Web & communication software

Put a Browser in Your Pocket

The Mozilla developers are still racking up downloads since Firefox 3.0 was released on June 17, but the early adopters are already putting it to good use. For starters, Tipping Point has already spotted a vulnerability in the software.

One of the more interesting third-party efforts, however, is the "portable version" of Firefox 3.0 from PortableApps.com, which shipped the same day as the main branch. Portable, in this context, doesn't mean that the code runs on multiple operating systems -- the Firefox developers have taken care of that already. Instead, it literally means that you can take this version of Firefox anywhere. All you need is a CD-R, a digital memory card, or a USB keychain drive to store it on.

Ordinarily, when you install an application onto your hard drive it puts its files all over the place. Configurations files go here, databases go there, bookmarks get stored someplace else, and you can't very easily move them around. Once installed, that application is effectively tied to that one computer.

What the PortableApps crew does is modify open source applications, such as Firefox, so that they expect all of their associated configuration and data files to reside in the same place -- the portable drive that the software itself lives on. You plug in the drive, launch Firefox, and all of your options, bookmarks, and personal data is there, just the way you like it. Better still, when you quit the program and remove the drive, all of your personal data comes with you; none is left on the computer.

Picture bringing one of these along on an extended European vacation, where your Net access is limited to occasional brief stops at Internet cafes, and you'll see how useful they can be. The only caveat: If you happen to lose the drive, the cookies and passwords stored on it can be a serious liability. You'll want to explore disk encryption technologies before you make a habit of carrying one of these around.

The best part is that, because Firefox and the other applications on PortableApps.com are open source, the portable applications are 100 percent free of charge, and free of ads or spyware, too. The portable version of Firefox 3.0 runs on Windows 2000, XP, and Vista.

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