Portable apps are lightweight versions of applications – either in size, functionality, or both – that don’t use an installer. These can 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.
While smartphones 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 find 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?
Portable apps are available as standalone solutions – meaning you grab only the ones you need – or as part of a bigger platform or suite of apps that offer a variety of software to choose from -- the most popular of which is the PortableApps suite.
The idea of this article is to 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.
|Chrome Portable||Popular web browser|
|Firefox Portable||Popular web browser|
|TeamViewer Portable||PC remote access|
|WinSCP||SFTP / SCP client|
|PuTTY||PC remote access|
|qBittorrent Portable||Torrent client|
|Free Download Manager||Accelerate downloads|
|LibreOffice Portable||Microsoft Office alternative|
|Ditto Portable||Clipboard manager|
|CopyQ Portable||Clipboard manager|
|SumatraPDF Portable||Lightweight PDF viewer|
|Balabolka Portable||Text to speech|
|Calibre Portable||E-book manager|
|Stickies Portable||Sticky note utility|
|KeePass / KeePassXC||Password manager|
|Eraser Portable||Secure delete files|
|VeraCrypt||Free disk encryption|
|HWINFO Portable||System information|
|Everything Portable||Better than Windows search|
|Bulk Rename Utility||Rename tons of files|
|7-zip Portable||File compression|
|Rufus Portable||Create bootable USB drives|
|Zip2Fix Portable||Salvage corrupt ZIP archives|
|BCU: Bulk Crap Uninstaller||Remove stubborn programs|
|GeekUninstaller||Remove stubborn programs|
|SpaceSniffer||Disk space analyzer|
|IrfanView Portable||Image viewer|
|GIMP Portable||Image editor|
|Sublime Text Portable||Text and code editor|
|Visual Studio Code||Microsoft source code editor|
|WinMerge Portable||Text comparison and merging|
|Audio and Video|
|VLC Portable||Media player|
|MPC-HC Portable||Media player|
|CamStudio Portable||Record your screen|
|HandBrake Portable||Converts video|
|Avidemux Portable||Free video editor|
|Foobar2000 Portable||Music player|
|Audacity Portable||Audio recording and editing|
|A Dark Room||Text-based role-playing game|
|Big Solitaires 3D Portable||40 solitaire games|
|Sudoku Portable||Number puzzle game|
|Brutal Chess||The Queen's Gambit|
|The Legend of Edgar Portable||Platform game|
|More portable apps|
Web browsing: Chrome & Firefox Portable
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. Both have a small footprint and are light on their feet, stripping out unnecessary bloat while maintaining support for useful features like extensions and themes.
Office productivity: LibreOffice Portable, Ditto, Stickies
For most, a suite of office applications is essential for productivity and in the world of portable apps, there are few better options than LibreOffice Portable. This full-featured OpenOffice successor features a word processor, a spreadsheet tool, a presentation tool, a drawing package and a database management solution that is compatible with Microsoft Office, Word Perfect, Lotus and several other popular applications. Best yet, it’s free to download and use. If you can’t hop online for Office 365, this might be the next best solution.
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!).
Stickies Portable lets you keep sticky notes on your desktop that you can take with you everywhere.
Text Editing, Coding, Markup: Sublime Text, Visual Studio Code, WinMerge
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.
Image editing / viewing: GIMP Portable, IrfanView
LibreOffice Portable mentions a drawing package but if you’re doing serious photo manipulation, you’ll likely want something like GIMP Portable. This full-featured image and photo editor can accomplish tasks like photo retouching, image composition and image authoring.
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.
PDF: SumatraPDF, Foxit Reader
Being able to create, sign or annotate PDF documents is a daily requirement for millions but having a computer handy with the necessary tools isn’t always a given.
While Windows and macOS have more robust PDF tools built-in than before, a dedicated app that you're familiar with and can take on the go can be extra handy. SumatraPDF is a super lightweight open source that comes highly recommended. There's also the powerful Foxit Reader Portable, PDF viewer and creator that’s fast and comes equipped with comprehensive protection against security vulnerabilities.
Password management: LastPass, Keepass
Password managers are an invaluable tool 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 of the most 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.
Portable versions of XXX work as standalone apps outside of the browser. This means you can run it from a USB drive and effectively carry around your encrypted password credentials. It also offers backup capabilities and even lets you access your Vault offline so you can tap into things like Secure Notes without an Internet connection. The only issue here is that data on the USB drive may not be entirely up-to-date with the mothership, especially if you haven’t synced over a web connection in a while.
File compression: 7-Zip Portable
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.
Screen capture: CamStudio Portable
CamStudio Portable is a screen capture program that can be used to record all screen and audio activity on a PC. This handy app can be used to create demonstration videos of software programs, tutorials for presentations, troubleshooting videos that can be passed along to IT for resolution and more. It turns out standard AVI video files and like many of the apps featured here, is free – even for commercial use.
File management: Eraser Portable, Bulk Rename, Total Commander, SpaceSniffer
Eraser is a security tool that lets you delete 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.
Windows has some file rename functionality built in, but honestly it's less than sufficient. Bulk Rename Utility is a godsend in that sense. If you require even more advanced file management functionality, Total Commander can be setup as a portable app as well.
Everything Portable will also let you scan and index a new drive for superior search when compared to the horrible Windows search.
SpaceSniffer is a graphical disk use analysis tool that helps you visualize how files and folders are stored on a drive through a minimal interface. 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.
Clean up: Wise Disk Cleaner, CCleaner Portable, BCUninstaller
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. Since we last reviewed a bunch of them, we have kept an eye on Wise Disk Cleaner which comes recommended, CCleaner Portable is pretty good, too, since it bundles nothing and System Ninja is also worthy of consideration.
Wise Disk Cleaner 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.
Both BCUninstaller (Bulk Crap Uninstaller) and GeekUninstaller Portable are good complements to the aforementioned utilities, these take a different approach in helping you uninstall programs without leaving leftovers on your PC.
Media playback: VLC Portable, MPC-HC
VLC is the quintessential open-source cross-platform media player. VLC supports 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.
There are other media playback programs that are honestly quite good. Among the ones that have a portable version, you could try MPC-HC, a lightweight media player for Windows that supports nearly every common audio and video file format, and PotPlayer which is often considered as a solid VLC alternative.
Music: Foobar2000, Winamp Portable, MP3s
Foobar2000 is an advanced music player that goes way back, it offers a ton of functionality and has been a popular choice among PC audio enthusiasts for over a decade. However, Foobar2K is all of that while remaining simple, clean, and first and foremost a playlist-centric music player. It's being actively developed and available for various platforms, and there's of course a portable version handy.
Meanwhile, 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 hadn’t even been conceived. The portable app supports playlists, plugins and skins, time markers and more.
Just remember to bring along some of your favorite MP3s as well.
Portable games, because why not
There are plenty of gaming favorites we could think of -- Terraria portable is possible! just get the GOG version -- but here's a small selection of portable titles that have high replayability and are better suited to an emergency pen drive.
A Dark Room Portable
Doublespeak Games released an open-source, text-based role-playing game for web browsers called A Dark Room in 2013. Gameplay starts out innocently enough with the user awakening in a dark room and having to tend a fire. As play progresses, you take on more responsibility, collecting materials and interacting with characters in the text-based world. Soon enough, you’re enveloped in what eventually became a runaway success for Android and iOS devices.
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 Portable
Those looking for a bit more visual stimulation may want to give The Legend of Edgar Portable a try. This 2D platformer is more like an adventure game you might find on a 16-bit era console. 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.
The game checks in at around 100MB, featuring large levels with varying environments, an extensive weapons system, boss battles, gamepad support and more. A new version was just released in August 2019 so you can be sure you have the latest release available.
Big Solitaire, Brutal Chess
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. And of course, it’s open-source and free.
More Utilities + Your Suggestions
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.