Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Portabilizing Apps with Ceedo Personal

I was trying to create a portable version of Microsoft Office 2003.  That effort had led me to discover a positive review of Ceedo Personal and a favorable contrast against by PC Magazine.  I decided to take advantage of a free trial to explore Ceedo.  This post described that exploration.

I was running this test on Windows XP SP3, running in a cloned virtual machine (VM) in VMware Workstation 7.1.  This VM was running a bit slow, but a VM generally would give me the option of wiping out everything and just making another clone, where I could start the experiment over from the beginning.

In the case of Ceedo, the VM did not seem to matter.  When I tried to install Ceedo in that VM, it insisted, instead, on being installed to a removable device.  That seemed unfortunate.  I had been working on developing a folder full of portable apps that I could use on my own computers and could also copy to a USB drive.  Running them from the hard drive was much faster than running them from the USB drive, so that's what I planned to do when working at home.  It now seemed that Ceedo was not going to cooperate with that plan.  But I hoped that a solution to this problem would emerge as we went along, so I went ahead with the installation on the USB drive.

During the installation process, I got a balloon pop-up telling me that the Ceedo Tray Icon Indicator would light up whenever I was using a program that was running under the Ceedo environment.  I guessed that this was a replacement for the previous approach that I had read about, where Ceedo would surround its own programs with an orange line.  Then Ceedo installed a toolbar at the top of the screen.  When installation was done, I had the option of taking a tour, which I did.  The gist of it was that Ceedo gave me that toolbar, which I hated, with its four buttons -- three of which were completely unnecessary, since they merely opened My Documents, Internet Explorer, and Outlook Express.  The fourth button opened something that looked like the Windows Start Menu, with Ceedo-specific choices (in addition to yet another set of My Documents, Internet Explorer, and Outlook Express).  There was no entry for Ceedo in the real Windows XP Start Menu, which made sense from a no-impact perspective; apparently the top toolbar was running entirely from the USB drive.  I used the top toolbar to open My Documents and no, the orange line had not been removed; it was there after all.  Since the only thing I needed from the top toolbar was the imitation start menu, and since I could get that by clicking on the Ceedo icon in the system tray (bottom right corner of the screen), I went into Ceedo's Options and instructed it to hide the toolbar when it was not in use.  I also changed some other settings.

I felt that Ceedo needed to give that imitation start menu a name.  For present purposes, I will call it the "Ceedo menu."  I went into that menu > Add Programs > Programs Directory.  It seemed to wish to open its own session of Internet Explorer, and apparently could not tolerate the fact that I already had Internet Explorer running.  It said, "iexplore.exe is already running.  Click 'OK' to open Ceedo's Internet Explorer and close the local Internet Explorer."  So I said OK.  Ceedo could perhaps instead give users the option of searching automatically for installed programs (or at least those having Start Menu entries) in the background; then, when users actually sought to open a file, they might have the option of doing so in those installed programs rather than mandatorily running them from the USB drive.  This would have avoided both the need to shut down the running program (Internet Explorer) and the slowness that I was experiencing when Ceedo did everything from the USB drive.  My present understanding was that speeding up Ceedo (if I could not run it from the desktop instead of the USB drive) would require buying a faster USB drive, such as the Kingston Vault (presently $40+).  In any case, the Ceedo menu did not stay onscreen during this process; it vanished as soon as I chose Programs Directory.  Programs Directory, itself, turned out to be just the Ceedo webpage listing the various freeware apps that you could apparently run from Ceedo.

I was more interested in seeing if Ceedo could portabilize my apps.  I experimented, first, with IrfanView.  To portabilize Irfanview, I went to the Ceedo menu > Add Programs > Argo Application Installer.  It offered to show me a list of programs supported by Argo, so I clicked on that option.  Nothing happened.  After playing around a bit, I found that it was trying to take me to a different list of applications than the one that I had just seen.  There weren't many items on it, and it didn't seem to contain any deep, dark secrets.  So apparently Ceedo was still in the process of trying to organize its website.

So anyway, back in Argo, I tried to point toward the IrfanView .exe file.  It was very slow in identifying the .exe files in My Computer.  It occurred to me that I wasn't sure whether it wanted the setup .exe or the installed, ready-to-run .exe.  I tried the IrfanView setup .exe.  That, in itself, was a bit perplexing, because there were two IrfanView setup .exe files -- the setup itself, and the plugins -- and I would want them both included in my IrfanView installation.  There wasn't an option, as there had seemed to be in JauntePE, to include materials that had been incorporated into a previous iteration of the portable app.  But anyway, on the next screen, Argo confirmed that I had guessed right:  it said, "The wizard will now launch the following setup file."  It gave me an option of installing in "reduced machine separation mode," which a webpage said would entail some permanent installation on the host PC in order to use that machine's resources.  Another page said, somewhat obscurely, that this "reduced separation mode" would enable the portable app to "interact" with apps on the host.  The idea seemed to be that you should choose this option only if you or the program actually needed that kind of interaction.

So I went ahead with the Argo process.  It gave me the IrfanView installation screen.  I went through the IrfanView installation process.  When that was finished, Argo was gone, and I had an IrfanView installation in the designated folder on the hard drive.  I realized then that maybe I should have designated a folder on the USB drive.  I couldn't tell if Argo had done anything in particular to make IrfanView portable, since IrfanView tends to be portable anyway.  I also couldn't tell what I should do to install the IrfanView plugins, other than (I guess) just run them through the Argo process and point to the same output directory.

So, OK, maybe IrfanView wasn't the best program to experiment with.  I tried again, this time with Microsoft Word 2003.  I started Argo, browsed to the Office 2003 installation executable file, and ran it.  After a while, I got this:

Microsoft Office 2003 Setup
Error 1719.  The Windows Installer Service could not be accessed.  This can occur if you are running Windows in safe mode, or if the Windows Installer is not correctly installed.
That was odd.  I had just installed and uninstalled Office 2003 in that same VM.  The installer had worked fine then.  But OK, I created another clone VM, in which there had been no prior Office 2003 installation, and booted it up.  This time around, I did something that perhaps I should have done last time:  I rebooted when I got the message that the hardware (i.e., the USB drive) had been recognized but might not work properly until I rebooted.  After I rebooted, I got a Ceedo Action Window that gave me the option of enabling Ceedo AutoDetect.  That, according to the Ceedo help file, was a "tiny" optional component, installed on the host, to detect whenever a Ceedo drive was connected.  I said yes, do this.  It took Ceedo a long time to load; and when the "Loading Ceedo" message did finally disappear, I was surprised to see that the Ceedo icon likewise disappeared from the system tray.  I went to the USB drive in Windows Explorer and restarted Ceedo manually from there, but it said, "Ceedo already running."  Yet it did start a new "Loading Ceedo" message anyway.  If Ceedo was running, where was it?

Eventually, I did get a Ceedo icon in the system tray, and when I clicked on it, I was able to go back into Argo and start the Office 2003 installation again.  I tried again to install Office 2003 and again got that Error 1719 error message.  This was occurring in a VM clone like those that I had been using repeatedly in recent days to test various programs.  To test it, I closed Ceedo, removed the USB drive from the system, and tried installing Office 2003 natively in that VM.  It ran without difficulty.

That concluded my test of Ceedo.  Moreover, since my investigation had not turned up any superior alternatives to Ceedo that would do the job, this concluded my search for tools that would give me an affordable, portable copy of Microsoft Office 2003.  So at this point I returned to the main project -- of developing a set of portable applications for Windows XP -- with the sense that I might need to consider alternatives to Office 2003.