Portable apps for tech writers

We tech writers can benefit a lot from portable applications: They make us more productive, especially with nitty-gritty tasks that Windows utilities and bloatware are not good at. They are free and easy to “install” and remove – just dump the application folder onto your hard drive or a USB stick. They can run wherever you have an open USB port. Portable applications can be our friends!

To learn more and to get started, PortableApps is the best place. Their PortableApps.com Suite with the most essential applications makes it extra easy for newbies. Or you just get the platform, which provides the start menu that sits in your task bar, and mix and match your applications. I’m now using the alternative Portable Start Menu, because I like its folder structure better.

You can get tried and proven portable applications from PortableApps. Or try The Portable Freeware Collection, though some of the apps listed there are a bit flaky: They might not be strictly portable, because they write to the registry. Or you may need to install them temporarily to create a portable version.

My favorite Windows-based portable tools for writing

A better NotepClipboardad: I use PlainEdit since I don’t do much coding. For plain text wrangling, it can’t be beat. You can convert text in more ways than I ever had use for, between special characters and HTML, between ANSI, ASCII and UTF-8. You can remove trailing spaces and lines containing certain characters. You can sort all lines from A to Z or inversely. And it can search and replace regular expressions.

If you are coding and want syntax support for programming languages, Notepad++ is your best bet.

Auto-complete text: With Texter, you type a shortcut and press a hot-key and out comes a common phrase or a product name: Type rtfm + Tab to get “For more information, please consult the user manual or online help.” Texter works system-wide, whereas Word’s auto-correct feature works, well, only in Word…

Add a history to your clipboard: ClipX will keep dozens of clipboard entries in a history, including images, even across sessions. This can also come in handy to retrieve accidentally cut text. (This one requires that you install it temporarily, so you can create a portable copy.)

“Paste Special” anywhere: You want to paste text from your clipboard, but without the formatting? PureText strips all formatting when pasting text. So it works like Paste Special in Word, but with a single hot key and anywhere in Windows. (This one is not strictly portable; it allegedly writes settings to the registry.)

Get text from system controls: One of the annoyances in Windows is that you can’t copy and paste system control text, such as a list of file names in Explorer or an error message. SysExporter helps you extract it – apparently with some exceptions, but it hasn’t failed me yet.

What portable applications do you use to tweak text? Your suggestions and comments are welcome!

P.S. This post is an updated, belated elaboration on my reply to the blog post Taking it with you by the guys at DMN communications from June 2008.


8 Responses

  1. Notepad++ is a nice tool.

    Lets me open multiple tabs and search/replace across all the open files.


  2. UltraEdit, which is now available on a stick … or why not (albeit outside the strict focus of this thread) a full ubuntu on a stick, beefed up with ultraedit and something like XMLMind, and then Dropbox for file-sharing?

  3. Thanks, Ivan, I didn’t know about the search & replace in multiple files!

    Thanks, Niels, for expanding the scope! I like UltraEdit, but didn’t include it here since it’s not freeware. And, of course, web file-sharing complements portable apps perfectly. I use box.net, but the idea is the same, I guess.

  4. […] apps and how to tweak text with them, with or without the apps mentioned in my previous post Portable apps for tech writers. But how about screenshots? Anything portable there? – Oh, good! I thought you’d never […]

  5. For screenshots, one of the best freeware apps I’ve seen is prtscr. Unfortunately, like most screen capture apps it needs to be installed. http://www.fiastarta.com/PrtScr/Help.html

    If you deal with Unicode then Babelmap can be a useful standalone app.

    Bulkrenaming of files with regexp expressions can be done with BulkRename. The interface takes some getting used to: http://www.bulkrenameutility.co.uk/Main_Intro.php

    If you deal with picking colours from the desktop, then ColorPix is neat: http://www.colorschemer.com/colorpix_info.php

  6. JosephK, thanks for your recommendations!

    I actually use PrtScr as a portable app, see https://kaiweber.wordpress.com/2010/02/08/portable-apps-for-tech-writers-ii-screenshots/

    That BabelMap Unicode Character Map will come in handy when you ramp up localisation projects or need to sketch out interface designs.

    I’ll add BulkRename (with attribution) to an upcoming post about portable apps to wrangle files.

  7. […] for tech writers III: Dictionaries Posted on February 22, 2010 by Kai I don’t just write and take screenshots with portable apps, I even use them to look up words, despite Wikipedia and […]

  8. […] 1, 2010 by Kai By now you maybe know that I’m fond of portable apps. That I use them to write, take screenshots and look up stuff in dictionaries with them. But wait: There’s more! No […]

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