Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

How to install a program on your thumb drive

Today I will answer a very good question submitted by a reader.

Q: How do I install a program on my thumb-drive so I can run it from there?
A: One of the handier uses for thumb-drives is to load them with programs and use them as sort of a ‘computer-on-a-stick’. As I mentioned in a prior article, I have a bootable thumb-drive loaded with troubleshooting programs which I use as a portable repair kit. But you don’t need to make a thumb-drive bootable to run programs from it.

The most popular way to put programs on your thumb-drive is to either purchase a (pre-configured) U3 drive, or download and install the suite of portable programs called Portable Apps. Both of these methods will give you a portable word processor, web browser, and other useful tools — and offer other “portable” programs for downloading. (These, btw, are an excellent resource for individual “portable” downloads. Another resource is the collection of portable freeware programs)

But let’s say you want to install the very useful troubleshooting tool Process Explorer or some other program that is not specifically a “portable”, or part of the suites mentioned above. If the program is not larger than the available space on your thumb drive — Office 2007 will not fit on a 512MB drive, for example — use the following method to install it. (I am going to install the popular free anti-spyware program AdAware as my demonstration.)
1) download the setup.exe to your computer’s desktop, using the “Save” option (not “Run”).
2) Insert the thumb-drive.
3) Open My Computer, and locate the “Removable Storage” drive letter that is the thumb-drive. In my case, that is “Removable Disk (D:)”, but yours may differ.
4) Double-click on the downloaded installation setup.exe (on your Desktop), and start the Install process. Here you will agree to the EULA, click Next a few times, and go through an install wizard. Do this process as you normally would except you need to change the install’s Destination.
5) Change the Install Destination Folder to the thumb drive’s drive letter (in my example, that’s D:\) At some point, the Install wizard will ask you to choose a destination or accept the default (the default destination is C:\Program Files\) and here is where we need to make the change. If you go through the wizard without being asked for a Destination, use the the “<Back” button and change the Install Type from “Typical” to “Custom”.

Click on the Browse button and then double-click on the D:\ drive.
6) Now let the Install Wizard do its thing. When it has completed installing, click on the “Finish” button.

That’s it. You’re done.
When you “Explore”, or “Open Folder for Viewing”, or otherwise look at your thumb drive’s directory, you will see the AdAware.exe icon. That means the program is available to be run.. just as if you were running it from your computer. Literally, a program-on-a-stick!
Remember, I used AdAware as an example, but you can pretty much do this with any application (“executable”), though — since a thumb drive’s size is somewhat small — I recommend you seek out a “portable” version of your program if one is available.

Today’s free link(s): Well,.. let’s see.. I count four sprinkled through the article..

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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December 12, 2007 - Posted by | advice, computers, hardware, how to, PC, software, tech, thumb drives, tweaks, USB storage devices, Windows | , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Thank’s for the information about that, I need it :)


    Comment by Muhammad Zulfikar | December 20, 2007 | Reply

  2. Very nice!!


    Comment by fievierly | August 2, 2008 | Reply

  3. heyy i want installing at my computer removable disk(D:)


    Comment by ersa | October 18, 2008 | Reply

  4. ersa–
    I don’t understand you.


    Comment by techpaul | October 19, 2008 | Reply

  5. hey thanks a lot for the info, never tried it before event though the idea sounded sort of feasible, Thanks a bunch!!


    Comment by Laud B | December 11, 2008 | Reply

  6. This is all fine and dandy but it will still only work on computers where you have installed this. Not on any computer you go on because the software needs all the registry settings to run. I would like to find a way to have the program installed on the thumb drive and run-able on any computer.


    Comment by EsseQuamVideri7 | February 10, 2009 | Reply

    • Actually, very few programs involve the Windows Registry, and will function using this method. On any host computer.
      Install them to the root of the drive (in the pictured example, D:\)

      It is mainly Microsoft Office apps that won’t work, and in that case, you use the clones — such as the Open Office suite of programs from Sun — or online apps such as Google Calendar (keeping your Outlook synced w/GCal).
      Microsoft has not announced any plans to make “portable” versions of their Office line.

      If your host computer is XP, and your thumb drive is sufficiently large, check out the Mojo Pack. It installs a “virtual” XP onto the flash drive.

      Sir, if I did not use this method myself, and know from experience that it works, I wouldn’t have published it.
      What, specific, programs are you having troubles with? Did you look for “portable” versions?


      Comment by techpaul | February 10, 2009 | Reply

  7. I’ll give it a shot, but have some serious concerns. It’s not just Windows registry; there a whole circus of Windows nonsense that can cause problems:
    – Applications and Settings
    – My Documents
    – System Tray
    – Start Menu
    – Quick Launch Menu

    There can be problems 2 ways:
    – The program on the thumbdrive starts in another computer and cannot find some of the above stuff.
    – The original computer starts up without the thumbdrive and cant find the stuff pointed to by some of the above.

    Running with a lot of error messages is not a good solution. The goal is to install cleanly on a portable device.



    Comment by JT | February 22, 2009 | Reply

    • JT–
      Programs that are prone to these types of dependencies (and these are a few) may have a “portable version”, or you may need to find a substitute; such as using Open Office instead of Office, or AbiWord instead of Word.

      I repeat, just use the installer to install to the root of the drive. 95% of the time, or more, you’ll experience no issues. Now, I have not installed every existing piece of software out there.. And I have not installed apps that require a db.. like an accounting/tax program such as Quickbooks, or ACT! (but I wouldn’t want that on a portable drive anyway.. even encrypted.) But I have installed: web browsers, word processors, disk defragmenters, file system analyzers, operating systems, antivirus, anti-spywares, digital imaging manipulators, process explorers, Registry analyzer/cleaners, calculators, um.. a couple simple/small games, zip utilities, DOS utilities, encryption tools, network packet capture software, hotspot locators, regedit32, and a whole lot more.


      Comment by techpaul | February 22, 2009 | Reply

  8. Hi Paul,

    We’ve been looking into installing a yahoo widget on a thumb drive. Our online application is powered by a yahoo widget.

    The widget will refference a my documents folder to find the actual widget. Is there a way to get it to refference a widget on the thumb drive instead.




    Comment by Phil | July 23, 2009 | Reply

    • Phil,
      I think I need more details..

      What is making the call, the online app? The widget?

      Part of the trouble is that when you plug a thumbdrive into one computer, let’s call it “PC 1”, it may get assigned the drive letter “E:\” (unless you plugged in a scanner/camera/other thumb drive first, in which case it would be assigned F:\) but when you plug it in to “Laptop 2” it gets assigned Drive G:\.

      What you may be able to do is name the thumb drive (say.. “widgetstick”), and then name the path call “%widgetstick%\widget.exe” (no quotes) instead of “\\PC1\My Documents\widget.exe” (or whatever it is now).

      Or, maybe you simply want the widget to run when you plug it in..?
      In that case, autorun and a batch file should do the trick. Instead of reinventing the wheel, I’ll point you to

      If there’s a reader out there who better understands, or has a better answer, please let us know.


      Comment by techpaul | July 23, 2009 | Reply

      • Hi Paul,

        Sorry i was vague.

        The actual application (the widget dock – used to be called konfabulator, it’s now yahoo widgets) looks for a file in .. my documents/my widgets

        The actual widget is a small file written in the yahoo widgets scripting language (basically xml)

        In my case the widget links to a web page

        Yes I want to autorun. So I’ll look that over.

        I followed your link to the portable applications site and there is a discussion on this over there.

        Thanks for your help. I’ll bone up on this and see if I can get it working



        Comment by Phil | July 23, 2009 | Reply

        • Phil,
          Sounds like you can copy>paste from the example, then, and substitute the executable name in the .bat file.

          I was a big fan of Konfabulator back in the day…


          Comment by techpaul | July 23, 2009 | Reply

  9. please help me.
    i want to install ms office onto the pen drive.
    I have tried a lot but in vain.
    please suggest the solution.


    Comment by charu singhal | December 21, 2009 | Reply

  10. I have a program from Give Away of the day. i installed it on my portable HDD but now can’t use it on a different computer, Is there any way to make it accessible again? the original computer crashed severely.


    Comment by Dragynwulffe Dolphynchylde | June 9, 2012 | Reply

    • Dragynwulffe Dolphynchylde,
      I cannot give you a specific answer (because you gave me no specifics at all — I don’t even know if you are using a Mac..) but I can tell you a couple of things.

      1) I avoid GOTD as too many of the programs there are there because the program author needs guinea pigs to test their alpha software (I won’t install betas, or even version 1.0 of software) and I would not be surprised if that is what crashed your machine.. and,

      2) The technique in this article, Troubleshooting Thumbdrives*, is where I would start.
      I hope it lets you “regain access” to your portable drive.


      Comment by techpaul | June 9, 2012 | Reply

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