There are all sorts of information on the internet for using USB's and the software that you can use on them. This article intends to only deal with free programs that operate from a USB, which I have found useful for my family history research, record keeping and creation of family articles, booklets and my constantly growing family history book.
Dick Eastman of Eastman's Online Genealogy has written a good article introducing Portableapps.comwhich is a very popular site for open source freeware that operate from a USB. If you read no further and only went to the Portableappssite you would be getting enough useful information.
There are tables for quick access to relevant programs at the bottom of this page.
Open Source Portable Freeware
Freeware is software that costs nothing to download and use. There are other items out there that claim to be free but have pop up ads (Adware), are only free for a limited period of time (Trialware) or are restricted versions of a paid program (Lite) to get your interest and then commitment to the full paid version. Freeware which has a minimal number of users will eventually disappear and be unsupported or if it is owned by one organisation it may later become a commercial product and no longer available for free.
Open Source is software that has it's coding information available to other people so that they may alter and improve on the program. What this means is that any Open Source program that is any good and builds up a community of users will be able to be supported and further developed regardless of whether the original creator/s continue to work on or support the program. There is a risk with good freeware which is not open source that it may no longer be supported at a later date or that if enough people are using it that the licence owner may decide to make money out of it.
Portable applications are programs that can be operated entirely from a USB. Some will only do this in conjunction with certain operating systems and others will work on Windows, Apple and Linux. Some use files from the host computer and others operate without using the host machines files in anyway.
WeRelate is a genealogy wiki which relies on people from anywhere opening up their information and sharing freely amongst the community. Generally I have found that genealogists will share more when you share more with them.
Open Source Freeware requires people to develop and maintain these programs that are shared freely. For those of us that don't have the skills to create computer programs but enjoy the freeware programs, then it is our responsibility to support the program developers by acknowledging their good work and letting others know about the freeware programs that exist.
Many other freeware programs exist. This article has focused only on those that are portable which I have found useful in the pursuit of my family history.
Note: The programs listed below are all freeware and portable but they are not all open source.
GEDCOM compatible Genealogy programs
GRAMPS - This program has it all. Available from the PortableApps website this program runs from a USB and is Open Source Freeware. I have found it to be a little slower then other programs and it obviously uses files from the host computer. It is detailed yet simple to use and would be suitable for anyone.
Ahnenblatt - This program is simple to use, runs easily from a USB and is Freeware available directly from the Ahnenblatt website. When i enquired why this program wasn't on the list of free genealogy programs at Gizmos Freeware Genealogy Software review I was informed that with a database of over 10,000 the reviewer had problems with this program. My own experience is that with a databse of over 9,000 I have had no problems.
ScionPC - Available directly from the creator of ScionPC, this program runs very well from a USB, does not use files from the host computer and is Freeware. Simple with sufficient detail for almost every user and updates have made this a very good program that I am happily using as I clean my existing database.
GEDSplit - This program was created years ago and has had no updates but I find it works well on a USB with any of the windows based operating systems that I have used. A copy of it can be located on a GEDCOM utlities page on Rootsweb.
Internet, Office Suite and other applications
Google Chrome - What is family history research without the internet? This program is Portable Open Source Freeware available from PortableApps.
Open Office - Taking notes, spreadsheets, writing articles and compiling family history books. Open Office is a fully featured office suite that is Portable Open Source Freeware available from PortableApps. Using this program it is easy to export any of the documents you create as PDF documents.
PDFTK Builder - This program does two things really well. It splits PDF documents into individual PDF pages and it also takes PDF documents and puts them together as a single document. This program is Portable Open Source Freeware available from PortableApps. I use this program to join my individual family articles into booklets that include a number of connected families.
PDF XChange viewer - Portableapps has a few good PDF viewers which are Portable Open Source Freeware. I like this program which is Freeware but not Open Source because of the extra features available for modifying and editing PDF's. It is available directly from the Tracker Software website.
FreePlane - This mind mapping program is OpenSource Freeware which can be run on a USB. Available directly from the Freeplane community development site. I have found this program useful at times for different aspects of note taking and following assorted leads, it also shows a large pedigree chart very well in an easy to navigate manner.
Fotografix - This is Portable, Open Source, Freeware and is quite good for viewing and editing images. It is available at Portableapps.
USB Specific Items
PStart Menu - This is an alternative USB menu to the PortableApps one. It is available directly from the creator at Pegtop.net. I particularly like how you can customise this menu to suit your own preferences.
USB Eject - This is not actually a portable application as it has to run from the host computer but it is a small enough application so that you can keep a copy on your USB and copy it onto the desktop of computers that you use regularly. It is quick and easy software to use.
Some people talk of backing your work up to a USB drive but if you are using these programs and working from a USB drive then the importance of backing up or sychronising your work becomes even more significant because USB's get lost or damaged much easier then your computer. SyncDocs is portable and works very well for backing up your USB files to Google Drive. I have just discovered though that this is trailware and asks for registration after a trail period. I will check further and come back later with an update.
USB Family Tree Collections
Here you will find two tables to access and set up your own USB with genealogy programs.