computers vs

For the past ten years, I have been running software from something other than the computer's hard drive. It all started when I was a Freshman in college and I came to two sad conclusions:

  1. Internet explorer was a horrible browser.
  2. Internet explorer was the only browser available on school computers.
  3. OK... so there were three sad conclusions. The final one being that school computers did not allow you to install software on them.
So I began trying to install programs on different medium. Oddly (sadly) enough, the first thing I tried using was 75mb Zip disks. Yeah! I installed Firefox (at the time I think it was called Mozilla Firebird) onto my Zip disk and I was able to run it! I must have been the coolest freshman BYU ever saw!

Well... Running applications on a USB drive has come a long way since then, so I want to try to lay aside any biases I might have and do some (somewhat) scientific tests to determine which I like more. LiberKey or PortableApps.


(Click to see the Wikipedia articles of PortableApps and LiberKey. Click here to view the website and

I found out first about (I am quite sure that PortableApps was the first website to start compiling software that could be run on a USB drive). I thought it was great when I first used it. I loved how it had a lot of open sourced software that I use on a regular basis. I used PortableApps probably for about the first five years after it was released.

I decided to try LiberKey out after I read an article basically knocking LiberKey of copying much of what PortableApps had already done. I had pretty negative vibes about this but was just curious to try it out and I was blown away by it. It had features that I was looking for in PortableApps. I made an almost immediate switch to using LiberKey and have been using Liberkey for the past four years or so.

At this point I still recommended PortableApps to friends and family (I felt it was a bit more true to open source) but I used LiberKey for myself. I have been checking out PortableApps on and off through the years to just see what new features it gets. After the last major release I decided to switch over again to PortableApps and give it another go.

At this point, I really have not been able to convince myself as to which I like more. LiberKey is feature rich but has been buggy for me. PortableApps has been quite stable but lacks some of the features I love in LiberKey.

So here I am now running a bunch of tests to help me decide which one I like more (and therefore is obviously the better choice that everyone should use  ;-)    ).


The installation process is basically the same for both.

PortableApps has a bit smaller download to get you going.

PortableApps gives you the option for different languages from the get go.

As you can see, up to this point there really is not anything significantly different.

I installed both programs on the same USB drive. You can see the folder structure is slightly different. PortableApps does offer an Autorun script, but if I am not mistaken, that is a good way for viruses to spread.... I don't know if I really like that.

I find it interesting that PortableApps has about twice the file size but takes up about half as much storage space than Liberkey.

Installation Winner: Tie

Even though PortableApps does take up less storage space, we no longer live in the days of 128MB USB drives. The installation process is basically the same for both.

Software Installation

After installing the program, you will want to install individual apps. Because I only use portable applications when I am teaching class, I decided to only install the software I would be using: Chrome, the LibreOffice suite, and VLC.

PortableApps uses a list built into the software for downloading new apps. You simply select which apps you want to install then press next.

LiberKey uses its website for installing apps. The website takes a bit more time (and requires additional software; a browser) to get to. It does however offer more information on the software that you are going to install.

Up to this point I would have to say that PortableApps makes installing programs slightly easier. Having to use a browser can be cumbersome and slow at times. Many times people might try installing PortableApps for the express purpose of NOT having to use IE on other people's computers.

Liberkey does offer more information about what the program is that you are installing but PortableApps also has a website that does the same.

This is what each program looks like when installing software. Portable apps is nice in that it tells you the exact speed of your downloads. LiberKey to me seems to be a bit visually more appealing. 

The progress bar for LiberKey seems a bit more useful.

You can see that the speed for LiberKey is quite a bit faster. I ran the programs at the same time but started PortableApps first. LiberKey seems to have an advantage as far as download speed goes.

PortableApps was still downloading software by the time LiberKey was installing the software.
One thing I noticed is that LiberKey tends to have higher compression for the downloads. This most likely is one of the reasons for the quicker downloads. The LibreOffice download for PortableApps is 120mb whereas on LiberKey the file is only 85mb.

Installation Process Winner: PortableApps (slight edge)

While LiberKey seems to install things a bit more quickly, I like the fact that I don't have to use a browser when installing software in PortableApps.

Software Selection

At the time this article was written, PortableApps had 271 programs. Liberkey had 304. Both offer a combination of open source and freeware.

If you are looking for the most common open source programs, you can find them either using PortableApps or LiberKey. LiberKey offers just about 30 programs more. That could make a big difference if one of those programs is a program you use daily. Additionally, LiberKey has each program in deeper levels of categories. This can be seen as a great thing or a nuisance depending on your own personal preference.

Software Selection Winner: LiberKey (slight edge)

Although LiberKey does offer more programs, when it really comes down to it, what really matters are the programs you use. PortableApps still offers some programs that LiberKey does not.

Software Speed

With my specific position as a teacher, I have usually about five minutes from the time I enter my classroom until I must begin teaching. This means that how fast the software opens and runs is quite important to me. I decided to do a series of tests to see which was faster or if they were the same.

For my first test I decided to open the largest program I would be using. LibreOffice Writer. I timed how long it would take for the program to open. I opened it first using PortableApps. The first time I opened it, it took 35.5 seconds. Each subsequent time it took about 8.5 second. Using Liberkey, the first time I opened it, it gave me a terms of agreement window to click on. Eventually when I did open it though for the first time,  it took 1:03. Almost twice the time. The subsequent times though were about a second slower 7.5 was the average.

For my first test I concluded that the time was close enough that it was too trivial to care.

For a more practical application test I timed how long it would take to open three programs as fast as I could. I opened Firefox, VLC, and Libreoffice writer. On this LiberKey fared better by about two seconds. The final test I did was starting with the application launcher not even open. With this I was able to take advantage of the fact that LiberKey can start applications on startup. Even with that though,  PortableApps actually did better by about two seconds.

Software Speed Winner: Tie

It seems that PortableApps can start the launcher just a bit faster, while LiberKey starts each program just a bit faster.


While the way software looks has never been the most important thing for me, it is always something that adds a bit more polish to software.

The designs are somewhat similar and can be customized slightly.
PortableApps has a simple yet slick look.

It has an additional menu but I feel it is not that useful.

I think the graphics in LiberKey look a bit more dated is some aspects, but I don't necessarily prefer PortableApps to this.

I really like the alternative menu. Very simplistic.

By default PortableApps does not list by category. This can be changed easily though.

Quite a bit of branding for PortableApps.

Very simplistic.

Design winner: Tie

I feel lazy calling another tie, but there does not seem to be any clear advantage for design with either piece of software; it is simply a matter of preference.

Additional Features

While each program offers features that the other does not, I feel that overall, LiberKey tries to give you a few more features. I like how you can customize most things with the menu and determine what button clicks will do. I especially like being able to start programs when the launcher is started. As someone who ALWAYS opens at least two of the same programs each time I open the launcher, I feel this saves me quite a bit of hassle.

One thing I really like about PortableApps is that it gives you the open to run the program specified in the language for PortableApps and not the system language.

These are the options that PortableApps gives you. Not a lot.

LiberKey gives you quite a bit more options and customization. 

My favorite LiberKey features include the ability to start programs when the launcher starts and do file associations for LiberKey.

Additional Features Winner: LiberKey

LiberKey simply adds more things that I depend on.


I would say for the most part that PortableApps is quite stable. I must admit that I have not run it as often as I have Liberkey.
The only significant bug I have noticed with LiberKey is that it will often automatically open Chrome which another instance of Chrome is running. This is annoying to close out of and renders Chrome basically useless until you reset it.

Stability Winner: PortableApps

Until LiberKey fixes the problem of Chrome always randomly opening up, I will have to say that PortableApps is more stable.


I don't know exactly why I am throwing this in there.... I suppose mostly because I have heard talk of LiberKey not following the licence agreements for the different software.

These complaints were how I found out about LiberKey in the first place. Since then I think LiberKey has improved and I am still not exactly sure if the current complaints are valid or not.

In LiberKey, you have to agree to the license terms before you can install it. PortableApps does not have anything like this implemented as of yet. 

Ethical Winner: PortableApps

PortableApps was the original; the creator. Liberkey has certainly used a lot from PortableApps and built on that, but many still question whether or not LiberKey is going against the Terms of Service for the different programs.


Here is the final tally: PortableApps - 3, Tie - 3, LiberKey - 3

This is quite close. I really do like both LiberKey and PortableApps. Realistically, I will continue to use LiberKey because I like how you can automatically run programs. There is no answer for which is better but I personally think each is suited quite well for different people.

For people looking for something simple, straight forward and secure, I would recomment PortableApps. If you are suggesting something to friends or family or installing something, I would recomment PortableApps.

If you are familiar with the concept of foreign applications and need something with a few more features, I would suggest you use LiberKey.

About McKay


  1. If I have time, definitely will read through. Seems a very good article with lots of effort spent by the author. Thanks.

  2. I have been leaning toward Liberkey from a usability standpoint but the ethical questions were an issue. Assuming I don't recommend it to those who wouldn't "get it" I think I can use it myself without guilt.

  3. Yeah... I keep on moving back and forth myself. Actually, just a few weeks ago I switched back over to using Portableapps. They implemented some of the features I rely on (specifically auto launching applications). I still like the software selection a bit more with Liberkey, but I find Portableapps to be slightly less buggy.

    If anything I like the fact that there seems to be a bit of competition driving good ideas.

    1. First of all, the work that went into the comparison is much appreciated. Mention is made of the fact that LiberKey has about 30 additional programs - it would have been nice to know what they were so as to determine whether that is a deal breaker. Also, was any effort made to contact Portable Apps about providing the missing features/apps. It is entirely possible they don't realize that these features matter to many individuals. I'm very much a supporter of adherence to the "Open Source" model so that pretty much settles the matter for me but choice is always good and I'm delighted that you offered, what seemed to me, to be a very impartial comparison. Thanks again. Have a happy!

  4. On of disadvantage that I see in Liberkey is I cannot used Liberkey apps and Local installed apps simultaneously. Portable Apps is ahead of this because Portable Apps used a separate user data from the local installed apps.

  5. Thank you for this comparative. I like that you take the time to really test several aspects of the two suites and how you present your research.

    I like both of them, but here is the point from where I decided to come back to PortableApps, despite of their use of that Autorun.inf and their lack of description of the apps in the suite interface. I've found that apps in Liberkey can run only in through Liberkey. If you take an app folder, let's say you want to pass an app to a friend who wants to check it out, out of its initial location, it won't run.

    That's, for me, an important fact to consider.

    1. This really is an important factor. I had not considered this much until I suggested someone running VLC on their USB drive. I realized the Liberkey had no easy way to do this and I had to recommend PortableApps.

  6. man can you tell me what does each them dont have in common??? i mean an application that the other doesnt have.. and the total size of each platform (in mb or GB) with full applications.. thanks men.. nice tutorial

  7. I think that Liberkey is a more advanced application but, has Skype and even has the new Opera Mail Client. I'm switching from Liberkey to Excellent article and blog BTW! Thank you.

    1. I have made the switch to PortableApps for the time being as well. I found that it offered a stability that I didn't have in Liberkey. I still like both quite a bit and will probably give Liberkey another go in about a year to see what has changed.

    2. I use Liberkey and have tried portable apps but could not get into it. I like the complexity behind liberkey and the fact that I can easily install both liberkey apps, portable apps, and normal everyday apps to the usb and have them work in the menu.

  8. To help you choose, you can also read especially the topic 2nd post in :


    1. Edit:
      "liberkey-is-illegal" it's totaly wrong, it's a questionable practice by Liberkey's concurent. Just read the 2nd post of the topic.


  9. I switched from Portableapps to Liberkey for one reason.
    The app-searchbar in Liberkey. I put also portableapps-programs and other in Liberkey.
    I cannot remember everytime what the 350 tools exactly do.
    Example – I will rip a CD … Last rip was one year ago … What the name of the program?
    I don’t know. Where to find in the menu. - ¿CD/DVD? wrong nothing - ¿Tools? nothing (it is in audio) - but I know there was any. 1 minute later I have found an other program "Register Defragger" and I have forgotten the CD for 3 month.
    In Liberkey i can simple put in the searchbar the word "rip" yeah the name of the program is "freac" and it is one click away.

    Of course the stability of the programs I use GIMP from portableapps inside of Liberkey because that from Liberkey do not work on my WinXP....
    I can also find the Portableapps-GIMP simple with the word "image".

    Now I am switching from Liberkey to Ubuntu Linux.

    1. I made the switch to Ubuntu a long time ago. I must admit though, when I use other people's computers, I always use Liberkey or Portableapps. Still not sure if I prefer one over the other though.

  10. I think you are wrong at the "Software Installation" point. Liberkey has a special feature called "install a group of applications", you can choose basic suite, standard suite, ultimate suite, and then select the apps you want or not. Then they install automatically without the need of any browser. Also I tend to prefer liberkey because of its system for associate common files to be opened with portable software (I know portableapps now has something similar but I find it buggy and not so efficient...).

    1. Thanks for your comment. I also really like how Liberkey associates the file types with your system. It is one of my favorite features of Liberkey.

  11. I've been a casual user (i.e., not a "junkie") for a couple of years. After reading this article, I got curious and spent about two hours installing and trying to use LiberKey as I would PAP. Here's my own take on PAP vs. LiberKey...

    What I like about LiberKey:

    - There's an option to auto-install important updates. In PAP you have to manually select Apps / Check for Updates. I wish there was a way in PAP to configure it to auto-update all apps even when my PC is sleeping, just like what we take for granted in iOS and Android.

    - The menu search functionality is superior to PAP because it also searches the app description. In PAP when I search for "outliner" I should get a match for The Guide, but I don't because PAP only matches against the app title. The minor downside is that there's a higher chance you will find false negatives in LiberKey.

    - App installation/update appears to be more reliable. In PAP whenever I update about a dozen apps or more in one go, it almost always crashes on me (I'm using v11.2). This, compounded by the fact that PAP has no automatic update mechanism, makes updating apps a big chore. I haven't installed that many apps in LiberKey to say whether it's more robust, but so far so good.

    What I like about

    - The menu interface is faster. The first thing I noticed when I launched LiberKey was how sluggish it felt compared to PAP. I dunno, it reminds me of one of those Java apps from back in the day, or a ported Linux app that runs on top of GTK or something. LiberKey still felt cumbersome even after I disabled all animations.

    - It consumes little memory. I was shocked to see that LiberKey uses up about 3x as much RAM as PAP (15 MB vs. 5 MB). Even worse, the memory usage kept increasing the longer I used it (after about 10 minutes it was up to 19 MB already).

    - It appears to have a more active community than LiberKey. The latest version of LiberKey was updated two years ago, which suggests to me that development is very slow or even stalled (?). Also, I installed AIMP on both platforms and found out that the PAP version was slightly newer than the LiberKey version (build 1332 vs. 1324).

    In the end, I uninstalled LiberKey and went back to PAP. For me, the #1 knock against LiberKey is its memory consumption -- 15+ MB of memory for a menu system that is mostly sitting idle is just too much, and on principle I removed LiberKey from my system.

    What I don't like about both PAP and LiberKey: when you launch any portable app within their system, a second helper process is always loaded at the same time and sits there until you close the app. I understand that this is necessary to maintain the app's portability, but it's still kind of annoying. That's why I only install a PAP app if there's no other way to make it portable. For example, does TreePad Lite really need to be part of the PAP platform? I've been using a portable version of it for years, so have no need to install it through PAP. The same applies to The Guide; a recent update added an option to make it truly portable, so I enabled this option and uninstalled the copy in PAP.

    One of the main benefits of installing all portable apps through PAP used to be so that you can quickly search for an app to launch it, but ever since Windows 7 you can pretty much do the same thing using the standard Start menu (you just need to add a shortcut). The other main benefit of using a portable app suite is to keep all the portable apps updated. However, the app update mechanism in PAP isn't very robust (and there's still no auto-update), so this benefit is larger than it seems. If you are against portable app suites, then you may consider downloading all your portable through and using their Update Checker utility (

    1. This is probably the best comment I have ever read! Thanks for the great comment and insight.

      I think the point you mentioned about using a portable app suite to keep applications up to date is spot on. That is definitely one of the main reasons I use portable apps. As a Linux user, this has always bothered me with Windows. (I have used filehippo though, but am too lazy to have a program just check. I need it to install updates for me as well.)

      I still go back and forth between these two suites. At school (I am a teacher) I use PortableApps in class because I feel it is a bit more stable, I can set the language (I am in China so everything usually defaults to Chinese; it is nice to have English), and I don't need many programs.

      When I am helping people with their computers, restoring files or whatnot, I will use Liberkey. Mostly because there is a larger selection of programs (specifically file recovery programs). PortableApps has maybe one or two programs that I use that Liberkey does not have, while Liberkey has a handful of programs I use the PortableApps does not.

      It goes to show that I really still can't definitively say one is better than the other. Like you mentioned each has their own merits. I guess it depends on the importance of the task at hand.

      Hopefully they both just keep getting better!

  12. McKay, thank you for the time spent doing this wonderful and thorough review. I was wondering which gave me the best 'bang for the buck', and I ran across your article. Clear, concise and thorough. You should teach. :-)

  13. I chose Liberkey over Portable for three reasons:

    1) You can add other standalone programs, even if they are not on LiberKey's website. For example, I have Tor Browser, Server2Go, and the paid version of PDFXChange portable.

    2) PortableApps and LIberKey do not offer the same programs. LiberKey offers a better variety of different apps.

    3) Liberkey can be installed on your computer, allowing you to autostart apps of your choosing, and delaying them for as long as you like before they actually autostart.

    1. I like all the points you bring up. I have not used Liberkey for a while (I use Linux, not Windows) but I would love to try it out and see how it has progressed. It has always seemed to have a more comprehensive software selection. That is very interesting about delaying autostart. I like having that option.

  14. Please make a tuto how to turn a liberkey app into portableapps, or portableapps into liberkey. For the persons who'd like to switch.
    Do you have a tuto about how to portabilize an app into portableapps or liberkey format?
    What is the difference between those 2 formats, I didn't find this important info in your article though it's a very interesting article.

  15. For the most part, I agree with the author. Portable apps is smooth and stable and LiberKey has a few nice extra features. But the deal breaker for me are the updates. I tried the manual method for a year, but it just became too time consuming to keep up with. Portable apps has a superior staff by far that sends out updates within a couple of days of release. LiberKey hasn't updated a single program in well over a month.


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