly modest systems.
Brutal Chess is inspired by the once popular “Battle Chess” released by Interplay circa 1988. It’s features simple gameplay and it’s open source. Solitaire is arguably the go-to time-waster for PC users of a certain age. Most Windows machines have some iteration of the classic solo card game pre-installed but if for some reason they’ve been removed – or you’re just really into solitaire – then perhaps Big Solitaires 3D is worth a look.
This portable app delivers a collection of 40 different solitaire games featuring multiple decks and background images as well as the ability to undo or redo a move. Full-screen and windowed mode in any resolution is supported. Or… if hold’em Poker is more your type of card game, we got you covered there as well.
Last but not least, there’s a Sudoku portable app and IceBreaker, a fun puzzle game similar to the popular Minesweeper.
We have included several more utilities in our portable app shortlist, not to mention all of what’s available in our downloads section. Did we miss anything truly useful? Please comment and let us know so we can add to this list.
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