Elsewhere, I've talked about how useful USB flash drives could be when you're telecommuting during a flu pandemic. Now there's a new twist - portable applications stored on the USB flash drive which can run directly from the flash drive without being installed on the host PC. Using these applications, when you plug the USB flash drive into any PC, you have your own programs as well as your data files.
The latest innovation is the "U3 smart drive" - a USB flash drive enhanced with the U3 software platform. It lets you carry your personalized desktop environment - or "personal workspace" - from PC to PC. That might include your applications, data files, email, user preferences, favorites/bookmarks, etc. Basically, it puts a portable, self-enclosed operating environment on the USB flash drive.
As a result, the tiny USB flash drive suddenly has become much more than just dumb storage. These drives are now a big tool for portable computing ... and a valuable resource if your employees are forced from their normal workplace during a pandemic.
Types of portable applications
Not all software runs from a USB flash drive. (And not all that do are U3-compliant.) But the basic office productivity functions are available. And the list of available applications undoubtedly will continue to grow. (In fact, U3 smart drives are a concept that may really catch on.)
Happily, a lot of open source (free) software is available both for regular USB flash drives and the U3 smart drives. As an example, as of this writing, the official U3 software site - U3 Software Central - has about 75 applications for U3 smart drives. They include the following, which are all FREE:
OpenOffice suite - word processor, spreadsheet, presentation manager, and drawing program.
Mozilla Thunderbird - email client.
Mozilla Firefox - Web browser.
EssentialPIM - personal information manager (calendar, notekeeper, contacts).
Pass2Go - makes passwords and other personal information more secure. (2005 PC Magazine Editor's Choice Award.)
IrfanView - a popular graphics viewer.
Shutterfly Studio - organize, edit, and share pictures.
Skype - Voice-over-IP telephone calling.
Trillian - a popular chat client for instant messaging. Supports AIM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo Messenger, and IRC.
In addition to the free software, U3 Software Central has retail software for security, antivirus, data encryption, backup, synchronizing Outlook email, viewing drawings, managing passwords, file shredding, file recovery, a search engine for the U3 smart drive, and more. Most of these programs are priced between $15 and $30 and are downloadable.
Flash drive manufacturers may bundle one or more applications on U3 smart drives (some apps may be trial versions). You can add others from U3 Software Central.
Portable applications for regular USB flash drives
If you don't want to use U3 smart drives, you can take a regular USB flash drive and add portable applications. The drive simply won't have the integration and other benefits afforded by the U3 software platform.
The following are good starting places. In addition to those applications listed above, familiar apps you'll find include the Opera Web browser, RSS readers, media players, Portable StarOffice, Portable Abiword, anti-spyware programs, and much more.
Tomorrow ... I'll write more about the U3 software platform and portable applications especially for it.
Portable applications vs. Remote computing
Despite its usefulness, a USB flash drive with portable applications still is not your regular working environment. To use your actual computer remotely, you need something like GoToMyPC. GoToMyPC gives you complete access to everything on your office PC from any other Internet-connected PC.
And to conduct meetings among two or more PCs, you can use GoToMeeting from the same company.
All of the posts in this series: