So I was browsing Futureshop for deals on boxing week, when I came across a 1GB Sandisk Cruzer Mini for only $20. I currently had a crummy no-name drive that I bought a year ago, so I decided it was time for an upgrade. I had been eyeing that sleek black design with a retractable USB connector, not to mention it was U3-enabled. The buzz around U3 and portable apps can be quite confusing, so I will try to help. After a full week of using my U3 Sandisk drive, I will try to lay out the good and the bad (sorry guys, no ugly.).
- Carry your favourite software with you. With U3 technology, you can install various IM clients, image editors, office applications such as: Trillian, Gimp, Skype, and ThinkFree Office. The cool thing is, these programs run solely off of your USB stick, so when you remove it, the programs leaves no trace. You can even install firefox, which brings me to my next point…
- Bring your Firefox with you. I was looking at our blog stats and I noticed that 75% of readers use Firefox, so I thought this would be a real strong point to U3. Now you can install Firefox on your U3 smart drive, so you will never be caught on someone else’s computer without your bookmarks, handy extensions, and familiar interface.
- Launch apps quickly. There are some portable apps that you can install onto regular flash drives, but sifting through your drive looking for the launch files can be troublesome. When you plug a U3 drive into your computer, it automatically runs a “Launcher” program that allows you to launch your files easily. It looks similar to a start menu, and can be accessed by clicking on the U3 icon in your system tray, or the large red launch icon on the desktop.
- Launch files and programs automatically. With a U3-enabled flash drive, you can set specific programs or files to launch automatically. If you are on a business trip, you can set it to open the document you are working on, every time you hook it up to a computer. This can really save time if you working in multiple sessions.
- Password-protect your Smart drive. If you have sensitive data on your U3 smart drive, you can assign a password, so that only you can access your data. The drive will then prompt you to enter the password every time you connect it to a computer.
- Takes up space. One of the most overlooked disadvantage to U3 is the space that it uses. My 1gb Cruzer mini only has 850mb of actual space after installing a couple programs (Firefox, Skype, antivirus, etc.). This number could lower if you install little software, or could be huge (200mb+) if you install a lot of software.
- U3 software is not very customizable. One of the problems that I have had is that you can’t really “customize” your U3 software. Until a recent patch, you could not disable the launcher from auto-run, which could be extremely annoying if you are transferring data to another computer. Another problem is that with the new patch come a big red launch icon on the desktop. The problem is that this cannot be disabled. It may be cool and useful to a lot of people, but I don’t like it, and I would like to disable it.
- Launch menu is ugly. Personally I find the metallic gray to be very ugly, and I really don’t want to look at it every time I plug in my drive. This problem could be easily solved if U3 provided additional skins, or even allowed custom skinning of the launch menu. Unfortunately though, you cannot change this.
- Creates multiple icons in My Computer. In order to perform its “auto-run” features upon connecting to your computer, your U3 smart drive creates a virtual CD, which mounts at the same time as the removable disk. This way you can access your files via the Removable Disk drive, but auto-run the launcher with the virtual CD. Unfortunately, this can get confusing, especially when you use other CD and USB drives. At times, I will have a DVD drive, a virtual ISO drive, my iPod, an external HD, and my U3 hooked into my computer at the same time. In these situations, it can be frustrating trying to find which drive is which among the other 7.
- Sensitive data could fall into the wrong hands easily if stolen or lost. A problem with portable apps in general (not specifically U3), is that you are encouraged to do more work on the drive itself. Instead of writing that document on your computer and transferring it between home and work, you might as well just keep it on the drive. The problem with this is that if you lose your drive or it gets stolen, not only do you lose valuable work, but also your sensitive data could be discovered. Browsing history, saved emails, and documents could contain financial or other personal information that should be kept private. You can password-protect your drive to help prevent any issues, but it is still a notable risk.
I hope this article has helped you decide or informed you about U3 Smart-drives. They are a great technology, but not for everyone, so it is always a good idea to be knowledgeable. Stay tuned for an article about U3 vs. PortableApps!
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