Making a Portable Apps Tool Box

Imagine an ICT toolbox that you can carry in your pocket. A resource set that everyone could share for free. No need to beg that the tools you regularly and choose to use be installed on the platforms you will use before you begin a session. A cornucopia of hope?!*

On Thursday evening I found myself browsing Computer magazines in a Local Supermarket and drawn to the caption "Ultimate Portable Software, store top programs in a USB stick" on the cover of "Web User" magazine. With the Idea of "Anywhere, Anytime Learning," and the principles of "collect, store and share," firmly in my mind, from a funding grant bid this week, the prospect of having a potential toolbox that could be carried in mine or my student's pocket was an Intriguing prospect, and one I decided to investigate further through a visit to the core website, PortableApps mentioned in the article.

PortableApps are versions of existing open source environments, that have been redeveloped for download and installation to run from portable devices such as USB flash drives and mp3 players, and maybe even as the site suggests your iPOD. Once installed to the device, simply docking it with a computer and running the interface or application's .exe file the user has access to a set of generic and "familiarish" applications. Why familiarish, well this is a me thing, keen to try out the GIMP, running from my flash drive to edit the image above, took a little playing with before I finally worked around the process that would have taken seconds in the tool I usually use. This however is no hardship simply a quirk of the tool, and part of a learning process we go through now and again when engaging with something new.

Visiting PortableApps and downloading these applications today has really stimulated me to think about the potentials they offer from a curricular point of view, in terms of shared and common tool access. Since these tools are open source they are free to download, use and distribute under GNU licensing, which could have huge potential for us, as we seek to address issues such as home access to tools and the proposed "digital divide." These tools could potentially enable access to all students for the cost of a flash drive, to a tool box that could be selected from to support a collect store and share process developed through home based learning, and accessible on any windows based machine. So what tools did I think might be useful and download to my flash drive to play with:

Accessibility Tools
  • On-Screen Keyboard Portable - on-screen keyboard
Graphics & Pictures
  • GIMP Portable - Photo and Image Editor

  • Nvu Portable - KompoZer Portable - WYSIWYG Web Page Editor
  • FileZilla Portable - FTP client (our Website is not entirely web 2.0 yet)
  • Mozilla Firefox, Portable Edition - the award-winning web browser (love it and we haven't been able to run happily on our network yet)
  • Mozilla Thunderbird, Portable Edition - email client including RSS feed reader

Music & Video
  • Audacity Portable - Audio editor and recorder
  • MPlayer Portable - Movie player with support for most video formats
  • VirtualDub Portable - video processing and capture utility
  • VLC Media Player Portable - Media player that plays most audio and video formats
  • CDEX Portable - My favourite Audio CD Ripping tool

  • Mozilla Sunbird, Portable Edition - Calendar and task management
  • Portable - word processor, spreadsheet, presentations with Microsoft compatibility
  • PDFTK Builder Portable - split, collate, watermark and password protect PDF documents
  • Sumatra PDF Portable - PDF viewer

  • 7-Zip Portable - File archiver and compressor
  • ClamWin Portable - Antivirus on the go
  • PeaZip Portable - Easy to use file archiver and compressor
  • Menu - integrated start menu bundled with the platform
There has been considerable debate and discussion about open source versus commercial product use in education for some time, but the emergence and recent excitement generated by devices such as the Asus ee, developed around the Linux GUI and shipped with Open source tools seems set to at least for the time being reduce polarisation of this debate shifting our attention to addressing how we intend to integrate, embed and use these devices to enhance and change our view of home school learning. Using them initially as "collect, store and share devices," is how I hope to begin this process, with colleagues and students within our portables project. Exploring how we extend home school learning tasks, through the planning and creation of content for inclusion in shared school based activities using existing tools and online environments we already use and are familiar with. Providing a local, common and shared set of applications, in the first instance means that students would not be entirely disadvantaged by not having web access at home, as content developed away from school can be built on and shared through access to a wireless infrastructure and classroom based web acccess, or alternatively direct transfer to the network through flash drive. To enable this however the tools for the job must be available. Certainly the Asus provides a basic toolbox, but it would be handy to be able to run other more complex tools as the students become more familiar with the process, if we would like them to support driving innovation. Since current E Safety considerations limit access to the web 2.o world in schools then local apps are required to do this, many of which are currently not available through edu suppliers for Linux based systems, or Window's Mobile Environments for that matter. Portable Apps has a watch this space.. regarding Linux based versions of the applications they currently offer, but certainly these tools seem to me to offer enormous potential in enabling expansion of the tools provided. So in answering my opening question probably more a cornucopia of hope than a complete solution, but certainly something well worth keeping an eye on. In the meantime I will play with the toolbox I have just compiled, and continue to chew over some of the ideas.

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