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Truly-, Clean-, and Dirty- portable.. impact on host .. a severity rating and modification disclosure

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Iwant1
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Truly-, Clean-, and Dirty- portable.. impact on host .. a severity rating and modification disclosure

There appear to be three flavors of portable now: truly, clean, and dirty.

- Truly-portable does not modify the host at all.

- Clean-portable modifies the host but restores it after running.

- Dirty-portable runs amuck, leaving changes, removing/adding files/registry, or :gasp: installing services!

I'd like to see all apps decalre their flavor, and of the latter two a severity rating or a chart of the planned changes or resultant damage. This way users can make an informed use decision... without having to set up a virtual machine to sleuth the flavor themselves.

John T. Haller
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Not a useful distinction

There is no such thing AT ALL as a truely portable app as, at the very least, every single EXE you run will leave an entry in the MRU in the registry and a file in the Windows\Prefetch directory. Windows itself does this and there is no way around this within the app itself.

Nearly all portable apps that are portable modifications of 'big' apps (rather than just small utilities) modify the host in some way and then restore it on close. Firefox, Thunderbird, Sunbird, Miranda, Gaim, Audacity, PuTTY, Nvu, KompoZer, GIMP. Nearly EVERYTHING. There is no way around this other than modifying the source, which isn't going to happen (too much effort, not allowed on the Mozilla apps, maintaining it would be difficult).

"Dirty" is NOT a portable app. It may happen to run without installation, but it is NOT portable in any way shape or form by the definitions used here. Nearly every other 'portable' site uses a much looser definition and calls apps portable even though they leave behind registry keys, stuff in APPDATA, file associations, etc.

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

solanus
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The word is out...

...there, "portable" being the word, and it is being used by other sites. I understand that the phrase "Portable Apps" is unique to this site, but www.portablefreeware.com and others are offering portable applications also.
I know that at www.portableapps.com, you have very exacting rules for what is and what is not an acceptable application. It must be truly open source, yadayadayada.
That is great! Your attention to detail, and purist approach, means that I can very well trust every app you post. You repackage apps with standardized launchers and installations. But, it also means that development and release here are necessarily slower than on other sites.

This doesn't mean that other sites' applications are necessarily inferior. It means that OUTSIDE this site, users need to be extra careful.
I frequent www.portablefreeware.com, and I'm constantly amazed at the number of postings they have on a nearly daily basis. They provide information about where the application writes its settings, installation instructions (often using Universal Extractor to extract from normal setups) and comment boards for user review and criticism. The site does not modify existing applications.
Many of these applications would fit this site's definition of "portable". Many I find extremely useful, but I don't expect to find them here, either because they are too specific/targeted, or they are too similar to apps you have posted here, or because they are freeware but not open source and would require modification to use your launcher/setup standards.
I'm not a purist, and I tend to go with what works. That being said, my main portable apps are from www.portableapps.com because I trust this site, but I have and need about twice that number of portable applications from other sites.

To the original poster, I would propose these distinctions:
1. John T. Haller's Portable Apps - Well-tested, standardized applications that leave little or no trace on the host machine.
2. Applications that you personally believe are portable - ones you've found on another site that you feel is reputable, and that you take responsibility for testing yourself.

Thanks again, John, for your good work.

Solanus, The East Wind.

P.S. John provides a lot if information about modifications, known issues, etc. on each apps' page, if you really take the time to look.

I made this half-pony, half-monkey monster to please you.

thornsoft
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Agreed

I'm currently profiling my app (which I wrote, and DO have the sourcecode for), and am finding all sorts of crazy stuff.
Things that shouldn't write to the registry, do.
ex:
To get the user's appdata path (in case they want to store stuff there), I call
SHGetSpecialFolderLocation(0,CSID_APPDATA, pidl);
And then something in Windows writes the path to HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Shell Folders\AppData
Following that, a bunch of crap appears under
HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\MountPoints2
Why? No idea.

Just starting the app causes 8 writes to: HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Cryptography\RNG\Seed

I create an instance of IE, for showing HTML. That causes 4 writes to various keys under HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Shell Folders

I play a sound (PlaySound() api), and I get a dozen other pieces of crap written for "soundpreference" "channelconfig" and "speakergeometry". WTF?

I'm using the "no registry" option in Armadillo, and sure enough, it writes to the registry. Man, I hate this. And I don't know of any guides (U3 or PortableApps in general), of what's acceptable/inevitiable vs. what needs to be cleaned up.

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cde
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Possible prefetch fix?

Hi John

Long time PFF (now FFP) user here, glad to see the portable definition is still pretty tight - however I reckon the situation could be improved a little.

Why not rename all portableapps launchers to start.exe, or even a common filename like calc.exe? This way, at least the prefetch folder won't be advertising "Tor, Recuva and Portable Eraser used on this machine while you went to the bathroom last night".

Also, since so many apps (CCleaner et al) clean the MRU list, can the PA launcher app perform searches in the MRU registry area based on the apps in the PA launcher's menu list, and remove entries if they are found? Can an app remove itself from the MRU list?

Anyway, maybe this would be a small extra step towards better-covered tracks. Let me know what you think...

cde

John T. Haller
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Won't Help

Prefetch would still show firefox.exe, tor.exe and eraser.exe even if you rename the launchers.

Certain MRUs can't be cleared unless you have an admin account.

The next version of the menu will be doing some things along these lines. But there's only so much you can do within a limited account.

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

cde
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Wasn't quite clear

I meant to suggest that firefox.exe etc. would also be renamed, since that would have no effect on the app's functionality and the launcher could just be told to look in folder [whatever] for start.exe rather than to launch [path/file.exe].

I know that some apps have multiple .exe files and these could not be renamed without breaking internal functionality, but for single-exe tools it shouldn't be an issue.

John T. Haller
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Can't

You can't rename firefox.exe or any of the other Mozilla apps and redistribute it. Unless you recompile, change the name, remove all logos and trademarks, etc. And several apps use multiple EXEs. So, simply put, this ain't gonna happen.

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

cde
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Could manually locate exe on first run if not default?

I had no idea renaming exes was such a problem, but fair enough.

Maybe if no firefox.exe is found in the target folder the launcher could say "not found: [app.exe], use [foundfile.exe]?" or something like that? That way users who worry about prefetch data could change the name themselves, and no licenses are affected (I think)...

I know, I know, multi-exe apps would still be problematic, but such a simple step to sort-of-hide from the dreaded prefetch folder seems possibly useful for users who want to cover as many tracks as they can.

cde

John T. Haller
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You already can

You can rename both the launcher and firefox.exe by using the FirefoxPortable.ini file. Details are in FirefoxPortable\Other\FirefoxPortableSource.

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

cde
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excellent

I really should dig around more before asking vague questions. Any chance the editing of these files might make it into the PA launcher's Options on a per-app basis? Smile

I can happily edit .inis, but "power user" (?) features are always nice...

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