Why can't free software do portable right?

Short URL: http://fsmsh.com/1515


I recently bought a U3 compliant USB key, the hype and packaging was amazing and for the most part the U3 drive lived up to the expectations. Thunderbird was included on the key, and I was excited about being able to make any computer “my computer", do my work, and then go without leaving a trace.

But, I was disappointed to find that very few free software products where available from the U3 site. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking and you’re wrong, this isn’t U3’s fault. They have opened up all of their hooks and an amazing amount of docs. Sure, they should open source their product, but they come close enough to still do a pretty good job.

The blame rests on the free software projects. I applaud those that took the initiative—OpenOffice.org, Firefox and Thunderbird. (Oh, and don’t give Sun and the Mozilla Corporation the credit, they don’t officially make these releases; their volunteers did it.) But, the fact that free software projects don’t make the few changes necessary to put their tools on smart drives is disappointing.

Now we get the news that Google is doing another Summer of Code (Google should have the admiration of even more people for this, unfortunately the conspiracy theories continue...). Here is a suggestion for Google and the SoC projects: turn making free software projects portable and U3 compatible into a project.

Portable free software projects can help everyone, let’s hope more free software projects recognize this, and provide these tools.

PS: PortableApps.com has worked hard to port some of our favorite software to be portable friendly. Although, most of them still do not support U3, it is a start. More effort should be made to expand this collection. (Hint, hint google.)



Rick Stockton's picture

As you pointed out, they've got Oo.org, Fx, and Tb already. They also have abiword, filezilla, gimp (though probably not with lots of plugins), and even XAMPP (Apache+PHP+MySql+PhpMyAdmin, LAMP without Linux).

Hmm, I could use that USB Drive with XAMPP to demo some web developent stuff to my customers, without actually putting on a public site. And Linux is "coming", although that means that they'll need to start creating two versions of everything (a Windoze version, plus a Linux version). My old computers don't boot from USB, I don't know how that works... maybe a boot CD, plus the USB drive?

Anyway, I think that they've got most of the stuff I use... except K3B, and games. And I don't need MORE access to computer games, do you?

What else did you have in mind?

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

The problem is, that Portable Apps and ApacheFriends (distributor of XAMPP) don't give us a Linux Version of XAMPP Lite, so you can hardly install it on your USB-Stick. Actually I'm looking for an alternative...something like XAMPP Lite, but you can execute it directly from your USB Stick/Drive on Linux. Have you seen something like this?

fiorentio's picture
Submitted by fiorentio on

Couldn't agree more with this comment: "turn making free software projects portable and U3 compatible into a project." Hopefully they did do it during this summer.

SOC homepage

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I have a USB stick with about 50 portable applications running without U3. I cannot see the real advantage of U3. It saves me one click I guess, but at the same time it creates other problems. Like warning me that I may have to restart the computer, locking up, stores the apps with hashed up ids, etc, etc. Why not keep it simple?

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

...Although, most of them still do not support U3,...

Remember, Google is your friend...

This is open source, you know. If you want to whine about stuff not being available, you could, like, you know, acutally participate and do the work yourself and then, you know, like, post it back for the rest of the world to use! Come on in, the water is fine!

Hope this link helps.

re 'Why U3?', protection. I lost a U3 drive and have no worries. In order to launch anything, you have to put in a password. You can 'reset' the device, but that deletes everything on the drive. I'm sure there are ways to recover crap off the disk, but most folks just don't have that kind of time or knowledge so I'm not too terribly concerned about my lost stick.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Shortcut Creator 4 U3

This a very simple program that allows you to add shortcuts to the U3 interface of programs that you "installed" on the drive. This really does nothing more that create a shortcut for you, but isn't this what you want anyway? Simple UI for convenience and it does all the work for you. Props to the coder.

And I personally like the U3 drives. Yes, it does take a bit to get used to, but a ported program becomes easier to manage and integrated rather than using other launchers and managing it all yourself. Just one less thing to think about for me.

Andrew Min's picture

Another good program is PackageFactory

I agree though. U3 is horrible. I had a U3 drive, then uninstalled it.

Andrew Min's picture

First, U3 isn't free software. If you really want free software on your stick, use the afore-mentioned PortableApps.com.

Second, there are ways to create launchers to make a non-portable app portable. Here's one such link.

Author information

Robin Monks's picture


Robin Monks is a volunteer contributor to Mozilla, Drupal, GMKing and Free Software Magazine and has been helping free software development for over three years. He currently works as an independent contractor for CivicSpace LLC