USB flash drives have been made even more useful with the emergence of portable applications which can run from the flash drive without being installed on the host PC. With this, USB flash drives are suddenly much more than just dumb storage.
Using these applications, when you plug the USB flash drive into any PC, you have your own programs as well as your data files. Not all software runs this way. But the basic office productivity functions are available. (I've listed several sources of portable application software.)
U3: portable operating environment
Within the last year, portable applications have advanced yet another step with the introduction of 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, macros, favorites/bookmarks, etc. Basically, it puts a portable, self-enclosed operating environment on the USB flash drive.
This is all managed through U3's desktop interface called "Launchpad." When you plug in the USB flash drive, Launchpad appears in the System Tray. It functions much like the Windows "Start" button. Through Launchpad you explore the U3 smart drive's contents, manage its storage capacity, install/remove software, and password protect the flash drive.
U3 smart drives let you maintain your own secure space inside whatever PC you're using. Your documents are saved to your U3 smart drive, not to the PC. That's true for passwords, Web site cookies, history files, and so on. When you unplug the U3 smart drive, no trace of your activity remains. (For a brief technical explanation of how U3 interacts with the host PC, see the end of this post.)
Numerous USB flash drive manufacturers and software companies already support this emerging industry standard. All U3 smart drives include the U3 Launchpad. Some include additional programs. Check the U3 website for information on drives and software.
|Where to buy USB flash drives:|
|Crucial Technology (manufacturer)|
|Buy.com - USB flash drives page|
|Amazon.com - USB flash drives page|
|Local computer stores; other retailers|
- You cannot add just any portable applications to a U3 smart drive. Only applications that are specifically developed for the U3 platform may be loaded onto the U3 smart drive. A growing list of U3-complaint applications is at U3 Software Central.
- The U3 Launchpad cannot be downloaded and installed on a regular USB flash drive. The U3 system software is pre-loaded on USB smart drives by the hardware manufacturers. To use the U3 platform, you must have a U3 smart drive. So, look for the U3 logo on the packaging and/or on the smart drive itself. (In contrast, Ceedo can be added to any USB flash drive.)
- As of this writing, the U3 smart drive Launchpad itself is not supported on the Macintosh and Linux operating systems. It only works on computers running Windows 2000 (Service Pack 4 and later), Windows XP (all editions and service packs), and Windows Server 2003. (However, on a Macintosh or Linux computer, a U3 smart drive still can be used as a regular USB flash drive.)
- System requirements to use a U3 smart drive include a Pentium III processor and 128MB RAM.
- While many people will find U3 smart drives convenient, you can run many portable applications on regular USB flash drives without the "virtual desktop" and other U3 benefits. Sample applications: the OpenOffice.org office suite, the Firefox Web browser & Thunderbird email client, and the Trillian chat client.
- There are more applications available for regular USB flash drives than for U3 smart drives.
Tomorrow ... I'll talk about how USB flash drives compare to other means of portable data storage (CDs, external hard drives, & floppy disks).
If you like the technical stuff....
Calling U3 a "category-breaking product," Network World explains how U3 smart drives interact with the host PC:
U3 smart applications are built to be self-contained and not make persistent changes to the host computer's hard drive, registry or other system resources. When a U3 smart application is launched from the flash drive, a U3 smart package is loaded into temporary files on the host Windows computer to launch and run the application. The U3-compliant application is independent of the host computer's directory structure, storage resources and registry.
All of the posts in this series: