This article was been published more than a year ago. The information may be outdated.
U3 and PortableApps are two competing systems designed to run software off external storage media. This is most relevant for thumbdrives and the like, but you could run PortableApps from a harddrive, or even your iPod!
For this comparative test, I used a SanDisk U3-enabled 4GB thumbdrive. When I bought it, U3 launchpad was already installed. After having tested U3 for a while, I formatted the drive, and installed PortableApps with the same, or similar software testing it once more.
Why run software off a portable drive in the first place?
If you travel a lot, it is often advantageous to be able to bring with you both the files and the programmes you need with you, not having to download or install them. There is also the issue of security to be considered, seeing how as you leave behind fewer tracks. In addition, a portable drive with your applications will enable you to run them from wherever you might be in the world, or even off it. Today, memory in general, and thumbdrives especially are very cheap. Many people have one or more thumbdrives around them on a day to day basis. Why not use the possibilities this entails?
U3 is not available for purchase; you have to buy a thumbdrive which has it preinstalled. You will also need to configure it when you start it up for the first time.
PortableApps is free, and can be installed on any external storage unit you might wish. It comes in suites from 1MB upwards. The standard suite is recommended for thumbdrives with a capacity of 512 MB and above. This is the one I have used, along with some additional programs.
U3 comes preinstalled when you purchase a U3-enabled thumbdrive. All you need to do to set it up, is to give it the information it asks for, and it should be up and running. U3 is delivered with a password protection system which, should you wish to enable it, locks the drive fully unless the password is provided. Once you’ve set U3 up, you can download additional software for it from the U3 software central. The U3 software central leaves a distinctly messy impression, and it is not easily searchable. It has a load of programmes, many of which cost money.
PortableApps needs to be downloaded, and then installed. Installing PortableApps is very simple, and will take roughly twenty minutes, depending on what suite you choose, and what storage media you have chosen. After installation, you can download more programmes from the Portable Apps website, or browse for them online. All programmes for PortableApps are Open Source, and by far, most of them are free (I have yet to find any that are not free). There is no built-in security system, but at the PortableApps website, there is a perfectly good backup, synchronization and encryption/decryption tool called Toucan, which works very well and intuitively, and is able to encrypt separate files, instead of locking the entire drive, which seems to be the U3 approach.
The U3 Launchpad is automatically loaded, and will open a password prompt, if password protection is enabled. If password protection is not enabled, the launchpad will be loaded anyway, and can be found as a start menu in the right hand side taskbar in Windows. When you eject the U3 Launchapd, the drive itself is also unmounted, and so, should you wish to use the files on the drive, you will have to unplug the drive, and plug it back in, whereupon U3 Launchpad will once more be loaded.
PortableApps is not automatically loaded, but when Windows reads the drive, one of the options in the launch-menu is to launch PortableApps. Should you not wish to load PortableApps, you will still be allowed access to the drive, and once you do wish to launch PortableApps, there is a loading-option for it in the drive. When you eject PortableApps, the drive is still available, and should you wish to relaunch PortableApps, this is no problem.
Usage of the storage media
U3 and PortableApps are as close as makes no difference when it comes to how much memory they use on the storage media. PortableApps
All things considered, both systems stand up to the test, but PortableApps seems to be a notch or two better in all parts of the system. The choice is, of course, in the end up to the user, but my recommendation in this case is clear; PortableApps is the better tool. U3 comes in a very tidy second, but loses out when it comes to software costs and security. I have to admit that I am partial to the ease of encryption in PortableApps, and I dislike having to enter a password to reach non-sensitive files.
Note: This article has been written, in its entirety, on four different computers, running OpenOffice off a thumbdrive running PortableApps.
The U3 website
The PortableApps website