Sunday, July 25, 2010

Portable Apps for Linux

Portable Apps for Windows and Mac have been around for a long time, but are less common in the Linux world. Due to the complexity of Linux dependencies, and the different way different distributions locate these dependencies, the portable Linux application long seemed like a pipe dream.

Until now.

New website PortableLinuxApps features a number of portable Linux applications, which will work on any Linux distribution. These can run off your flash drive or from a folder in your home directory; it doesn’t matter. Best of all, there’s documentation out there to help you make your own program, should you not be able to find what you’re looking for.

How It Works

Like portable applications for other operating systems, portable Linux apps bundle each and every dependency a program has within a single executable. This has downsides: applications with redundent dependencies will take up more hard drive space, for example. For many the convinence of portable applications outweight this negative, particularly in our present age of cheap hard drives.

Because every dependency of each program is bundled in the program itself, these portable Linux apps can run on practically any Linux distro (although I’m certain someone in the comments will manage to prove this wrong). Ubuntu, Fedora and SuSe are all confirmed to work with these apps, which is a solid start.

Just remember: once you download such an app, remember that you’ll need to change the permission to allow executing the file as a program. If you’re not sure how to do this the simplest way is to right-click the file, then click “Properties” followed by the “Permissions” tab. You’ll find the option to allow execution at the bottom of the window:

portable linux

One Online Collection

It would seem that, for now, is the place to find…well…portable Linux apps.

portable linux apps

The collection currently is quite small but features many MakeUseOf favourites, including:

  • DosBox, a DOS emulator for playing old games.
  • Handbrake, the best way to convert video.
  • Transmission, the light BitTorrent program.
  • Pidgin, the universal IM program.

Just download the software, set the permissions and you’re good to go!

Rolling Your Own

Can’t find a particular program you’re looking for? You can bundle it yourself! The process is relatively easy, if not a little convoluted. The good folks at OMG Ubuntu recently wrote a post explaining how to convert an Ubuntu .deb file into a portable app, so check that out for more information.

Here’s hoping that in the future creating a portable app from a .deb file will be a two-click affair!


portable linux apps

Package management is perhaps what makes Linux great, but it’s also one of the most common complaints newcomers to Linux have. Being used to simply Googling and downloading any program needed, the average new users are a little confused by what they find: .tar.gz files or worse.

This is made worse by the sheer number of different Linux distros on the market, and the fact that they all have different ways of managing packages. The best thing to do, of course, is to learn to use your distro’s package manager. But portable apps are cool, and certainly have their place.

Can you think of cool uses for such technology? Have any apps you’ve bundled yourself that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below!


1 comment:

  1. It's so annoying that developers will develop portable apps for Windows and Mac but half the time not for Linux! Thanks for compiling this list, it helps me synch stuff between my work computer (the dreaded Windows!) and my home computer (blessed Linux!) much more easily. Another master list that has some Linux possibilities is at


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