The Why and Where of Portable Apps
We've made mention of portable applications a few times here and there, but we've never actually explained what's up with this stuff. We've now decided to fix this tiny travesty.
Here's what a "portable app" entails:
When you use a piece of typical software that's been installed on your computer, all of your settings and preferences and other program-related data is stored in a special directory that is associated with your user account (and in some cases, the Windows registry). Because of this, you can't install these applications on a piece of portable media (like a USB key) and expect them to work on another machine. Your preferences, settings, and other program data won't travel with you.
Thankfully, a number of excellent folks have tackled this problem. They've managed to take a number of different applications, and change the way they save that critical program data. The result is a nice little bundle that includes the application itself, a special launcher program (to make sure the correct paths and whatnot are set), and a special place to store program data. It can be put on your favorite bit of portable media, and all of your settings and preferences go with it.
So how does someone get their paws on this portable goodness? The good news is that it's available for the wonderfully low price of FREE! There's a nifty website known as PortableApps.com that will get you Windows bundles, and there is a Sourceforge project for you OS X people. I don't know if there's any similar effort for the Linux side of things, so drop a link in the comments if you've got some suggestions.
The next step with this kind of thing is a "universal" bundle. That is, a single "portable app" that will run different operating systems. A decent example is the PodcastReady client, which runs on both Windows and OS X.