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.