As I type this blog post I'm using Firefox 1.5 running on a Sandisk Cruzer Micro 2.0 GB flash drive. That's right, Firefox 1.5 is running directly from my flash drive without it being installed on my Mac (Note: I do have Firefox 2.0 installed on my Mac but it's not being used for this post). How is that possible? Well, there are several "portable applications" designed to run off of external storage, be it an external hard drive, a flash drive, or some other storage device. These applications range from e-mail clients like Thunderbird, Web browsers like Firefox, to word processors and image editors. Portable applications allow you to take your applications with you - anywhere you go - complete with your own preferences and settings, and use them on any computer (Mac or PC in most cases). You simply plug your device in, start up your app, and go! For more information on what apps are available, where to download them, and how to get up and running with a cross-platform version of Firefox, read on!
What devices work best?
Just about any external storage device will work with portable applications. You could use that external hard drive you carry with you at all times but flash drives work best given their size. If you decide to go with a flash drive, like the 2 GB Sandisk Cruzer Micro I use, make sure the drive is labeled "Hi-Speed." These USB drives will operate faster and allow your portable apps to at optimal speed. You'll also want to consider the storage capacity when purchasing a flash drive. Most portable apps require 35 MB or more. Installing several of these apps alongside your existing data means your flash drive will fill up quick. Look for a drive that is at least 1 GB or more. Will you be using your portable, go anywhere apps with multiple operating systems like Macs and PC's? If so, consider how you format your Flash drive. Formatting drives via Windows will typically allow them to operate with PC's and Macs. If you format your flash drive on a Mac and you want to use your applications on a PC, be sure to format your drive as an MS-DOS partition. You can accomplish this using OS X's Disk Utility.
What applications are available and where you can get them?
There are quite a few applications designed to run off external storage. Some are designed as universal applications meaning they will run on both PowerPC Macs and Intel-based Macs. Others are designed to run on Windows and Macs while a few will run only on the PowerPC architecture. Just be sure and download the right portable app for your needs as they are typically offered in several different formats.
Two sites in particular offer the most popular portable applications. Freesmug (http://www.freesmug.org/portableapps) hosts apps for OS X including Firefox, Safari, Thunderbird, Adium, and Apple specific apps Mail, iCal, and Address Book. Your version of OS X (Panther 10.3, or Tiger 10.4) will determine which apps are available for your system. For instance, Firefox 2.0 is currently only available for OS X 10.4. ThePlaceForItAll (http://www.theplaceforitall.com/) is another good site to check out. You can get a cross-platform (Mac and PC) version of Firefox and Thunderbird, though the Firefox version offered is the older 1.5.
Get going with a cross-platform version of Firefox 1.5
Firefox is my personal browser of choice. I'm currently using version 2.0 on my Mac while I'm writing this blog post using 1.5 running from my flash drive. Carrying Firefox with me everywhere I go, with my preferences and bookmarks intact, means I can plug-in my flash drive and be up and running in no time. It doesn't matter whether the computer I'm using runs OS X or Windows nor does it matter if Firefox is installed. I simply plug-in, launch Firefox, and get going. As I browse the Web my history, browser cache, and downloads are all stored on the flash drive not interferring with the host machine.
To get started using your own cross-platform Firefox point your browser here and download either the zip file (Windows) or the dmg file (Mac). For the purposes of this article we'll be discussing the Mac installation and configuration.
Mount the Mac disk image (dmg file) by double-clicking it. Inside the disk image will be a folder called "Portable Firefox." This folder contains everything you need to run Firefox 1.5 on Windows and Mac. The next step is to copy the folder to your flash drive. I received an error when copying the folder from the disk image to my flash drive. The error mentioned a problem with copying the folder/contents of the "icons" directory. This directory is inside the Portable Firefox | firefox | extensions | firstname.lastname@example.org | chrome folder. Manually copying the folder contents after dismissing the error worked for me.
Next, start Firefox by double-clicking the "Start OS X Firefox" on your flash drive. The script you just clicked will launch Terminal and then Firefox. You may need to click the "Start OS X Firefox" link twice. For some reason, I have to click the link twice nearly every time I want to use the portable version of Firefox on a Mac. Also, when I launched Firefox the first time I received an error similar to the one I got during the folder copy. I simply dismissed the error and continued to load my first Web page (my blog) using portable Firefox. I've haven't had any additional errors since.
Now that you have a portable copy of Firefox running on your flash drive you're ready to browse the Web. But what about all your valuable bookmarks and preferences? It'd be nice to have those at your disposal as well. Fortunately, all of this data is stored on your macs Firefox profile. All you need to do is copy your profile from your mac to your flash drive. Find your mac profile - which is located at your user folder/Library/Application Support/Firefox/Profiles - and copy this folder to your desktop. Rename the folder "profile" and then copy it to your flash drive overwriting the existing "profile" folder. Keep in mind, that your flash drive is running Firefox 1.5. If your mac is running Firefox 2.0 some extensions and plugins may not be available on your thumb drive. Your bookmarks however are completely portable.
Now that you have Firefox 1.5 running in a portable fashion why not check out some of the other available apps? Enjoy.