Man, how times have changed; now you can have the presentation and the software to run it all on a piece of plastic the size of your thumb. I think that this article is well overdue, and we have received many hits in regard to this topic. This can be a very confusing topic for many people, even me when I was first dipping my nose into this sort of stuff. Here I will give you everything that you need to know about U3 Smart drives versus PortableApps.
First I want to mention that there are three major things that both drives have in common. First of all, both platforms have launcher software which allow the user to launch any software installed on their stick, and manage settings from a single ‘start menu like’ launcher. Second, most of the software on both drives do not leave a trace in the host computer. That means no registry junk left behind, and no temporary files, etc from Firefox or similar problems. Also, both platforms have a different selection of software. U3 has many commercial apps, while PortableApps only supports open-source applications.
U3 Smart Drives
1. Auto launch, and auto close. When you insert your U3 USB stick, the launcher program automatically launches, without having to click on anything. And when you pull the stick out of the USB port, it will automatically close all open software.
2. Launch files and programs automatically. With a U3-enabled flash drive, you can set specific programs or files to launch on plug in. 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.
3. Password-protect your U3 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.
4. Protect your data. You can get antivirus software packaged to run on your U3 drive. This can be handy if you are transferring files from an unknown computer to your flash drive i.e. an internet cafe.
5. Easier to use. This is a very important factor for beginners. With the U3 launchpad, running and setting up programs is a breeze. Even packaging your own apps is a breeze with a program called PackageFactory.
1. U3 software is not very customizable. One of the problems that I have had is that you cant really
customizeť 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 comes 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 dont like it, and I would like to disable it.
2. 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.
3. 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 o 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.
4. Currently only PC support. Sorry people who are running OS X or Linux, U3 has only developed support for people running Windows .
1. Bring your firefox with you. I was looking at our blog stats and I noticed that about 75% of readers use Firefox, so I thought this would be a real strong point to PortableApps. Now you can install Firefox on your PortableApps smart drive, so you will never be caught on someone elses computer without your bookmarks, handy extensions, and familiar interface.
2. You can use them on any drive. When I say any drive I mean literally any! Portable apps can run off of external thumb drives, external HDDs, even iPods! As long as the host computer and your drive support USB 2.0 (not required but highly, highly, highly recommended). Simply because the transfer rate of USB 2.0 is at a much higher speed. Also, these apps are not made for cross-platform usage, meaning that just because it’s on a USB stick doesnt mean that you can run them on a computer running Windows and a computer running OS X. So dont get deceived, the programs made for Windows will not work on a Mac just because it’s on a USB drive.
3. Takes up less memory. One huge advantage PortableApps have over U3 apps is that Portable apps take up less memory on your stick. With U3 being as new as it is, this is due to inefficiencies in the U3 format and platform. The .u3p package is essentially a renamed zip file while the Portable App package is a more efficient 7-zip self extractor. Another Inefficiency is that on a U3 drive, when you install a .u3p package, it installs the content onto your U3 drive and it keeps the .u3p package which equals almost duplicates of every app which equals wasted space.
4. Free platform, with open source software. Well, what can I say? It’s free! Can’t beat that.
1. Limited to open source apps. There are a very limited amount of portable apps out there. Because of licensing issues, all of the parent apps that are turned into portable apps are open source. Dont get me wrong, there are tons of excellent open source apps out there but some must-have programs are shareware. You dont get this problem with U3. This is one major drawback for portable apps.
2. Client app takes up space. You will find that when downloading the client program it takes up about 100 Megs on your drive. Depending on how big you drive is, this may be a hindrance.
3. Harder to install. This program is definitely for the more technical savvy as it is harder to manage. Even I had a little trouble trying to install it on my first attempt.
If you are looking into buying a new USB drive anyways, and you are relatively shy with computers, you should stick with U3. If you already have a USB drive, or you are tech-savvy, consider PortableApps as a good USB launcher.