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PortableApps.com Launcher 2.1 release notes

The next version of the PortableApps.com Launcher is coming now! With various new features, some changes and improved documentation, this release makes it easier than ever to make portable apps.

Important recommendation: use the new support for directory moving.

Development team

First of all, the PortableApps.com Launcher core development team has grown! Version 2.0 was managed and released just by Chris Morgan; in 2.1, Mark Sikkema (Gringoloco) has joined the development team. Mark is the author of several of the important new features and modifications in 2.1; XML support and wildcards are the biggest features which have been done entirely by him (and very thoroughly, too). DLL server and type library registration is also a region Mark has done a lot of research and work with, but unfortunately it’s proved to be more complex than we originally thought, and the code is not yet stable enough to be included, so it has been removed from 2.1. It may ship in 2.2 or 2.3, depending on the rapidity of the release cycle.

New features

Better support for varying operating systems

This release introduces operating system compatibility detection, supporting a minimum OS required to run, with [Launch]:MinOS, and a maximum supported OS, with [Launch]:MaxOS.

This is handy in particular for apps which don’t support Windows 2000; the PortableApps.com Launcher itself doesn’t support Windows 95, 98 or Me (due to its being Unicode), but it does support Windows 2000, and some apps, like Google Chrome or the GIMP, don’t work on Windows 2000. Rather than failing silently, it’s more helpful to warn the user – so a line MinOS=2000 is very helpful for the user.

There are also some more values added to supplement [Launch]:RunAsAdmin, to provide operating system dependant privilege requirement. This may be useful in particular for some apps which before Vista didn’t need administrative privileges, but for Vista and later need administrative privileges due to the tightened security and UAC subsystem.

These added values are [Launch]:RunAsAdmin2000, [Launch]:RunAsAdminXP, [Launch]:RunAsAdmin2003, [Launch]:RunAsAdminVista, [Launch]:RunAsAdmin2008, [Launch]:RunAsAdmin7 and [Launch]:RunAsAdmin2008R2.


Support for wildcards (using the characters * and ?) in file and directory names has been added. It’s supported in the [FilesMove], [DirectoriesMove], [FileWriteN], [DirectoriesCleanupIfEmpty] and [DirectoriesCleanupForce] sections. This is a fairly self-explanatory feature which most or all users will already be familiar with. Precisely what is supported is documentated in Support for wildcards.

There is currently one known slight bug; on XP, ? wildcard matching in file extensions will also match fewer characters, so *.??? will mistakenly match *.xy. This usage pattern is extremely rare, however, and so it is unlikely to cause any trouble ever.

Support for directory moving

Historically, PortableApps.com launchers have often not supported changing the directory a portable app is in; while they support updating drive letters, some haven’t supported updating the path to an app, so that, for example, moving from C:\Users\User\Desktop\Apps\AppNamePortable to C:\PortableApps\AppNamePortable didn’t work. The particular problem with this was that apps didn’t give any indication that they were going to fail, or that things might not work.

By default now, if the launcher detects that the user has moved the package, it will warn them that it may not work. Portable app developers should, however, try to make it work with directory moving, or if they can’t manage that, they should block. After making it work completely or knowing that it won’t work at all, you can then set [Launch]:DirectoryMoveOK to yes if it works or no if it doesn’t work at all. Otherwise don’t specify that value and the user will be warned that it may not work, and asked if they really want to continue.

Along with this, to help portable app developers update paths in their packages as well as drive letters, two new environment variable groups have been added: PAL:PackagePartialDir and PAL:LastPackagePartialDir.

64-bit support

For support of apps which have different executables between 32-bit and 64-bit versions, [Launch]:ProgramExecutable64 and [Launch]:ProgramExecutableWhenParameters64 were added.

If an environment variable is needed so specify %PAL:AppDir%\AppName and %PAL:AppDir%\AppName64, depending on the architecture, this can be done easily with custom code:

${If} $Bits = 64
    ${SetEnvironmentVariablesPath} FullAppDir $AppDirectory\AppName64
    ${SetEnvironmentVariablesPath} FullAppDir $AppDirectory\AppName

Then environment variables FullAppDir, FullAppDir:ForwardSlash, etc. will be available for use.

For more information on 64-bit support in the PortableApps.com Launcher, see 64-bit applications.

XML support

Support for reading from and writing to has been added. This provides the types XML attribute and XML text to [LanguageFile] and [FileWriteN]. For more information on general usage of XML support, see the documentation for those sections and Dealing with XML data.

ALLUSERSAPPDATA environment variable

To facilitate apps which write to C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data on Windows 2000 and XP and to C:\ProgramData on Windows Vista and 7, a new environment variable, ALLUSERSAPPDATA, was added.

A new way to run as admin

It seems that the environment can get altered with [Launch]:RunAsAdmin set to try or force, making it so that portable apps may not work. For cases where this has happened, a new value has been added in, compile-force, which sets a flag in the launcher executable itself to need to run as administrator, leaving it up to the operating system to raise privileges. This should make most or all cases where the value force has not worked work.


Increased resiliance

This new version of the PortableApps.com Launcher includes new code to make a portable app even more stable when a disk is removed or a power failure occurs so that all portable data from the host system is cleaned up and any settings substituted are restored.

Also when a [RegistryKeys] value targets a key in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE and the user did not have sufficient privileges, the first time it was run, a key was left behind in the registry and future runs of the app would not function entirely correctly. This has been fixed.

Apps will now also detect already-running instances of themselves which are shutting down or starting up at the same time, and so prevent data corruption which has been observed in one or two apps. At present this only applies in the scope of individual portable app installations, not multiple installations of the same app. This may mean that some apps which move settings to shared locations (such as APPDATA) will still be affected by this issue. However, for the apps which it was originally reported with, which moved settings from the Data directory to the App directory, this bug is fixed. A complete fix for all cases where this bug may manifest itself this will be investigated in version 2.2.

DefaultData now more flexible

A change in the time when DefaultData is processed means that you can now use the DefaultData to override Launcher settings so that you can do things like provide a last used drive letter for first run, which formerly didn’t work. A full explanation of how to use this will come soon, but for the moment just take a look at Data\settings\AppNamePortableSettings.ini after you’ve run an app (all values in it are optional).

Friendlier management of Java apps

When Java was not found on the local machine or in the portable installation, apps using Java formerly gave the not-particularly-helpful error message “App Name Portable cannot be started. You may wish to re-install to fix this issue. (ERROR: Java could not be found)”. Now a more helpful error message is provided, “App Name requires a Java Runtime Environment. Please install jPortable from http://portableapps.com/jportable and then try again.” Automatic installation will come in a later version.

Changes to custom code

For custom code the path has now changed from Other\Source\PortableApps.comLauncherCustom.nsh to App\AppInfo\Launcher\Custom.nsh. Although the Generator will still need to be run whenever you alter your custom code to compile the changes, this keeps files related to the PortableApps.com Launcher together, and makes it clearer that there is custom code involved.

Similarly, the path to the debugging file has now changed from Other\Source\PortableApps.comLauncherDebug.nsh to App\AppInfo\Launcher\Debug.nsh. Again, the launcher will still need to be regenerated to compile changes to debug code.

In custom code, the macro ${ReadUserOverrideConfig} has been renamed to ${ReadUserConfig}.

None of these changes are backwards-incompatible insofar as the Generator will upgrade the paths and macro name when you first run it. Developers who are using the development version of the PortableApps.com Launcher will need to recompile the Generator.