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Is it better to use portable or regular applications on Windows?



Portable applications offer some definite advantages over traditional ones. They are lightweight and can easily be moved between computers, taking your applications and settings with them. Here’s why they’re different and why they’re sometimes – but not always – a good choice. So we will tell you whether it is better to use portable or normal applications on Windows.

Is it better to use portable or regular applications on Windows?

When you install an application on Windows, the installation files go to several different locations. Most of the application’s files go into a single folder somewhere in the C:\Programs folder. Files that contain settings that apply to all users of the application are located in a data folder.


Settings that are private to different user accounts on the PC are in files created in the hidden “AppData” folder within each account’s user folder. Most applications create entries in the Windows Registry that may also contain various configuration settings. And many applications take advantage of shared code libraries like the .NET framework and Visual C++ Redistributables.

use portable applications on Windows

There are distinct advantages to this separation of functions. Multiple applications can share information contained in Registry entries or shared code libraries, avoiding unnecessary duplication. Storing user-specific settings in one place and system-wide settings in another means that applications can take better advantage of many different Windows features designed for a multi-user system. For starters, each user can trust that their own settings are loaded when they launch the application, just because they are logged in with their own Windows account. Features such as file and sharing permissions are built on top of this structure. Furthermore, the fact that all program settings are saved in designated areas makes system backup more reliable.

What is a portable application and why should I use it?

A portable application is simply an application that does not use an installer. All files needed to run the application reside in a single folder, which can be placed anywhere on the system. If you move the folder, the application will continue to work the same way. Instead of installing a portable application, you typically download the application as a ZIP file, extract this ZIP to a folder and run the application’s executable file. If the application allows you to save settings, these settings are saved in files within the same folder.

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The most significant advantage of using portable applications is obvious – they are portable. Put them on a USB drive, for example, and you can transport them from computer to computer. They leave no trace on PCs. Everything, including any settings you have saved, is saved directly to the portable application folder on the USB drive. It’s very similar to the way things worked in the days of MS-DOS and Windows 3.1.

However, they can be useful even if you are not changing computers.

For one, they leave a smaller footprint on your PC. They tend to be lighter than most installable applications, simply because they do not require installation. You can sync them (along with their settings) to your other PCs using something like Dropbox or another cloud service. Or you can use an app just once without having to worry about it leaving residue on your system.

portable applications

Of course, there will always be applications that you will need to install. Either they are too large – or sophisticated – to run as a portable application, or they need to take advantage of Windows’ multi-user or security capabilities. But many applications are available in both versions, which means you can choose between an installer and a ZIP when you download them.

Naturally, there are some disadvantages to using these apps.

Windows User Account Controls (UAC) don’t work for portable apps the same way they work for installed apps. This means they are more subject to non-administrative processes. You can consider this fact as an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage is that if you need a portable application, you can probably run it even if you are on a network – for example, at work – where you cannot install a normal application. The downside is that the IT department and any security protocols they have instituted may be less effective.

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Portable external hard drive USB3.0 connect to laptop computer on desk, Data transfer or backup personal files concept

Another disadvantage of portable applications is that they are usually not created with multiple users in mind. This probably isn’t a big deal, since you’re probably creating a portable unit that you can carry just for you. But if multiple users need to use an application, they will all need to use the same settings or have multiple copies of the application folder on the handheld.

Lastly, if you are running portable applications from a USB drive, you should be careful to eject the drive properly, rather than simply removing it. Otherwise, it may corrupt applications or cause settings to not be saved correctly. This problem can even occur on PCs that do not handle USB drives well when they go to sleep or hibernate. This problem is less common on modern PCs than it was in the past, but there are still PCs that don’t handle sleep mode well.

That said, the advantages of portable applications usually outweigh the disadvantages – especially if you move between different PCs a lot.

What types of portable applications are available?

If you think that portable applications are mainly system utilities that support technicians carry with them, you might be surprised to discover that there are all types of portable applications. You’ll find system utilities, no doubt, but also applications for virtually all your needs – productivity, communications, graphics and image viewing, and much more.

However, in addition to all these standalone applications, you can also download sets of applications that you can install on a USB drive. These suites typically provide a Start menu-style launcher to access applications, and some also coordinate application settings. Many of these suites have hundreds of free portable apps to choose from, essentially allowing you to create a complete, portable workspace. O PortableApps and LiberKey are two of the most popular suites.

However, if these are applications that you deal with daily and you would like to have information about the last files opened and the like, it is better to use so-called normal applications.

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