Portable applications are programs that should not be installed and do not change your PC settings. If there is enough space available, you can store portable applications anywhere – an internal drive, an external storage device like a USB drive or SD card, on a networked drive or a cloud storage service like OneDrive or DropBox.
Portable applications have several advantages: they allow you to easily switch between different computers because you can take your software with you; they do not interfere with other programs installed on your PC; and they can be used on PCs with restricted user permissions (at work or school, for example).
Some portable applications have an “installer”, but don't worry – it just decompresses an archive of compressed files and saves the extracted files to the location of your choice; it does not make any changes to your system files. Other portable applications are provided as a standard ZIP file for you to extract.
The program itself is an EXE file, but the extracted folder will also contain associated files, including fonts and settings, which are essential for its execution. Some portable apps have optional language files, which will greatly increase the size, so consider disabling them unless you need a language other than English.
These are the best portable apps for Windows. Keep them close at hand and never be without your favorite programs again.
Best portable apps – at a glance
- Google Chrome Portable
- LibreOffice Portable
- GIMP Portable
- VLC Media Player Portable
- CCleaner Portable
- Emsisoft emergency kit
1. Google Chrome Portable
Best portable browser app
Access the Internet
Connect to Google services
Certain non-transferable data
All popular browsers have portable editions, but for convenience, we have opted for Google Chrome Portable. Because it's linked to your Google Account, all of your favorites and preferences are automatically synced, making it the best choice for working on the go.
Chrome also supports hundreds of extensions, although you may want to be a little picky about installation – they can greatly increase your disk space requirements.
Some things to note are that passwords are not saved between PCs by default and that certificates are not managed by Chrome but by Windows, so they will not be transferred with you.
2. LibreOffice Portable
Complete office suite
Documents on the go
LibreOffice Portable is the largest of the portable applications here, but it is still incredibly compact since it is a complete substitute for Microsoft Office. You'll need an external drive if you want to carry it, but you can easily keep it in the cloud (the free version of OneDrive gives you 5 GB to play and DropBox 2 GB).
LibreOffice Portable includes almost all of the programs in the installable version of LibreOffice: Writer (word processor), Calc (spreadsheets), Impress (presentations), Draw (vector drawing), Math (formulas) and Base (databases) . The only thing missing is the graphics – although you can create graphics and other visualizations using Calc.
Like many portable applications, LibreOffice Portable is created using open source code. It takes a while, so there are a few versions behind the installable version of LibreOffice. However, this time has been well spent and it is well optimized for use on the go, with easy access to documents stored on a networked drive, FTP server or Google Drive.
3. Portable GIMP
The best portable graphics application
Full version released
The portable edition of GIMP, the free open source graphics and image editor, should be well installed on any modern USB drive or any other storage medium.
It is a large file thanks to all the necessary resources, including brushes, plugins and fonts, at just under 200 MB. The need to access all these means GIMP Portable takes a little while to get started, but once it does, you have the perfect tool for advanced photo editing, wherever you are.
It's easy to open files from local disk, network storage, or URL, which makes GIMP Portable great for editing images remotely.
The portable edition is based on the current stable version of the full version, so you will get all of the latest features and extensions built-in.
4. VLC Media Player Portable
The best portable multimedia application
Free and open source
VLC is one of the best performing and most supported media players on the market. Its main attraction is its ability to play almost any audio or video file or stream, without the need to download additional codecs.
This flexibility makes VLC Media Player Portable extremely practical. Keep it in reserve and if you come across an annoying file that won't play well with your usual music or video software, you have the perfect tool for the job.
VLC Media Player Portable can manage files from any location, including local players, network storage and streams. You can even supplement it with extensions to integrate it with specific services – but keep in mind that this will greatly increase its size.
5. CCleaner Portable
Best system maintenance application
Delete temporary files
32 and 64 bit versions
CCleaner is the biggest name in system maintenance. It makes it easy to remove clutter like temporary files and cookies which not only occupy valuable space but can also put your privacy at risk.
CCleaner Portable is a handy toolkit that you can run on any PC that needs a good spring cleaning. The download includes both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the program, so you can choose the correct one for the operating system running on the affected machine.
CCleaner Portable is great for helping friends and family members whose computers have started to slow down (but always check before deleting their cached connections)
Oh yes, and if you run it from your Downloads folder, don't worry – it won't try to delete itself.
6. Emsisoft emergency kit
Best portable anti-malware app
Most portable software is nice to have on hand, but The Emsisoft Emergency Kit is essential – especially if you have been overwhelmed by the role of unofficial technical support for your friends and relationships.
Emsisoft Emergency Kit does not replace a good antivirus program; instead, it is designed to record your bacon if your PC has already been infected with something unpleasant. If your machine is acting strangely, just run the program, update its threat database and look for the bad guys.
If something suspicious is found, Emsisoft Emergency Kit quarantines it to prevent it from affecting system files, and then gives you the option of deleting it or releasing it to the wild.
Read our review of the Emsisoft emergency kit here.