Erstwhile Muse

Apr 18, 2007

So what's on your thumb?

I told you I'd get around to it…eventually.

I promised I'd get around to mentioning the software I have installed in my thumb drive back when I was discussing my distraction by Lego mod, but until recently I was still lacking a suitable text editor that had all the features I was looking for. I've recently solved that problem, although not quite in the way I had originally intended, so I figured I'd kill a little bit of time between classes and work to put up a list of the portable apps I carry with me. I'll just go through the list as they appear in the start menu application I use, complete with the groupings I use for organization. As much as possible, apps listed here will be Open Source, and since the environment I use most often is a Windows one, they will be WIN32 native if they are not fully cross platform.

First off I should mention the start menu app itself, which is PStart. While not Open Source per se, it is freeware, and can easily be made to run from the Autorun menu on Windows machines that are setup for it (which is most by default). The panel can be handy for some informational views, but I prefer just to use the System Tray icon to access the programs as it doesn't require anything to be on top. On to the rest of the apps…


I actually use two versions of this depending on what system I am using. I keep a copy of Firefox 1.5 on my thumb drive, with Firefox 2.0 installed to my network drive on the school computer system. Having a copy on my network drive is a handy way to save my thumb drive from some of the memory thrashing that can occur on data heavy pages, which is useful for extending the life of most flash memory devices.


I just realized I haven't actually used this much as of yet. Miranda is the best multiple protocol instant messenger client I've found out there, at least for my purposes. Basically it won out over other options by being infinitely more customizable, although this is at the expense of convenience. So I've been a tad lazy about getting all the plugins and such that I use at home dropped into the plugins folder of my portable install, as well as the relevant OpenSSL files, and as a result this is currently just taking up space. This is more of a user issue than a software one though. I think I'll make a point of fixing this issue once I am at home, at which point I will append the name and links for the plugins I like to use.

On a slightly digressive note, for those not interested in quite such rigorous setup procedures, there is also GAIM (apparently now known as Pidgin in its main form). This is the program I had been using before switching over to Miranda, and at the time it did not have a metacontacts (multiple login names for the same person combined as one entry) function, although it would appear that has been recently added. It also looks a whole lot better than it used to graphically, so I might have to load this up on the lappy and give it a test run.


I used to use this more when I was working on the school newspaper, as half the files that were used in the production of each weeks paper resided on a FTP share managed by our publisher. The other half were of course passed around in a terribly inefficient fashion via email, but I digress. It's never a bad idea to have an ftp client handy, although the fact that the IT goons at school have added such things to their ProgKill list makes it less useful than it might otherwise be. I used to be a bit peeved about this, as it made getting the paper done each week a pain in the ass (I ended up just working on one of the Macs and downloading the files via Firefox, which is not nearly as easy); now I just think it's a retarded knee-jerk move that annoys me but no longer really affects me on a regular basis.


Like I've said before, I prefer to use the standalone version of this app as it is easily portable, with a little bit of setup. I don't use this one terribly often right now as most of my non-home computing is on school computers where I don't really have space to be downloading huge swathes of data, but it's nice to know that I have the capability to access BitTorrent downloads wherever I go. The program is pretty damn small, so why not have it along?

Writing Tools

UltraEdit is neither Open source (it is closed source, retail software), nor is it inherently portable. Why am I including it then? Well, because it is the text editor of choice for me at the moment (this very post is being composed in it, running from the thumb drive) due to a feature I have grown accustomed to and not found a suitable replacement for, that being the tag list that I use quite extensively for my most frequently used (and custom) HTML tags. The version I am using currently, 10.00b, can be made to work portably by copying the entire folder from a stationary install of UltraEdit to the thumb drive, moving a copy of the uedit32.ini file to the same folder, and modifying a few lines in the .ini file by changing them from specific directory references (i.e. C:\Program Files\UltraEdit\etc…) to relative references (i.e. ..\UltraEdit\etc…). This is not foolproof—on several occasions now I have had it lose track of where my tags list is if I go to add a new tag to the list while editing a file, forcing me to close the program and reopen it. It's a minor issue, and the only one I've encountered so far, so I'm willing to live with it.

There is an Open Source text editor out there that is easily portable that I would suggest those of you not tied down to a specific methodology try. It's Notepad++, and the .zip file version should be all you need to get up and running. It has a lot of features I was looking for like syntax highlighting and such, and a few I wasn't looking for but which are kind of handy anyways like text zooming. If I could have found a plugin for Notepad++ that worked the same way that the tag list in UltraEdit does I'd probably be using that instead, but as is no such thing exists and I'm too entrenched in my ways at the moment to change.

Open Office

Sure, it's a huge bloated hog that takes up over 200 megabytes of space on my thumb drive, but when you need to read Microsoft Office files or produce something similar, it's easier to have around than to go searching for it when the need arises. That being said, if I find enough other bits and bobs of software that strike my fancy and put me short of space, I may consider taking Gigantor here off.


Portable, Open Source page layout/desktop publishing software? Me likey…

Portable Python

I have only begun to scratch the surface of this particular implementation of the Python language, so I am not yet sure how useful it will be in learning the language. But it's better than nothing I'd say…

VLC Media Player

If you can't play it with VLC, you probably don't need to watch it (or listen to it as the case may be). Especially handy for watching .mov files without having to deal with the craptasticness of the Quicktime Player—why Apple can't be bothered to include a full screen (full screen, not maximized window) playback option is beyond me…


My personal choice for basic image manipulation like cropping, rotation and gamma issues, and for sorting and viewing images. Download the .zip file version, unpack and you're good to go.


Ask anyone for input on audio editing programs and Audacity inevitably comes up for discussion. And with good reason, it's a pretty handy free, open source sound editor. How often do I have need to use it? Almost never, but you never know when it might come in handy. Pair the availability of the program with the old Headphones as Microphone trick (not terribly hard as I almost always have a cheap-ass pair of earbuds at hand), and I can theoretically record sound whenever or wherever I wish, as long as quality isn't an issue—this is a hardware issue, not software. As proof, here is a very crappy sound file of me coughing into my earbuds recorded in the school computer lab as I write this (hard to make any other sounds and not be conspicuous).


Honestly I have no freaking clue why I still have Blender installed as a portable app, I rarely have the time to sit down and futz with a 3D rendering application whilst on the go. I think it was one of those Oooh, Ooh…look what I can install! kind of decisions that I just haven't reversed yet.


The GNU Image Manipulation Program, otherwise known as The Program with one of the Worst Acronyms Possible (although TPwootWAP is pretty bad too), is nice to have on hand as I never quite know when a fierce photoshoppin' might come upon me…


Easy to use archive file decompression tool, always handy to have on hand just in case.


Sunbird is Mozilla's calendar application. I don't use this as often as I should, and it takes a while to get up and running from the thumb drive, but it works well once it's fired up.


PhiBar is an odd little widget I keep around mostly for my own amusement. It is ostensibly a color picker program such as you would use for designing websites and such. The difference though is that it focuses on displaying the relationship between three colors in terms of a ratio of 1:Φ (otherwise known as Phi or the Golden Number to those of us that don't read Greek symbols on a regular basis). I have a particular fascination with Φ and it's relation to art and design, so I like to have this handy just in case inspiration strikes.

Under Consideration
Portable Celtx

I haven't yet installed this, but I came across it earlier today in a fit of curiosity. Celtx is an Open Source screen writing and pre-production organizational package that I've mucked about with a bit at home as part of my intermittent attempts at stop motion animation via brickfilming. I figure I'll give it a try and see how it works.

So that's what I have on hand at the moment, although as you can see from several of the commentaries and the Under Consideration category, this is by no means a static configuration. If I find anything particularly interesting that I add, I'll do my best to add updates, although I make no promises as to the updates being terribly timely.



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