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Big ideas for the PortableApps.com Platform (long read)

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NathanJ79
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Big ideas for the PortableApps.com Platform (long read)

Aside from categories, which I know y'all are sick of hearing about (and this will be the last mention of them in this topic), here are some ideas I've been tossing around for a future version. By future I don't mean 2.0 or 2.5 or 3.0, I mean... an idealized vision of where I think the platform should be headed. In my opinion, of course.

  • Global proxy.
  • Be able to configure a proxy setting that all portable apps abide by. A new version of the format will make net-connected apps route through that proxy, and it would be toggleable through the options, perhaps with a GUI "light" that comes on when it's active. Maybe it could support up to X proxies with X number of light colors. For example, when you're at work, it glows green, but when you're at school, it glows blue, and it does this just by you going to Options > Global Proxy > Work (or School, or Home, or None). Perhaps clicking the indicator itself would bring up a quicklist for fast access. Why? Well, not every app's proxy settings are easy to find. Some don't have them, I don't think. If the Platform had it, and all PAF apps were routed to it automagically, this could save a lot of hassle for people on networks. And you want people to use PA on any computer they like, so this would work to add that extra level of accessibility to people on networks.

  • Portable file associations.
  • I know work is being done on a portable file associator, but I think this should be integrated into the Platform. Especially since it's no longer the PortableApps.com Menu but the PortableApps.com Platform. Why? The word Platform means that it goes above and beyond just listing applications, and in fact provides a platform of portability that bridges the portable applications to the operating environment in a way that is familiar to most Windows users (i.e. double-clicking on a document, e.g. a video file, to open that document in its portable handler, e.g. VLC, or CoolPlayer).

  • Portable desktop(s).
  • We already have a desktop wallpaper changer and an option to hide the desktop. The wallpaper changer has no GUI and is automatic. I suggest merging the features. Under Options, you'd have a new menu called Portable Desktops, and under that, a toggle option to enable/disable Portable Desktop 1, and a Configure link. Portable Desktop 1 could be renamed to whatever you like, a wallpaper of your choice set (this would let the user choose the resolution, for wide vs. 4:3 screens), and shortcuts enabled or disabled. The shortcuts would, of course, be the portable apps as detected by the platform. Additionally, the documents, music, pictures, and video folders, as well as a "My PortableApps.com Drive" which would point to the root. Maybe just that and Documents. And you could rename the former, e.g. to "My USB Flash Drive" but the default would say PortableApps.com. Why? That the wallpaper switcher doesn't have a GUI and is sort of a hidden feature never sat well with the community. The addition of a second, wide wallpaper was a clever hack, but maybe not the most user-friendly. And the option to hide desktop icons doesn't do anything for the user. Sure, it makes it look cleaner, but what does it add to the experience? Not much. Configuring portable desktops would be fun and it would be more useful all around.

  • Portable updater/uninstaller.
  • Of course, I realize the PortableApps.com Updater will be included in a future version. I just think, at some point, it should strive to be more like Synaptic in Ubuntu and similar updaters. It could optionally run in the background as part of the platform, and periodically check for updates. Another feature would let you browse portable apps by category, or some kind of cleaner interface. It would also install dependencies, which I believe at this point is limited to Portable Java. I mean (for those not familiar with Synaptic), you go to get a Java app, and it tells you "hold up, you don't have Portable Java, download and install that first?" Choosing yes would get Java, and then the app, and cancel would cancel the request immediately. Idiot proof. And finally, the useless uninstaller. While most of us on the forums know that uninstalling an app means deleting the folder and refreshing the menu, not everyone does. And the uninstall can leave the Data directory behind if the user wants. Why? The updater is coming anyway, and if it were modeled more after one of the arguably best features of Linux that Windows hasn't got, well, that would go a long way towards pushing FOSS.

  • PortableApps for Linux.
  • I know cross-platform development is no picnic, but any efforts to make the apps 100% compatible with WINE (and I know many are), or even if native Linux versions of the apps could coexist with the Windows versions, and use the same Data folder. I realize the apps would almost double in size, but I'm not sure you can even get small flash drives anymore. My PortableApps folder is 3GB, but that includes a 2GB FPS. Minus that it's only 674MB. But that's a lot of apps, not all of them PAF either. 2GB drives, more than enough for most people, are ten bucks. 16GB drives are fast approaching the $20 sweet spot. And with the ultra-portable, bus-powered hard drives around $50-$75 for 250-320GB, ones to tens of megabytes are not an issue. As a compromise, Linux compatibility could be optional and/or the aforementioned updater/uninstaller concept could remove Linux compatibility by removing those files. Why? Well, just like people switching to Firefox makes the Net more secure twice, so does people switching to Linux. The "twice" means that first they make themselves more secure, and second, Microsoft makes its own products more secure. Imagine how great Windows 7 would be if the IE 7 effect took place; that is to say, if Microsoft lost 20% of its user base to Linux. I know Microsoft isn't PA.c's enemy, but FOSS is at the heart and soul of everything PA.c does, and Linux is a big part of that. While Linux is no longer the top dog in the open-source world (that honor goes to Firefox), more people using Linux means more people in the open source world. More potential developers, more potential end users, increasing both supply (in theory) and demand (in reality). Why again? The biggest problem with Linux, for myself, and I imagine, a lot of people, is that X Doesn't Work in Linux. My wife, for example, doesn't care what OS I have installed as long as she can go on the Net and play music. Firefox has her covered on Linux, but Mp3 support is shaky in Linux. But if you have VLC Portable, and it's already configured, you're good to go. And with portable file associations, as I mentioned above, it's already set up to play anything you throw at it.

  • PortableApps.com Web Browser.
  • Firefox is a great browser, no two ways about that, but to use the icon and logo, certain requirements must be met. And while it's fine to maintain and offer Firefox to get folks in the door, a PortableApps.com browser could be the best of both worlds. Using the PA.c logo (or one layered over the default, free-to-use globe icon that comes with Firefox) and a custom name, the PA.c dev team would be free to do what they want with it, to make it optimally portable. Updates would be disabled, certain extensions could be included by default, a PA.c theme perhaps, or maybe go the way of K-Meleon and use the Windows APIs to render the toolbars, rather than CSS or whatever. That would speed things up for sure. Then, all kinds of tweaks could be applied to ensure that the Firefox spinoff works best when run from flash drives. Hard drive users will probably still want Firefox itself, but for those of us that know all the spinoffs are Firefox at the core and they all do the same things (albeit from different approachces, at times), we'd be able to use the optimal one. Why? It's no secret flash drives are generally slow. Certain things must be taken into consideration when making software to run on them. Even on Corsairs.

    Anyway, those are my big ideas for the Platform. They're not meant to critique existing features or the dev team themselves in any way, shape, or form. Just throwing them out there, feel free to add your own and/or comment these. And... sorry for the wall of text.

    John T. Haller
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    Coming

    The first 4 are actually already planned at some point on the roadmap. The global proxy is part of the process for one of our hardware partners (hint: it's not just a flash drive). The portable desktop I have a test version working (with icons) and am hoping to throw it in the first alpha after 2.0. Same with file associations (didn't want to do them half-assed and wanted to be sure not to leave them behind if the PC crashes... though I may throw the simple functionality into 2.0 sans interface if advanced users want to start playing with it now). The updater the goal is to get it to be more like Add/Remove in Ubuntu, as you said. And we'll get there, but the NSIS version will be a nice stop-gap for now. It'll let you add and update and gives very short descriptions for now.

    Linux gets more problematic and, honestly, Mac is probably a higher priority (larger install base). Wine lets you use most of the apps now. We're already working on something connected with that but we're not ready to announce anything yet. The larger barrier to the more universal portable apps is the file path changes needed between OSes and making the PA.c Platform cross-platform. We're looking into C++ and wxWidgets as well as some other options including Python for that.

    As for the browser, it's been debated. Honestly, we want to have Firefox be our main recommended browser and it would be quite a bit of extra work to also do our own branded version.

    Sometimes, the impossible can become possible, if you're awesome!

    NathanJ79
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    Awesome

    John T. HallerThe first 4 are actually already planned at some point on the roadmap. The global proxy is part of the process for one of our hardware partners (hint: it's not just a flash drive).

    Awesome. I can think of a couple devices which fit that description; though I've never heard of one of them having storage, with flash drives going up in capacity and down in price, I can't say I'm surprised. Either would be impressive to see.

    John T. HallerSame with file associations (didn't want to do them half-assed and wanted to be sure not to leave them behind if the PC crashes... though I may throw the simple functionality into 2.0 sans interface if advanced users want to start playing with it now).

    Well, I think - again, just my opinion - the scope of PortableApps should look beyond users using other peoples' computers. I know I'm not the only one who uses them at home. When I reinstall Windows, I go into the PortableApps directory on my external hard drive and make shortcuts to the desktop - I have an old version of the menu, maybe R34, but I never use it. Well, I've learned my lesson and I'm actually going to back up the shortcuts, so I can just copy them all from one folder. But making the associations takes a bit of time. So it would be real slick to click a few times and everything be set up. So I'd definitely want to play with it now... maybe it could be a plugin or something, with a note of the caveats and aimed at people using trusted computers, and/or with admin access.

    As for the "exit strategy", is it not acceptable for portable apps to write to the host system, as long as the launcher cleans up after itself? What if the launcher were written to the host system (e.g. copied) itself, and could delete itself somehow? Like every 15 minutes, it checks the USB ports for its home flash drive, and if it doesn't detect it, it deletes itself, after reverting the edits?

    Anyway, there are a lot of what-ifs regarding the Platform as a whole. No matter how foolproof you make it, all it takes is someone to yank the drive out without exiting their programs and going through all the motions. The above theoretical program could be set by the menu when it launches, and if the user yanks the drive out, at the next check the left-behind app cleans everything up, then removes itself. Not sure how this would play out without admin privileges though.

    John T. HallerLinux gets more problematic and, honestly, Mac is probably a higher priority (larger install base). Wine lets you use most of the apps now.

    Isn't MacOS Linux based now? The ironic thing about MacOS is that it has a few parallels with U3, most notably that it only runs on certain hardware. It isn't an open platform that anybody can use, you've gotta go buy a whole other computer to use it. I know it's got its benefits, though.

    John T. HallerThe larger barrier to the more universal portable apps is the file path changes needed between OSes and making the PA.c Platform cross-platform.

    I'd assume you'd have a launcher for each platform, right...? I remember the old Blizzard games, pre-WarCraft 3, they'd have Windows and MacOS executables, but they'd access the same data files (.mpq? .pud?). So I'm thinking, when the launcher is setting up the portability and going to launch the app, it can translate the path from the existing OS format to a path more friendly for the current OS. Surely a Win32 application can recognize, based on pattern, a Linux or MacOS path, and translate it to Windows, right? And of course, say, firefox.exe, there'd be a program file for each OS as well, but the data files themselves can be read by other platforms...?

    I'm sorry if I'm assuming too much. I know I don't know anything about actual Windows programming (let alone other platforms), but I do remember tinkering with the source to a game and trying to tweak certain things, it isn't as straightforward as it looks. So I certainly don't think this stuff is necessarily easy, or underestimate the work that goes into it.

    Chris Morgan
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    More complex file changes

    Just along the lines of data for different operating systems, Firefox you would run into issues with. It uses different filenames on Mac OS X. This could be got around with a launcher to a certain degree, but you've also then got problems with platform-specific extension. This can be taken care of to at least a certain degree with a more complex launcher if it's troublesome.

    Mac OS X also stores data in a different way; if I understand the basics, just about all applications are inherently portable in that they store their data in ./Library/something or something like that. I'm completely wrong of course, but I think that's the basics of it Blum

    Mac OS X is not and never has been Linux based. Originally it worked off a BSD core - and so there are still occasionally things like a case a while ago of security bugs fixed in OS X that had been fixed in BSD five years ago - and yet they still call it the secure operating system...

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    NathanJ79
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    Complex, yes, and duplicates

    Chris MorganJust along the lines of data for different operating systems, Firefox you would run into issues with. It uses different filenames on Mac OS X. This could be got around with a launcher to a certain degree, but you've also then got problems with platform-specific extension. This can be taken care of to at least a certain degree with a more complex launcher if it's troublesome.

    Well, we could have two whole copies of Firefox working out of the same directory, just so long as they don't step on one another's toes. And ideally, using the same bookmarks and other such files. Or have the launcher of one sync data from the other. One format's got to be able to read the other, and I like MacOS for that, seems a Mac's biggest selling point is that it works with PC files, but not PC programs, so it seems to me that if the PC version can export its settings to a text, HTML, or XML file upon exit, say; the Mac version can import that.

    Chris MorganMac OS X is not and never has been Linux based. Originally it worked off a BSD core [snip]

    Ah, my mistake was in confusing Linux and BSD, then. Glancing over the Wikipedia articles, I begin to see the difference between Linux, BSD, and Mac OS X.

    qwertymodo
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    Branded FF - Persona?

    Well as far as a "branded" Firefox goes, any thought of making an official PA.c Persona? I guess you probably wouldn't be able to include it by default because it requires an add-on... oh well, it's a thought.

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    NathanJ79
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    Already is one

    EspaÑaks made one, here. No offense to him though, but I don't like it. It's basically the header of this board, from ".com" to "About Us" stretched to the required size, and green text. I dunno, maybe if you like red, but I don't. In any case, a "branded Firefox" as you put it, could include addons. So it could come with Personas. But... I don't think it should. Personas requires a connection to getpersonas.com which might be blocked on a school/work connection, also this limits your connection as well. If there were a way to hack Personas to download the theme and use it locally, maybe, but Personas doesn't work that way. (So if getpersonas.com goes down, or the persona is taken offline, you lose yours.)

    LOGAN-Portable
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    Personally Im against

    Personally Im against PortableApps themed applications. Im content with the default firefox (although I have to remove some favorites everytime after a fresh install.

    Some other things sound interesting like file associations, desktop and things like that!

    sl23
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    I agree...

    As far as the default firefox is concerned I have to say I agree. I have many addons/extensions that may not be compatible if PA.c made their own browser.

    I like some of the above ideas, tho I am one of the 'use-on-my-home-PC' types. I would like to know if PApp's use less system resources and if they are less likely to screw your system up?

    I also like the PA.c platform, but I still use R34 for the categories. Does the PA.c v2 load quicker? I have around 80-90 apps some hardly used but like to keep.

    My reasons for keeping R34 are not simply categories, tho that is the main one. I have also made the menu around 10-15% smaller, but can make it any size I wish. Also, I have created shortcuts, with or without labels, for a few most used apps that can be placed -anywhere- on the menu. On the top right, I have placed shortcuts for system Lock and Restart. And just below the Doc's, Music, etc folders the Options, Backup etc are simply buttons in row, with another 4 buttons below this for shortcuts for Firefox, Muzys, Task Manager and Rocket Dock. Below this is a button labelled Toggle Hidden Files that I downloaded from the RD site.

    All my shortcuts have icons I chose and can be placed anywhere on the menu, but it means a bit of hassle editing the .ini file.

    My point in this is to ask if there's any possibility of combining RD and PA.c so you can drag and drop shortcuts to the menu and place them in a grid on the right below the folders section? The shortcuts could be for any app on the system.

    There's also a nice little app that I think originated on the RD site and can be used as a standalone app called Standalone Stack 2. Find it here:
    http://rocketdock.com/addon/docklets/20707 - (btw, How do I turn this into a clickable link?)

    I'd also like to be able to resize the menu by either an option selection (ie by a percentage) or direct via dragging a corner. Resizing should also scale everything on the menu according to the selected size.

    Anyway, my thanks to the PA.c team great job

    Scott

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    NathanJ79
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    ...

    sl23As far as the default firefox is concerned I have to say I agree. I have many addons/extensions that may not be compatible if PA.c made their own browser.

    Actually, browsers based on Firefox (e.g. Blackbird, Orca) are compatible with all the extensions and themes. The changes that make them special are usually not great enough to interfere with any extensions. For example you can use Adblock Plus on any of them.

    sl23I like some of the above ideas, tho I am one of the 'use-on-my-home-PC' types. I would like to know if PApp's use less system resources and if they are less likely to screw your system up?

    Yes, naturally, because they're not mucking around in your registry. They do have a few additional tasks at startup and shutdown, in sandboxing their runtime environment so as to be portable, but on most modern equipment, you won't see a difference. The negatives are very small and slight, and the benefits far outweigh them.

    Chris Morgan
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    sl23:

    To turn something into a link, just put it in - don't put the <a> tag around it (unless you're willing to specify the href attribute)

    I am a Christian and a developer and moderator here.

    “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” – Proverbs 15:1

    sl23
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    Thanks

    Thanks sorted it

    Live for an ideal and leave no place in the mind for anything else.

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