©2015 Donald R. Snow
This page was last updated 2015-11-11

These Freeware Corner notes are published in TAGGology, our Utah Valley Technology and Genealogy Group (UVTAGG) monthly newsletter, and are posted on where there may be corrections or updates.

There are many free computer programs useful for family history and related computer tasks.  Some are "portable", that is, they will run from a flash drive and don't need to be installed on the computer.  Portable versions on a flash drive can be taken with you to use on any Windows computer, e.g. at a Family History Center.  That way you can use programs that you are familiar with that are not on the FHC's computers.  You don't have to download and install them on the FHC computers temporarily, even, which you can't do now in most FHC's.  And to run them you don't have to be connected to the Internet, but if you are running a browser from a flash drive you need to be able to get to the Internet, of course.  Running portable programs from a flash drive also has the advantage that they don't leave traces or pieces of the programs and/or data on the FHC's computer.  In this note I will discuss a freeware program platform called PORTABLEAPPS.COM which allows this.  It is available from . This website also includes over 300 completely free and legal programs that can be put on the PORTABLEAPPS platform on the flash drive. Their website says the following about the platform and programs.
Make every PC feel like your own / Use your favorite software everywhere / Carry your bookmarks and settings / Edit your documents, photos and more
Free.  No time limits.  No catch. / No registration required.  Never was. / No adware. No spyware. No malware. / OSI Certified Open Source Software
This gives you an idea of what it does.

The Features page on their website gives more information, such as that this platform can be run from several locations; namely, a portable device (flash drive), from the Cloud (that is, from the Internet), or from a folder on your own computer.  It can be set up to work the way you want and you are not locked into a particular way of viewing and running things.  You can set up folders to organize the programs into groups and it has a "type-a-few-words" search to find and run the program you are want.  You can also change the fonts, colors, format, etc.  It will even tell you which programs need updating and update them for you, if you want.  The Apps tab link on the Home page lists the more than 300 free and OpenSource programs they already have and these are organized into categories, so you can find the ones you want to download.  The list includes many programs that I use regularly, such as IrfanView, PhotoFilmStrip, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, Audacity, VLC, LibreOffice, OpenOffice, FoxIt Reader, PDF-XChangeViewer, Sumatra PDF, 7-Zip, Ditto, Duplicate Files Finder, Q-DIR, Revo Uninstaller, WinDirStat, and WinMerge.  Well, you get the idea.  In going through their list I noticed several other programs that I want to try.  You can sign up for their free monthly newsletter listing the newest apps and information.  They even sell flash drives with all 300 programs already installed, so they run on any Windows computer by just plugging the drive in, but you can set up your own flash drive with their platform and programs for free.  Under the Forums tab there are forums for many of the popular programs with hundreds of posts, questions, and answers.  The PORTABLEAPPS platform information says that it will run on any version of Windows from 2000 on, so it will work on Windows XP, 7, 8, and 10, and it will automatically adjust for 64-bit Windows versions, if that's what the computer has.  Under the Support tab there is information about how to add other apps to your collection on the flash drive, so you can include software other than the ones they have.  This will be discussed below.

To install PORTABLEAPPS click on the Download tab on the Home page of the website and download it to your hard drive.  Then select the programs you want from the 300 listed, plug in a flash drive, run the setup program, and tell it to install the programs onto the flash drive.  I selected 63 of the 300 programs, including several large ones, e.g. LibreOffice and OpenOffice.  The installation time to the flash drive was more than an hour.  You have to watch the installation since on some of the programs you need to click "Accept" to tell it you will only use that program for personal, and not commercial, use.  The programs that don't have this restriction install on your flash drive without stopping.  The final size of all 63 programs on my flash drive is less than 4 gigabytes, so you don't need a large flash drive.

After installing PORTABLEAPPS on your flash drive, to run the programs, insert the flash drive into a Windows computer and when you see the menu on your screen, click Start (on the Menu, not the Windows Start button).  If it detects an Internet connection and any of the programs needs updating, it gives you the option of updating them right then.  When done updating, or as soon as you are ready, click Apps > Refresh and it goes through the files to update its list of all the programs on the flash drive.  To run a program click on its name.  For documents that you write or screenshots that you save, if you store them on the flash drive, they will be there to read or edit next time you run PORTABLEAPPS and you can copy them off onto your own computer when you get home.  There are options on the Start menu to update, and add or remove apps.  At the top of the PORTABLEAPPS window is a search box that allows you to type any characters or words and it immediately shows all programs with those in the title.  Clicking on All Portable Apps (near the bottom) lists the categories with all the flash drive apps in their respective categories.  In a category list you can scroll down through all the programs in it, but I can't find a way to scroll down on the full list and you only see the top 15 or 20 programs.  However, after you use a program, it is placed at the top of the list, so you always see the most recently used programs at the top and they are no longer in alphabetical order.  Programs that you add that are not from their 300 programs (see below) are categorized under Other, but can be moved to a different category by right-clicking on the title, selecting Categories and then the one you want it in.

On the Support page are instructions for adding other programs to the platform -- see . It points out that other programs may not be completely portable, so they may leave something behind on the computers you plug into, unlike the programs already in PortableApps.  Also, the information will not be backed up onto your flash drive when you just use the platform backup option before removing it, so be sure to save documents and screenshots, etc., onto the flash drive before you remove it.  For programs that are completely portable you could use them on a flash drive without the PORTABLEAPPS platform, but then you would have to check for and download updates yourself.  [As a side note, for programs installed on my home computer, i.e., non-portable ones, I use the freeware program Glary Utilities to check and update them.]   To install a program not already on their list just form a folder in the PORTABLEAPPS folder on the flash drive and copy the program and files into it.  After copying the files to the flash drive, go to the PORTABLEAPPS menu and click Apps > Refresh to add your new apps to the list.  I copied my program files for EVERYTHING and FASTSTONE CAPTURE 5.3, which I use all the time, over to the flash drive and they seem to run fine in PORTABLEAPPS.  As I mentioned above, other programs may not be fully portable and may leave "pieces" or bits of data on the computer you run them on, but this is not usually a problem.  You can set the programs to save documents, screenshots, etc., right onto your flash drive, so you will always have them available to work on again and to copy to your home computer later.

An idea that I haven't tried, but looks like it would work, is to set up a browser, e.g. Chrome, with all the extensions and added programs to use with FamilySearch such as TreeSeek, RecordSeek, RootsMapper, Print Friendly, etc., so we could use it at a FHC, even if these other Certified programs are not on the computers there.  Of course, to use the browser to get to FamilySearch you need to get to the Internet.  I also wonder if this would let us use commercial programs that we own, like PowerPoint, to run on the flash drive.   I give lots of FH presentations and running the programs that I need from a flash drive would make it easy to use a local computer and not have to bring my own.

This is a useful tool for Family History since there are many times when we need to use computers other than our own and programs that are not on those computers.  If you try PORTABLEAPPS, please give us your feedback and suggestions.