USB Applications › Hypothetically Asked Questions


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How to install a program that does not come with an installer?

For people unfamiliar with manual installations, this question and the next are probably the most important. It is simple.

To install a program that does not come with an installer, you have to do manually the most basic thing installers do: Make a directory for the program, say “IrfanView” for IrfanView, and unpack the contents of the archive there. This directory can be anywhere. However, to keep your keydrive organized, it is better to have a directory only for program directories, say “X:\Apps”, or “X:\Programs”.

In the example below, we use 7-Zip to “install” the file manager A43 in the directory “A43” in a parent directory named “Apps”. The drive letter in this example is L:, but it can be anything from D: to Z:.

The process is similar with any archiver, and has many variations. For example, you can use Windows Explorer to browse to the directory Apps, open this directory, right-click on an empty space, select New, Folder, make a folder named A43, then open the zip archive in 7-Zip, select all contents, and drag them to the new folder.

How can I launch USB apps?

The most basic way is to run the program’s executable. E.g., go to the directory KeePass and double-click on KeePass.exe (if extensions are not visible, the file you need is recognizable by its icon, usually the app logo). For greater convenience, you can make a few batch files, or one batch file for all programs you use regularly. The most convenient solution is a program launcher like PStart. Keyboard freaks will love AutoHotkey.

And how can I launch no-install apps in my PC?

Unpack the program to a directory in Program Files, go to this directory, launch the program by double-clicking on the executable, and look in options/preferences for options to add a shorcut to the desktop, an item to the start menu, etc. Some programs also offer an option to add an item to the context menu (the menu that pops up when you right-click somewhere, and whose items are always relevant to the context). If there are no such options, right-click on the executable and send a shortcut icon to the desktop. In Windows XP you can also “pin” the program to the start menu. Once the shortcut is on the desktop, you can copy it to the start menu or to the quick lanuch bar (or to the startup folder in the start menu, if you want the program to start automatically with Windows).

How about portable apps that only come with an installer?

Install normally, go to C:\Program Files and copy the program’s directory to the keydrive. E.g., for IrfanView copy C:\Program Files\IrfanView to the directory Apps in the keydrive, so that the directory of the portable IrfanView will be: X:\Apps\IrfanView — Usually the program directory in Program Files contains uninstallation files: install.log, unins000.exe, uninstall.ini, uninstall.exe, unins000.dat, etc. You can delete these from the keydrive, to save space. If you only need the program for portable use, you can then uninstall it from your computer.

Some portable programs, e.g. KeePass, offer two download packages: One zipped with just the program files, and an installer. If you are going to use the program both on your PC and on the go, the installer is more convenient. It will install the program in your PC with desktop shortcuts, menu items and everything. Then, you can copy its directory to the keydrive.

What if I want to uninstall a program I installed manually?

Delete its folder from the keydrive.

What is a parameter? How do I use a parameter?

Parameters (also called command line options, switches, or arguments) are commands that instruct a program to change its default behaviour. The parameters that a program supports are usually listed in its Help file. Sometimes a parameter can be used to make an application fully portable. For example, the parameters --no-plugins-cache and --config="vlcrc" tell VLC media player not to create a plugins cache in Documments and Settings, and to read user settings from the file vlcrc in the program’s directory (or make this file, if it doesn’t exist). To use parameters in a batch file or in an AutoHotkey command, add them after the program path. In PStart, just put them in the special box. Below are two examples for starting Skype and VLC through PStart. The 3rd parameter in Skype is not about portability. It just disables the splash screen at startup.

What makes a Windows application portable?

In other words, the program must be able to store in its own directory all files which it produces and on which it depends (with the obvious exception of common system files present in all Windows systems).

I accidentally deleted a file from my keydrive, and it’s not in the bin!

Files deleted from flash drives do not go into the recycle bin. However, if the file has not been overwritten by some other fie(s), it is still in the keydrive. You may be able to recover it with Restoration or PC Inspector File Recovery. File Recovery has to be run from a different drive/partition. Restoration can be run from anywhere.

Some apps take too long to close. Is there something wrong?

Just wait! Transfer rates between USB flash drives and a computer are relatively slow. Sometimes, exit time is prolonged by the way a program updates its settings upon exiting.

Can I just insert the USB keydrive and have some apps start automatically?

Usually no. Microsoft says in USB Storage - FAQ for Driver and Hardware Developers: “The Autorun capabilities are restricted to CD-ROM drives and fixed disk drives. If you need to make a USB storage device perform Autorun, the device must not be marked as a removable media device and the device must contain an Autorun.inf file and a startup application.” A keydrive that claims to support autorun: www.udrw.com.

Can I use my keydrive in any (Windows) computer?

Yes. Windows ME, 2000, XP, and 2003 support USB drives natively. Windows 98 needs extra drivers. These usually come with the keydrive, or are available at the manufacturer’s site. You can also use the keydrive in other modern operating systems, but only to transfer files, not to run Windows programs.

Are keydrives dependable? What if my keydrive fails and I lose all my files?

Physically, yes, they are. You can even wash them in a wash machine. However, flash drives sustain a limited number of read/write operations. See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keydrive.

What if my keydrive is lost or stolen? How can I secure my private data?

Some keydrives come with security software. We haven’t tried any such software. A solution used by many is TrueCrypt in “traveller mode”, i.e., portable mode: it allows you to make an ecrypted container in the keydrive and drop everything in it. TrueCrypt is open-source, which is good for encryption software. However, it suffers from a couple of limitations for portable use.

I want to make my Windows portable and run it from a keydrive!

This is not possible. However, you can use BartPE (Bart Preinstalled Environment: www.nu2.nu/pebuilder) to make a Windows CD that will boot into a Win32 environment with a basic GUI. It is useful mainly for administrative tasks, rescue operations etc. Other OSs are more amenable to portable use. See: