Portable media these days has come along way, I mean a really long way. Remember back in the day when DVDs were not well known. Or even farther back when HDs had less than 1gb of space, or even farther back when floppy disks were the main form of portable media. Ahh, the good old days, floppy disks with a capacity of just over 1mb. There is virtually nothing you can do these days with 1mb of anything, aside from simple text. Just think, iPods hold at least 500 songs, floppy disks would hold approximately one-third of your favourite tune. Anyway, what I’m getting at is these days we carry gigabytes of storage around on our key ring. Most people (including me) buy one of these pen drives without even a vague idea what they will use it for. Most people end up using these for backing up important files or data but there is a whole world of stuff you can do with your USB stick.
1. Get a Launcher. This is one of the essentials. You need to get some form of launcher so you can have you apps with you. Weather it be U3 or if you don’t want to shell out the extra clams, you can go for PortableApps. In my previous post I described the difference between the two. This is especially important if you work on multiple machines. For example; if the IT department at your work doesn’t allow you to install your own software, you can have that software at your fingertips which brings me to my next point.
2. Create an Emergency Cleaning Kit. Once you get one of these launchers, put a couple security related apps on it. This is really helpful because if your computer gets infected with malware you can run it off of your pen drive. Why can’t I run it off my computer? You might ask. Two reasons; some types of malware might block certain programs from running and it could be a hijacker and ultimately not letting you download software you need.
3. Books Without a Backache. This is the student special. If you are urging to read a book, all you need to do is pop in the ol’ thumb drive and away you go. Sure, it might be more complicated than opening a real book, but its sure as hell is lighter. You can get thousands of e-books from Project Gutenberg. You can also carry the latest copy of your favourite study notes such as SparkNotes.
4. File Synchronizing. This is the main purpose people buy USB thumb-drives; to backup all of their important documents. No, I am not going to tell you to use your thumb drive to backup important files, but I am going to tell you how to take advantage of this feature. As you probably know, manually backing up files can be tedious, especially if you have a large amount of files you wish to backup. You have to deal with renamed files, moved files, and even non-existent files. There are a number of apps out there that will do this for you. Here I will explain one for Windows users: Microsoft has really outdone themselves this time. They have released a synchronizing tool called SyncToy. As childish as this may sound it is actually really useful, it is like a briefcase on steroids. It allows many customizable options such as what type of backup you would like to do and what folders. You can even create multiple backup sets so that one click will backup pretty much anything.
5. ReadyBoost Cache. This is an option for Vista users only. It enables you to connect a USB flash drive and use it as extra RAM. This can speed up your computer dramatically because it is able to have multiple programs running without having to access the hard drive. The ReadyBoost feature also encrypts the data to prevent inappropriate access to your data when the stick is removed. For small apps like an archiving tool or something else with a small amount of files, this doesn’t make a huge difference but the difference is more noticeable with large programs such as Photoshop or iTunes. Here is a comparison page for some of the compatible drives.
6. Alternate OS. All right, all right, this one isn’t productivity related but I had to put it in anyway just because its fun. NOTE: partitioning and formatting of USB flash drives is sketchy, to say the least, so unless you don’t mind running the risk of impairing or even downright destroying your thumb drive proceed with caution and make sure you read all of the steps on instructional web-pages. I’ve found a whole bunch of OSs that you can boot from an external flash drive. I’ve read a guide on booting OS X from a flash drive, a guide on booting Windows XP on a flash drive and even Knoppix. Have fun!