The best portable apps don’t require installation. Portable apps can run out of any directory, even a flash drive—and you only need to download, unzip, and run the program to get started.
But there are a LOT of portable apps out there. Which ones are worth using? Here’s our master list of the best portable apps that don’t require installation.
Jump Ahead: Communication | Gaming | Image Editors | Image Viewers | Media Editors | Media Players | Miscellaneous | Notes | Productivity | Security and Privacy | System Tools | Text Editors | Web Tools
Pidgin is a fully open source, multi-platform messaging client that uses the XMPP protocol. XMPP allows you to link to accounts such as Slack and AIM, ICQ, IRC, and Yahoo Messenger, if you are one of the internet oldies.
Download: Pidgin Portable for Windows (Free)
Telegram is one of the best known, but not often used, open-source alternatives to Whatsapp (Telegram vs. Whatsapp). It functions as a standalone messenger or as a drop-in replacement for your SMS app on mobile.
Conversations with Telegram feature encryption and threading. Overall, it’s a great and safe alternative to some of the less secure messaging applications out there.
Download: Telegram Portable for Windows (Free)
Google Hangouts has its supporters and detractors, but one of the things holding it back is the lack of a half-decent desktop app. So third-party developers have come in to fill the gap. The best one, in my opinion, is YakYak (yeah I know, terrible name), but the software itself is fantastic.
It works just like any other chat software for the desktop. Start conversations, receive them, get notifications of new chats, and send images. There is also audio and video integration, but that opens up in Google Chrome.
If the color scheme doesn’t suit, you can change it to blue or black. And it is all portable, no installation required. Cool, right? This might actually make me start using Google Hangouts.
Download: YakYak for Windows (Free)
A favorite if you have friends and family who insist on forwarding you chain emails, with the dashes in them. If you want to pass on the chain email nice and clean, then run the text through Email Stripper.
Once the text is inside the box, press 2. Strip It! and bingo, the text will appear nice and clean. Pressing 3. Copy puts the clean text on your clipboard, ready for pasting into a new email.
Download: Email Stripper for Windows (Free)
I don’t know why I play chess, I really don’t. I always get slaughtered by the program, within the first 5-10 minutes of play. This is me after a few minutes, and already my Queen is under threat (I’m the white team).
The only brutal part of it is the brutal blood-letting going on when I get it into my head that I am a chess grandmaster.
Download: Brutal Chess for Windows (Free)
Patience is basically the Windows 95 version of Solitaire on steroids. It has music, animation, and a load of other features that make it the premiere standalone version of Solitaire on the internet.
You need to use Universal Extractor to extract the files, and then go from there. It’s all explained on the download page. Now go forth and waste several days mindlessly playing this game.
Download: Patience for Windows (Free)
I am not at all good at playing Sudoku. Yet, despite sucking at it, I recognize that it’s a truly great game. Even if you, like me, couldn’t play Sudoku on par with a 4-year-old toddler, it’s worth checking it out.
Download: Sudoku Portable for Windows (Free)
Who doesn’t know GIMP? The “poor person’s Photoshop”, because GIMP emulates a lot of Photoshop features, except for the fact that you are not paying through the nose for GIMP. Plus, like Photoshop, GIMP has a lot of features with a steep learning curve. I have been using GIMP for years, and I know I have only scratched the surface of it.
Download: GIMP for Windows (Free)
As the name of the app indicates, JPEG View can open, and view, JPEG images. It also views BMP, PNG, GIF and TIFF images (and others). You can also do some basic editing on those images such as adjusting the contrast, lighting, sharpness, and a few others.
It’s more or less a dead-simple image view application. While some might prefer the complexity of IrfanView, others might prefer the simplicity of JPEG View.
Download: JPEG View for Windows (Free)
IrfanView is superior to the default Windows image editor in every way you can imagine. It’s amazing for batch-editing images and for making very rapid alterations to screenshots and photos. It’s also extremely extensible with thousands of plugin filters available. Just a word of advice: learn to use IrfanView’s hotkeys (or keyboard shortcuts).
So why is it under “Image Viewer” and not “Image Editor”? Because it can do both. IrfanView is excellent also as a quick light app for viewing images (either individually or as a slideshow).
Download: IrfanView for Windows (Free)
A nice simple app which scans your hard drive and presents the images to you for easy viewing. As well as looking at the pictures, you can also view its properties, including the EXIF data.
You can import 400 different file formats and export your photos in one of 50 file formats. Plus slideshows, printing support, and side-by-side comparison.
Download: XnView for Windows (Free)
Audacity is the best free audio editor around. It should be in everyone’s toolbox. Not only is it easy to learn, Audacity is versatile. It can cut, copy, splice, and mix audio, record live files, change the speed and pitch of a recording, and import/export some obscure file formats.
Download: Audacity Portable for Windows (Free)
CDex is the best, easiest, and fastest CD ripper ever made. It has the ability to rip the discs into MP3 files, along with its metadata (by connecting with a “remote database”). You can add all of the music to new playlists, as well as have the computer shutdown when the ripping has finished, so this is an ideal “start it and go to bed” app.
It’s important to note that CDex is better than the paid apps out there. Don’t bother with the rest if you need to pull audio tracks off a CD.
Download: CDex for Windows (Free)
If CDex doesn’t cut it for managing your massive music library, then that’s where the tag editor Mp3tag comes in. Simply load the relevant songs into MP3tag, and from there you can fix the title of the song, the singer/band, album name, and album artwork. Save your work and bingo, your MP3 files are fixed.
Download: MP3tag for Windows (Free)
Avidemux is a video editor designed for simple cutting, filtering, and encoding tasks. It supports many file types, including AVI, DVD compatible MPEG files, MP4 and ASF, using a variety of codecs. Tasks can be automated using projects, job queue, and powerful scripting capabilities.
Download: Avidemux for Windows (Free)
VirtualDub Portable is a video-capture and video-processing app. It includes batch-processing capabilities for processing large numbers of files. It can also be extended with third-party video filters. VirtualDub is mainly geared toward processing AVI files, although it can read (not write) MPEG-1 and also handle sets of BMP images.
Download: VirtualDub for Windows (Free)
A great, frequently updated, lightweight media player, with different skins, playlists, and the ability to play and rip audio CDs. Foobar2000 supports multiple media formats, advanced tagging capabilities, and customizable keyboard shortcuts.
While the executable file for Foobar2000 appears to require installation, it actually unzips if you choose the “portable installation” option after clicking on the executable. You can run the unzipped files without installing them, but it requires a Windows computer.
Download: Foobar2000 Portable for Windows (Free)
AIMP is a bright looking thing, which supports multi-format files, multiple playlists, audio converting, naming and sorting tags, easy music organization, and it even works as an alarm clock, waking you up to your favorite tunes.
Download: AIMP Portable for Windows (Free)
VLC Player needs no introduction. VLC Player handles virtually any file format you care to throw at it. It plays DVDs, streaming video, and music. Most people can just install VLC Player for all their media-playing needs and forget the rest.
Download: VLC Player Portable for Windows (Free)
PotPlayer is a feature-rich media player that plays hundreds of different video and audio formats without any dependency on installed codecs, as well as streaming media and DVD video. Other features include configurable subtitles, audio and subtitles delay adjustment, video equalizer, playlist support, etc.
MPlayer is no longer being developed and is not recommended anymore. SMPlayer, however, is in active development.
This media player is notable for its ability to display two sets of subtitles on the screen at the same time, side-by-side. This is invaluable for language learners who can see their native language on the left, and the language they are learning on the right.
Please note however that the website tends to go up and down. However this in no way impacts the quality of the media player, which is excellent.
Download: SPlayer Portable for Windows (Free)
Media Player Classic (MPC) emulates the original Windows Media Player. For those not familiar with the app, it’s similar to VLC Player in that it can play almost any video file—and it’s open source. But above all else, MPC costs nothing while delivering one of the best viewing experiences around.
Download: Media Player Classic Portable for Windows (Free)
I’ve tried many different image-burning portable app, like Rufus and UNetbootin. The most user-friendly and well-designed application for burning images is Etcher. Etcher automatically performs validation checks on completed image burns. And on top of that, it’s one of the most user-friendly portable apps around.
If you ever need to create a live Linux USB drive, look no further than Etcher.
Download: Etcher for Windows (Free)
At some point, you are going to need to wipe your computer. Whatever the reason, you are going to need the license keys for all of your paid software, and I am willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that you don’t already have them written down. Am I right?
LicenseCrawler is your savior. Before wiping your hard drive, run this nifty little program, and any license numbers stored in the Windows Registry will be shown in a handy text file which can then be saved. Just remember to save it to a USB drive or email it to yourself. Don’t leave it on the drive you are going to wipe, is what I’m saying.
Download: LicenseCrawler for Windows (Free)
This app has two purposes. What it does is that it disables the keys on your keyboard, for when you are away from the computer. So first, this can be used to stop your children from deleting and ruining that 100-page report to your boss. But second, and this is what I use it for, it can be used to clean the keyboard without watching the keys go crazy on your monitor.
Download: ToddlerTrap for Windows (Free)
Linux is a great alternative system if you are tired of the usual Windows or Mac scene. And we have covered Linux extensively over the years. LinuxLive USB Creator is an app which easily and effortlessly installs any version of Linux onto your USB stick. It falls under the “even your grandma could do it” category.
Download: LinuxLive USB Creator for Windows (Free)
UNetbootin can take an ISO image and burn it into a USB stick. That’s useful for when you need an installable medium for holding a Linux distribution. In my opinion, UNetbootin works even better than LinuxLive USB Creator because of its simplicity and ease of use.
Download: UNetbootin for Windows (Free)
PNotes Portable is an easy to use sticky notes manager with skins, flexible display options, and a built-in scheduler. You can place it on your USB flash drive, iPod, portable hard drive or a CD and use it on any computer, without leaving any personal information behind.
Download: PNotes for Windows (Free)
Are you the kind of person with lots of paper sticky notes lying around? Then ditch them all and try this. Stickies is a lightweight sticky note utility that allows you to place virtual sticky notes on your computer screen.
Download: Stickies for Windows (Free)
Q10 is a distraction-free word processor that completely fills the screen up with the word processor. You have to hit Ctrl + Q or the Windows key to leave the interface.
Q10 comes with and without spell checking. Its version with spell check enabled has an installed size of 896 kilobytes. It’s easily the slimmest word processor that I’m aware of.
Aside from the optional spell-check feature, you also get a word and page count. Otherwise, that’s everything.
Download: Q10 Minimalist Word Processor for Windows (Free)
LibreOffice is available as a portable application. I recommend installing it if you have the storage space. However, if you don’t have the storage space, LibreOffice is an amazing portable app. It’s one of the best free Microsoft Office alternatives.
Download: LibreOffice for Windows (Free)
Sometimes, when I am in the middle of a project on my computer, I need to make multiple new folders for different files. But it is tiring having to laboriously make each folder, so Text2Folders aims to help by making those folders for you at the click of a button.
You simply type the numbers of the folders you want in a text file. So if you wanted five folders, you would type “1,2,3,4,5” (no parentheses) into the text file. Save and close. Then with Text2Folders, navigate to the text file and start it. It will then instantly create five folders for you in the same location as the text file.
Obviously, you would have to rename the folders, but hey the folders have been made for you, which has saved some time, right?
Download: Text2folders for Windows 7 (Free)
.ZIP files (also known as “Zip” which is appended onto a file name) are awesome for collecting and compacting lots of files together. But Zip files get corrupted, just like any other computer file. So how do you try to salvage what you can, when a zip file goes bad? You use Zip2Fix.
With Zip2Fix, it will scan the corrupted (and therefore unopenable) Zip file, and see if there are any files able to be retrieved. If anything can be salvaged, it will extract those files and create a totally separate Zip file with them inside. You can then dump the corrupted Zip file, and see in the other one what has survived.
Zip2Fix ranks among the best portable apps around. I highly recommend it for all Windows users.
Download: Zip2Fix for Windows (Free)
It’s very easy to accumulate stuff on our hard drives. In my photo folder for my dog, I have at least six copies of every photo because of massive reduplication issues with cloud storage apps. So how do you weed out the duplicates and make space on your storage drive? Use Awesome Duplicate Photo Finder!
Just add the photo directories on your hard drive that you want scanned and it will get to work finding the duplicates. Don’t worry, nothing gets deleted without your say-so. When it has finished, it will find similar images, present them to you side-by-side with a probability in percentage terms of how likely it is that the photos are similar. You then decide which one you want to keep and which one gets tossed.
Download: Awesome Duplicate Photo Finder for Windows (Free)
If you have a huge collection of anything, whether it be books, DVDs, belly-button lint, whatever, then you may want to catalog it all so you know what you have. That is where DataCrow comes in. Just choose your category, and add the details. It is a little on the basic side but that will appeal to those who are into minimalism.
Download: DataCrow for Windows (Free)
The first thing that this has got going for it is that it can automatically detect downloads starting in both Firefox and Chrome. So there is no need to actually start it in Download Manager. As long as Download Manager is running in the background, it will know when something starts in one of those browsers. It will also monitor the clipboard for any downloads.
Overall, using an app like this often makes downloads faster, plus if the browser was suddenly to crash and close, Download Manager would be able to pick up the download where it left off.
Download: Free Download Manager for Windows (Free)
Security and Privacy
Never a day goes by without some kind of password hack being reported in the news. It’s important that you don’t reuse your passwords for different accounts. Also, make each password a bit more difficult than PASSWORD or 12345. Something along the lines of D?oqu?l8bhIY#|I+^|&S~5Te is in order. But how do you remember that? You use a password manager.
I use a combination of LastPass with KeePass. You can export your LastPass passwords to KeePass. Once you’ve made the transfer you have a copy of your passwords in case anything ever happens to LastPass.
Download: KeePass for Windows (Free)
If you are selling your computer, or are security conscious, then Eraser should be on your USB stick. The reason you need a secure erase method is that Windows files can be recovered even after you clear the Windows garbage can. The Windows trash can merely removes the file and gives you back disk space—but the file is still there. Anyone with the right software (readily and easily available online) could bring the file back. Eraser puts a stop to that.
Simply drag the files you want nuked into the Eraser window and let it do its work. By the time it is finished, those files will have been consigned to oblivion, and you can rest easy that your secrets are safe with you, and you only.
Download: Eraser Portable for Windows (Free)
PWGen is a password generator which will create for you large amounts of cryptographically-secure passwords or passphrases consisting of randomly drawn words from a dictionary. PWGen provides lots of options to customize passwords to the users’ various needs.
Download: PWGen for Windows (Free)
ClamWin is an antivirus program, which gives you features such as detecting viruses (obviously), as well as regular updates to the virus engine. You have to remember though that due to its portable nature, this is not a real-time scanner. This means that it will only detect a virus if you manually give it a file to check. Plus scheduled scans and updates are also not possible so you have to manually update it yourself.
Download: ClamWin for Windows (Free)
CyberShredder is an Eraser alternative. Just drag-and-drop files onto the CyberShredder interface and kiss those files goodbye.
If you are the paranoid type (and you should, because they really are out to get you), then Cybershredder is essential for making sure those deleted files stay deleted.
Download: CyberShredder for Windows (Free)
WinDirStat allows users to generate a visual representation of what’s stored on their storage drive. The resulting visual depiction represents each file type using different colors (orange for text files, for example) and sizes (larger blocks mean larger amounts of data).
WinDirStat is the best tool for those who want to slim down a hard drive. Just avoid deleting any programs or files in your Windows directory.
Download: WinDirStat Portable for Windows (Free)
This is probably the best and easiest disc burning software app that I have ever used. Simply choose which one you want, then you will see your hard drive on the left and the disc space on the right. Then it’s just a case of dragging and dropping the files from your hard drive to the disc space. Then watch it start burning.
Download: CDBurnerXP for Windows (Free)
We were big fans of CCleaner here at MUO, up until their client became bogged down with ads. However, you might still want to give the portable version a try.
It definitely pays for you to give your computer a thorough cleaning now and then. Clear out all the crap files that are blocking up your system, and more. This is one thing you should schedule on a regular basis. The downside is that the portable version takes ages to start.
Download: CCleaner for Windows (Free)
When you uninstall something from your computer, it isn’t really completely uninstalled. Windows leaves behind junk files and empty folders, which over time can clog up the pipes. Geek Uninstaller uninstalls programs properly and makes sure that all the junk goes with it.
Download: Geek Uninstaller for Windows (Free)
The portable version of Recuva lets users undelete any file that they’ve recently sent to the garbage. We call this a file recovery tool because it recovers deleted files. There are many kinds of recovery files out there, but the difference is Recuva offers a degree of flexibility that eclipses many paid undeleters.
If you ever accidentally delete something, Recuva should be the first app to check out.
Download: Recuva for Windows (Free)
Do you have TV show files on your computer with messed up file names? Then FileBot will access various television-related websites such as IMDB and TV.com to get the full episode list for the relevant TV series and your titles will be automatically fixed for you. Pure genius.
Download: FileBot for Windows (Free)
AbiWord Portable is a free word processing program similar to Microsoft Word. It supports numerous file formats such as Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, Open Document, Office Open XML (MS Word 2007), RTF, HTML, Palm and more.
It has grammar and spelling checkers as well as other handy features including mail merge capabilities, plus a plugin system allowing you to add features with available add-on plugins.
Download: AbiWord for Windows (Free)
Notepad++ Portable is a full-featured text editor for coders and developers. It has features such as syntax highlighting, syntax folding, auto-completion, drag-and-drop, macro recording and playback, and much more.
Download: Notepad++ for Windows (Free)
What I like about Jarte is its nice appealing interface and its huge number of keyboard shortcuts. It is based on the Microsoft WordPad word processing engine built into Windows, and all documents are compatible with Microsoft Word. It opens files with the formats RTF, DOC, and DOCX. It’s fast, and you can export to PDF.
There’s also a paid version of Jarte called Jarte Plus that includes spell checking and other advanced word processor features. The advantage over LibreOffice Portable is that Jarte is much lighter and requires less than 10 megabytes of space.
Download: Jarte for Windows (Free)
The Tor Project combines several features into a single package: A Virtual Proxy Network (VPN), a secure browser, and a few other security features. While Tor doesn’t fully protect against illegal surveillance, it does help prevent unwanted eavesdroppers from prying into your personal business. It’s great for everything from researching gift ideas for your loved ones to looking into political candidates.
While the downloaded package will install itself if you run it, Tor Browser can simply be unzipped and run—which means you don’t need to install it.
Download: Tor Browser for Windows (Free)
FileZilla really annoys me. Fortunately, there’s a strong alternative called WinSCP.
You simply add your FTP details and it will connect almost instantaneously. You can then start dragging files from your computer and from your domain.
There is an installed version on the WinSCP site, but the portable version is virtually identical and just as fast. So it makes sense to just pop the portable version on your USB stick for when you need to update your site.
Download: WinSCP for Windows (Free)
Opinion is divided over which is the best browser, but it practically seems to come down to two possibilities: Firefox and Chrome. In my opinion, Chrome is the winner, due to its superior syncing abilities, its speedy connection to the net, and the availability of extremely useful add-ons.
Download: Google Chrome for Windows (Free)
qBittorrent is both open source and in active development. Not only is it free, but it’s also fairly secure. Particularly in comparison to the BitTorrent client, which has its share of vulnerabilities. I recommend QBittorrent over the other BitTorrent clients (particularly over uTorrent).
There’s also DelugePortable, which is the portable version of the (also) open source BitTorrent client Deluge.
Download: qBittorrent Portable for Windows (Free)
What Are the Best Portable Apps Overall?
The competition is tough, but my top three portable apps are qBittorrent, LibreOffice, and Tor Project. If you install qBittorrent, make sure to download responsibly and legally—and always use a VPN on the web!