The best portable apps
Portable apps are programs that don't have to be installed, and don't change your PC's settings. Provided there’s enough space available, you can store portable apps anywhere – an internal drive, an external storage device like a USB stick or SD card, on a networked drive, or a cloud storage service like OneDrive or DropBox.
Portable apps have several advantages: they make it easy to switch between different computers because you can take your software with you; they don't interfere with any other programs installed on your PC; and they can be used on PCs with restricted user permissions (at work or school, for example).
Some portable apps have an ‘installer’, but don't worry – this just unzips a compressed file archive and saves the extracted files to a location of your choice; it doesn’t make any changes to your system files. Other portable apps are provided as a regular ZIP file for you to extract yourself.
The program itself is an EXE file, but the extracted folder will also contain associated files including fonts and settings, which are essential for it to run. Some portable apps have optional language files, which will add to the size considerably, so consider opting out of these unless you need a language other than English.
These are the best portable apps for Windows. Keep them close to hand and never be without your favorite programs again.
The best portable office software: LibreOffice
Size on disk: 578MB (without language packs)
LibreOffice Portable is the largest of the portable apps here, but it's still amazingly compact considering it's a full Microsoft Office substitute. You’ll need an external hard drive if you want to carry it, but you can easily keep it in the cloud (the free version of OneDrive gives you 5GB to play with, and DropBox gives you 2GB).
LibreOffice Portable includes almost all the programs from the installable version of LibreOffice: Writer (word processing), Calc (spreadsheets), Impress (presentations), Draw (vector drawing), Math (formulae), and Base (databases). The only thing missing is Charts – though you can create graphs and other visualizations using Calc.
Like many portable apps, LibreOffice Portable is made using open source code. This takes some time, so it's a few versions behind the installable version of LibreOffice. However, that time has been well spent and it's well optimized for use on the move, with easy access to documents stored on a networked drive, an FTP server, or Google Drive.
Download here: LibreOffice Portable
The best portable photo editor: GIMP
Size on disk: 209MB (without language packs)
The portable edition of GIMP – the finest photo editor money can't buy – is too large for all but the most expensive USB sticks (particularly if you want to change settings or download extensions) but is ideal for other storage media.
It’s a hefty folder thanks to all the necessary resources, including brushes, plugins and fonts. The need to access all of these means GIMP Portable takes a little while to launch, but once it does you've got the perfect tool for advanced photo editing, wherever you are.
It's easy to open files from a local drive, networked storage, or a URL, making GIMP Portable brilliant for editing pictures remotely.
The portable edition is based on GIMP 2.8 – the full version's current stable release – so you get all the latest features and built-in extensions.
Download here: GIMP Portable
The best portable media player: VLC
Size on disk: 85MB (without language packs)
VLC is one of the most capable and widely-supported media players around. Its main appeal is its ability to play pretty much any audio or video file or stream, without the need to download additional codecs.
That flexibility makes VLC Media Player Portable extremely handy. Keep it in reserve and if you come across an awkward file that won't play nicely with your regular music or video software, you've got the perfect tool for the job.
VLC Media Player Portable can handle files from any location, including local drives, network storage, and streams. You can even supplement it with extensions to integrate it with specific services – though bear in mind that this will add to its size considerably.
Download here: VLC Media Player Portable
The best portable system cleaner: CCleaner
Size on disk: 19MB
CCleaner is the biggest name in system maintenance. It makes it easy to clear out clutter like temporary files and cookies that not only takes up valuable space, but can also put your privacy at risk.
CCleaner Portable is a handy toolkit that you can run on any PC in need of a good spring clean. The download includes both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the program, so you can pick the right one for the OS running on the afflicted machine.
CCleaner Portable is ideal for helping out friends and family members whose PCs have started to slow down (though always check before deleting their cached logins)
Oh yes, and if you’re running it from your Downloads folder, don’t worry – it won’t try to delete itself.
Download here: CCleaner Portable
The best portable uninstaller: GeekUninstaller
Size on disk: 7MB
Installing a huge program to clear out unwanted software is pretty counterintuitive, which is why we love GeekUninstaller. It isn’t as flashy as many uninstallers – it doesn’t include tools for cleaning up your temporary files or optimizing your system preferences, but that’s what CCleaner Portable is for.
GeekUninstaller is essentially a more capable version of Windows’ own Add/Remove Programs dialog, which saves you the trouble of hunting down each program’s uninstaller individually.
GeekUninstaller also has a ‘Force removal’ option for troublesome programs, which purges all system files and registry entries. There's even a tool that only displays Windows Store apps, which is extremely handy.
Download here: GeekUninstaller
The best portable torrent client: uTorrent
Size on disk: 5GB
uTorrent (also known as µTorrent) is the most popular torrent client outside China, so it's no surprise that there's an excellent portable version available to carry on your person. It's particularly particularly useful if you find yourself using a PC with nanny software that prevents you installing a torrent client, even if your intentions are noble.
Like the full free version, uTorrent Portable is supported by ads (the ad-free version costs US$5 per year – a tiny expense if you decide you like it), and isn’t as fast as the full version.
Because uTorrent is maintained by the good people at BitTorrent, it's incredibly easy to find great content that's free to download, including music and movies. With BitTorrent rapidly becoming a legitimate platform for artists to release their work, having a great client app that you can rely on will become ever more important.
Download here: uTorrent Portable
The best portable security software: Emsisoft Emergency Kit
Size on disk: 591MB
Most of the software here is nice to have to hand, but Emsisoft Emergency Toolkit is essential – particularly if you’ve been lumbered with the role of unofficial tech support for your friends and relations.
Emsisoft Emergency Kit isn't a replacement for a good antivirus program; instead, it's designed to save your bacon if your PC has already become infected with something unpleasant. If your machine is acting strangely, just run the program, update its database of threats, and scan for nasties.
If anything suspicious is found, Emsisoft Emergency Kit quarantines it to preventing it from affecting system files, then gives you the option to delete it, or release it back into the wild.
Download here: Emsisoft Emergency Kit
The best portable browser: Google Chrome
Size on disk: 178MB
All the popular browsers have portable editions, but for sheer convenience we've opted for Chrome. Because it's linked to your Google account, all your bookmarks and preferences are automatically synced, making it ideal for working on the move.
Chrome also supports hundreds of extensions, though you might want to be a bit picky about which you install – they can bump up the disk space requirements considerably.
Download here: Google Chrome Portable