Installing lots of software is usually not a terribly destabilizing thing. Sure, there can be bad software out there. It’s usually not the amount of software but the specific software that ends up causing problems after you install it. Obviously, the best approach to saving yourself from those kinds of scenarios is a good backup system.
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What you’re talking about is called “software rot.” The real culprit is not really so much installing software but installing and uninstalling repeatedly for different pieces of software.
When you try trial software, you’ll probably do this (and you should). It’s important when you want to try things out, see if a particular product works, evaluate it for your needs, decide if you’re going to use it, and if not, remove it from your system.
If you do that a lot, that is actually a bigger cause of system destabilization than simply installing software that you regularly use.
You need to feel comfortable using your machine. I have a bucket load of software installed on my machine and it’s actually quite stable and it has been for some time. So go ahead and install and use software – that’s what your computer is for. Use it, but back it up regularly. Things can always go wrong, but what is wrong may not necessarily be related to installing lots of software.
One thing that has me curious is that you mention the use of portable apps. True, portable apps don’t have a set up process. You simply load them onto your machine and use them. The problem is that portable apps will often install things in the system the first time you run them.
The only real definition of portable is that you don’t need to run a set up program and you can simply copy the program to wherever you want it and run it and have it work. There’s no requirement that the software needs to do anything. The software could be installing a lot of things the first time that it’s run. You may find that your portable app is writing things to a registry setting, or several registry settings, or copying some files if it notices that those files aren’t there.
Portable apps are great, but they don’t necessarily offer a significant increase of system stability by avoiding the set up process.
Skip the apps. Install the software that you’re going to use. Use your computer. If you can, avoid uninstalling a lot of stuff or avoid churning through a lot of pieces of software. Install what you need, use it, and back up your computer regularly to make sure that when something goes wrong, you’ve got a quick and easy way to restore your computer to a working or a more stable situation.