Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Bring Your Open Source Apps Everywhere

Face it, many people don't have your favourite open source programs installed. It's a pain to see that your school computer has the entire Creative Suite Master Collection, but not a single copy of GIMP or Scribus. Maybe you're at a friend's house and need to print a photo in GIMP's .xcf format, but they don't have the program installed. Let's just say that in this case you aren't able (or allowed) to install a copy on the spot.

I've been using portable programs for many years now, and I thought that it would be a good time to share this with you. Basically, these apps do not require installation and directly run off a USB drive. You simply click on the executable and the program starts instantly, loading itself into the RAM without writing any registry keys or traces. When you close the program, it disappears completely from the host computer. It's not in any way permanent or damaging.

Here's an example of a portable app I use, Firefox Portable (Figure 1). I won't mention this program too much, as the process of configuring essential plugins like Java is rather complicated. Simply clicking on the executable will launch a copy of Firefox, with all your settings and bookmarks saved and written on the USB drive. You can install an add-on at your friend's house, and when you get home you can use it right away on your PC.

Firefox Portable in Windows Explorer
Figure 1
There are many portable apps available, such as Scribus, VLC Media Player, and Inkscape. For simplicity, we'll talk about GIMP Portable this time, but remember that the same process can be applied to similar programs as well.

First, download the installer for GIMP Portable. Don't worry, no installation is necessary afterwards (except the first time). The server is rather slow, so why not spend your spare time reading some of my other articles?

When installing, set the destination as a free folder on your USB stick. For some reason, Portable Apps enjoys setting the root of the C drive as the location. Once you're done, click on GIMPPortable.exe. It might take a while (especially if you have an old USB 1.1 drive), but eventually you'll get this (Figure 2).

GIMP Portable Screenshot
Figure 2

Now, I used to be a Photoshop user and hate the unorthodox default layout. Let's switch it to single-window mode by going to Windows → Single-Window Mode (Figure 3).

GIMP Single-Window Mode
Figure 3
We all have custom settings and plugins on our home computers that we might want to move into our portable version. To transfer our old settings to GIMP Portable, visit the following location in Explorer:
Windows XP: \Documents and Settings\USERNAME\.gimp-2.8
Vista/7: \Users\USERNAME\.gimp-2.8
Note that both versions of GIMP need to be the same.

Open the following path in the directory where you installed GIMP Portable:

Copy all the files from the first folder to the second, letting it overwrite. Restart the program, and now all your plugins and settings should be available. You're done!

To use this app, plug it into any computer and click on the EXE to start it. Unless the running of executables is blocked completely, it should work fine.
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