When in the field, you can be limited by computers you don’t control. Limitations can be as simple as a library computer without Adobe Reader installed or as complex as a third-world internet cafe where the machines have few applications and none in your language. A USB drive pre-loaded with your own software is a simple workaround, but I haven’t yet run across a collection of portable software packaged especially for the field journalist.
To meet this need, I’ve gathered a range of portable applications one can run from a USB drive. This is version 1 and will develop based on use and suggestions. I chose the initial set with this criteria in mind:
- Meet the needs of media consumption or creation
- Open-source or freeware
- Familiarity and ease (when possible)
The how-to for setting up your own USB drive is below, but first, let me list the applications:
PortableApps Platform – PortableApps.com offers an extremely useful foundation for portable software. It sets up your USB drive (or even an iPod) for installing and running other portable applications. It runs on Windows, but can be run on Linux and OSX via Wine. I started with the platform alone without other applications added. However, you can download the platform with lots of extras as well.
Firefox – Other browsers can be portable as well, but I chose Firefox for its universality.
Universal Viewer – This very handy app can view most document and image types and easily covers the doc, pdf and odt bases.
VLC Media Player – VLC plays both audio files and most video formats.
Audacity – This covers simple audio editing.
GIMP – This image editor is an open-source alternative to Photoshop.
Inkscape – This vector image editor is a simple alternative to Illustrator.
KompoZer – Though not as robust as Dreamweaver, this web editor covers a lot of bases.
Notepad++ – This is a text editor that can also highlight code. It’s useful for quick edits to HTML and CSS files.
FileZilla – This is an open-source FTP client.
VirtualDub – I’m still sifting through portable video-editing options, but this one should suffice for now. Codec installations in general make adding a portable video editor a bit more involved.
Skype – Other IM clients are available as well. Skype offers voice and is well-saturated.
Eraser – A simple privacy utility for ensuring documents erased on a public machine are gone for good.
How to Set Up Your Field Journalist USB Drive:
- You’ll need a USB drive. It doesn’t have to be extremely roomy for applications as the total install of the programs listed here only comes to 258 MB (give or take). However, you’ll want to have room for any files you’ll be working with, so extra gigs doesn’t hurt.
- Download the PortableApps platform. Once downloaded, run the file. It will ask for an install location. Here, choose the drive letter of your USB drive.
- Once installed, PortableApps should launch. If not, view the files on your USB drive and double-click “StartPortableApps.”
- Installing applications is fairly simple, though not immediately intuitive. You first need to download the application you want to install and the files can be found at the links in the list above. There are two ways to install depending on whether the application is customized for the PortableApps platform or not. Both are simple:
To install an app customized for the Portable apps platform, go to “Options” and then to “Install a New App.” Then, just select the file. Note: Files for the Portable Apps platform will carry the .PAF extension.
To install any other portable app, first download and uncompress the file. This will usually yield a file folder with that application’s name. Take this folder and copy it into the PortableApps folder on your USB drive. After this, go back to the PortableApps program, select “Options” and “Refresh App Icons.” Your new application should now appear.
- Your USB drive is now ready for digesting, managing and editing a range of media. If you want to customize, more portable applications can be found at PortableApps and Softpedia.
This is just the first version and I’m still exploring portable applications. I’m very interested in suggestions for applications you prefer to those on this initial list or programs that fill other gaps. If you know of similar projects for journalistic purposes, I’m very interested in that as well.
Photo via DavidRGilson’s Flickr stream.