The best portable apps

Portable apps are programs that don’t have to be installed, and don’t change your PC’s settings. Provided there’s enough space available, you can store portable apps anywhere – an internal drive, an external storage device like a USB stick or SD card, on a networked drive, or a cloud storage service like OneDrive or DropBox.

Portable apps have several advantages: they make it easy to switch between different computers because you can take your software with you; they don’t interfere with any 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 apps have an ‘installer’, but don’t worry – this just unzips a compressed file archive and saves the extracted files to a location of your choice; it doesn’t make any changes to your system files. Other portable apps are provided as a regular ZIP file for you to extract yourself.

The program itself is an EXE file, but the extracted folder will also contain associated files including fonts and settings, which are essential for it to run. Some

portable apps have optional language files, which will add to the size considerably, so consider opting out of these unless you need a language other than English.

These are the best portable apps for Windows. Keep them close to hand and never be without your favorite programs again.

The best portable office software: LibreOffice

Size on disk: 578MB (without language packs) 

Libreoffice Portable is the largest of the portable apps here, but it’s still amazingly compact considering it’s a full Microsoft Office substitute. You’ll need an external hard drive if you want to carry it, but you can easily keep it in the cloud (the free version of OneDrive gives you 5GB to play with, and DropBox gives you 2GB).

LibreOffice Portable includes almost all the programs from the installable version of LibreOffice: Writer (word processing), Calc (spreadsheets), Impress (presentations), Draw (vector drawing), Math (formulae), and Base (databases). The only thing missing is Charts – though you can create graphs and other visualizations using Calc.

Like many portable apps, LibreOffice Portable is made using open source code. This takes some time, so it’s a few versions behind the installable version of LibreOffice. However, that time has been well spent and it’s well optimized for use on the move, with easy access to documents stored on a networked drive, an FTP server, or Google Drive.

The best portable photo editor: GIMP

Size on disk: 209MB (without language packs) 

The portable edition of GIMP – the finest photo editor money can’t buy – is too large for all but the most expensive USB sticks (particularly if you want to change settings or download extensions) but is ideal for other storage media.

It’s a hefty folder thanks to all the necessary resources, including brushes, plugins and fonts. The need to access all of these means GIMP Portable takes a little while to launch, but once it does you’ve got the perfect tool for advanced photo editing, wherever you are.

It’s easy to open files from a local drive, networked storage, or a URL, making GIMP Portable brilliant for editing pictures remotely.

The portable edition is based on GIMP 2.8 – the full version’s current stable release – so you get all the latest features and built-in extensions.

The best portable media player: VLC

Size on disk: 85MB (without language packs)

VLC is one of the most capable and widely-supported media players around. Its main appeal is its ability to play pretty much any audio or video file or stream, without the need to download additional codecs.

That flexibility makes VLC Media Player Portable extremely handy. Keep it in reserve and if you come across an awkward file that won’t play nicely with your regular music or video software, you’ve got the perfect tool for the job.

VLC Media Player Portable can handle files from any location, including local drives, network storage, and streams. You can even supplement it with extensions to integrate it with specific services – though bear in mind that this will add to its size considerably.

The best portable system cleaner: CCleaner

Size on disk: 19MB

CCleaner is the biggest name in system maintenance. It makes it easy to clear out clutter like temporary files and cookies that not only takes up valuable space, but can also put your privacy at risk.

CCleaner Portable is a handy toolkit that you can run on any PC in need of a good spring clean. The download includes both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the program, so you can pick the right one for the OS running on the afflicted machine.

CCleaner Portable is ideal for helping out friends and family members whose PCs have started to slow down (though always check before deleting their cached logins)

Oh yes, and if you’re running it from your Downloads folder, don’t worry – it won’t try to delete itself.