For those trapped in a corporate Windows world, all hope is not lost. Sure, your administrative rights are revoked. There is no way to run your favorite applications. You can’t use the tools you’d like to because it’s forbidden.

But all hope is not lost. Portable Applications are your oasis. What are these portable applications you speak of? They’re the same applications you love and use at home. But instead of running an installer, all you have to do is unzip and run! It means you can run the application you want, without having to install it.

The applications are best run from a USB key. That way they can stay where you are and once you leave work, they leave with you.

I recently asked friends on Twitter and Facebook two questions.
1. What do you wish you could install on your work computer that you can’t or aren’t allowed to?
2. Alternately, what application could you not live without at work?

I’ve attempted to address the replies I got back below, along with a couple of must-haves for myself. While working within the confines of a locked down computer is frustrating. There are things you can do to make it a little better.

Disclaimer: Rules at your workplace may vary. This does not guarantee you will not get into trouble where you work. Read over your IT guidelines before using anything unauthorized on your computer.

Please use your common sense. Don’t get yourself fired over something as stupid as Dropbox or Skype. Your mileage may vary. I make no guarantees this will work where you do. But if you’re feeling brave enough to continue, let’s go!

Chrome and Firefox

Are you trapped on Internet Explorer? There is hope for you. You need Portable Firefox or Portable Chrome. I use Chrome and it works beautifully. I am able to sync my work Google account and all of my extensions and bookmarks sync to the portable browser without issue.

Using your browser of choice in the corporate world is a breath of fresh air.

Phrase Express

If you have a Mac at home, you may be familiar with [TextExpander])( There is an application for Windows that does the same thing, and it can import and sync to TextExpander.

PhraseExpress is absolutely vital to my work. I spend much of my day telling different people the same things. Working in customer support, I tend to explain the same things over and over. But I don’t write those emails out every single time. I have a series of snippets that save me time and make sure I tell everyone the same thing.

It can be used for simple tasks such as adding a single line to every email I send out. Once I’ve written my reply, I always end with Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns. I can’t tell you the last time I typed that out. I simply type zppp which is my shortcut and it automatically expands to Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

Another example is that I send out an email when I will be out of the office notifying my team of my open issues. So I keep a template for that. When I type zQueue, it expands to.

When I am out of the office tomorrow, the issues I have open are

Then I type my notes and click send. It’s not much but it saves me time. You may have noticed I start each snippet with a z. That’s my preference to trigger these shortcuts and they don’t show up when I don’t want them to. A co-worker uses a ; before all of his snippets. What you choose doesn’t matter, just make it something you’ll remember.

I also use PhraseExpress to fix typos. Two common words I mistype are suer and thnak. Whenever I type these, they are auto-corrected to user and thank It makes me look smarter and reduces the number of errors when I send emails to customers.

Snippets can be extremely powerful and can be used for anything you can think of. How many times are you typing out nearly the same email or the same information? You could make a template and change your long emails to a few quick keystrokes. I can also insert the current date and time, or a date three days from now without looking at a calendar.

PhraseExpress keeps statistics and today, I have expanded 53 snippets, (6446 characters) and saved me 50 minutes of typing today. what could it save you?


Portable Dropbox is just what it sounds like. It’s Dropbox that doesn’t need installation. It will run from a folder or USB key Technibble has written a great post on setting up and using Dropbox Portable. I Would recommend using the selective sync to only sync what you need to your portable Dropbox.

A Warning: Dropbox is wonderful. It’s absolutely vital to keeping my digital life in order. However, many places have very strict rules about what data can be kept on servers outside of the company’s control. So be careful about what you put in that Dropbox folder. Utilize the selective sync feature, especially if you keep music or movies in your Dropbox folder. Dropbox can be blocked at a network level. So even if you do get the application running, you may not be able to use it.


Skype is the gold-standard for audio and video communication around the globe. Used by everyone from podcasters to families keeping in touch with loved ones across the state or across the world.

There is a great portable version which can run from a USB key. I’ve used it when my wife was in India and we were able to chat without spending a fortune on phone bills. It was great to see her face while she was gone.

A Warning: Many network block the ports Skype needs to run, so even if you have the portable application, you may not be able to connect to the Skype servers. But it’s always worth a try if you won’t get into trouble.


Scrivener is your complete writing studio. It’s got the tools for managing complex research papers or entire books built-in.

Because of this, the draw to keep everything inside of Scrivener’s world is important and it’s not possible to have it everywhere. Or is it?

While not supported, it is possible to install Scrivener on a portable Flash drive. From the Windows manual.

4.5 Installing Scrivener on a Portable Flash Drive While it is possible to make a copy of your Scrivener application folder on flash drive, at this time we do not recommend doing this for performance reasons. Flash drives are considerably slower than their hard drive counterparts, but if portability trumps performance, it is safe to do so. We recommend installing Scrivener on your hard drive following the instructions given, and then copying the Scrivener folder from Program Files (or your user folder) to the stick drive using Explorer, and not using the installer directly on the stick drive. While possible, this method is not currently supported.

So while it’s possible, it will be slow and if you run into trouble you won’t get support from the vendor, but it’s still possible. Before you do this, I would highly recommend to back up your Scrivener files so nothing happens to your words.

MadCap Flare

While you cannot run MadCap Flare from a flash drive the license does allow you to install it on multiple machines, as long as it’s not in use on more than one at a time.

So while you can’t run it portable, you may be able to run it from another location.


This is not an addiction I’ve given into so I can’t vouch for this one. However, if you’re willing to try it you can play Minecraft from a USB key.

Civilization 5

Who doesn’t want to run their own world? While Civ 5 can’t run off a USB key, there is FreeCiv Portable which can. So all hope may not be lost for your world-building desires.

If you’re interested in Portable Apps there are a large number of them found there. IF you’re looking for one I didn’t mention, search for “Portable ______” and there may be a portable version of your favorite text editor, browser, or application you can’t live without. Living in Windows lock down doesn’t have to be a prison sentence.