Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Thing 70. Productivity in Your Pocket: Portable Programs
Does anyone really need portable applications? Laptops and smartphones have made mobile computing as easy as grabbing your device(s) and hitting the road. With cloud computing like Google Docs, Delicious, Zoho, and more, you can access your stuff from any Internet-enabled computer. One reason for portable apps seems obvious--you don't own a laptop or other portable device. Another reason--you must rely on public computers at the public library for access to online services. Flash drives with portable apps let patrons access their information from any computer--they don't need to worry which version of which software is on the computer; they have the one they need in their pocket.
The USB flash drive has virtually eliminated the existence of a floppy drive unit on most computers because the flash drive serves the same functions as the old floppy, except that flash drives are more durable and offer much greater storage capacity. Flash drives are even more portable than laptops when you consider the size difference. Plus, you can use a flash drive in any computer that has a USB drive.
Window PC users are able to download a wide range of portable applications using PortableApps.com. The PortableApps.com platform is available for download onto any portable device including a flash drive, portable hard drive, PDA, or iPod. One download can capture a complete collection of apps. PortableApps.com has three choices that allow you to pick various components for your suite. The application directory provides a number of open source applications including word processing, graphics & pictures, games, music & video, and more that give you productivity and entertainment wherever you are. Mac users can find portable apps at Freesmug.org or MakeTechEasier. Need more choices for portable apps? A Google search on portable applications with either Mac or Windows will turn up hundreds more.
How does any of this apply to libraries? As Nick Prieve suggested in his 2010 MLA session Distance Tech Tools for Your Average Patron: Ten Ways to Make Technology Viable, Marketable, and Cost-Effective in Reaching Distance Patrons libraries should consider educating patrons about portable applications. It may be possible provide patrons with a pre-loaded flash drive of their very own, either free or at a nominal cost. This would allow patrons the freedom to access their files and applications from any computer station. As flash drives continue to decrease in price and more free applications become available, portable applications are accessible and useful to most patrons
For those of you envisioning horrific scenes of virus-infested work stations or other technology calamities, consider that the risks associated with allowing patrons to use portable apps on their own flash drives are no greater than the risks you already face every day. Patron education about security and these devices is still necessary. PortableApps.com does include a number of security tools, including portable antivirus and spyware programs that can help ease your mind and your patrons'.
Even if you're not ready for full-blown patron usage of PortableApps.com, give it a try on your own and see what you think!
By Lynn Stern, SAMMIE