How-To  

Make Better Use of Your USB Flash Drive

Madana Prathap 23 Sep' 2009

Do More With Your Thumbdrive

Pendrives are continuously shrinking so as to make them easier to carry around. Today, they have reached a point where you can buy one that is smaller than a matchbox, provides 16 GB of storage, and costs not more than Rs. 3,000. But size and price are the only places where they have downsized and the pendrive, today is virtually the electronic equivalent of the swiss army knife! read on to see a sampling of what this ‘thumb-sized’ marvel is capable of.

Bypass Admin Restrictions on Apps

If you need to use a computer as a standard user (meaning administrator access is disallowed), installing your own applications is not possible. Unless your favorite applications, that you use daily, are already installed and available it can be quite crippling and lead to loss of productivity or time because of using uncomfortable programs. Pendrives can be very useful in this context. The most important applications could simply be installed directly to the pendrive from your own computer. They then reside right where you want them, and can be called upon to help you out when required. Install your favorite browser (for example, Firefox), file manager (XYplorer), text editor (Edit Plus), PDF viewer (Foxit), compression tool (7-Zip), photo viewer (Irfanview), image editor (Paint.net), anti-virus (ClamWin), system cleaner (Ccleaner), system diagnosis (Everest by Lavalys), data recovery tool (Undelete Plus), and so on. Heck, there are ways to even make MS Office 2007 portable and carry it around!

Carry Your Music Environment Around

Being an audiophile hurts if you can’t access your songs most of the day and have to wait till you get home to listen to them. However, a well-sized pendrive can hold a fair bit of data and free you from missing out on your music collection. At normal MP3 quality and five minutes per song, you could fit about 400 files equaling 33 hours of music on a 2GB pendrive. Considering that naming 400 songs one likes is quite difficult, leave alone listening to all of them, you might only need to refresh the files on the drive once a week. Put a selection of your music and an audio player of your choice on the pendrive and suddenly it doesn’t matter which PC you are using, you have music on the go! Winamp Portable edition can make your organized media library portable, and easily accessible. Foobar2000 or any other player you prefer can be used too, albeit with less convenience in terms of media organizing. Of course, beyond a point you might want to purchase your own portable music player (like apple’s iPod, creative’s Zen, etc).

Security - Login and Logout with Pendrive Presence

User security in most cases today refers to authentication through a “login” that looks for a certain combination of username and password before it allows usage of the computer. While doing so is not exactly bad, it does have drawbacks. The password could be leaked unknowingly, reset by brute force in your absence, or most risky – be forgotten by you! One remedy is to use authentication that goes beyond just usernames and passwords. Many pendrives today come with sofware that allow for using it as a tool to login and log out. Third-party sofware can also do the same, such as BlueMicro USB Flash drive logon which can be downloaded from www.bluemicrosolutions.com/bms/member/index.htm. Using this sofware, you can harden the authentication procedures on your computer to a higher level. You could, for example, simply insert the pendrive when you see the Windows logon screen, and when you are done with your session, pull it out. Then, nobody can access your desktop/lap- top without your permission. If someone else would like to logon in your name, they’d have to borrow the pendrive and return it. Of course, you’d have to make sure you do not lose your pendrive since it is the “key” to your user account.

A portable App Drive

As we mentioned earlier, applications can be installed to a pendrive and be run directly off it, to work around restrictions on installation programs. However, if you are using a shared computer and would like to keep your private info... well, private, the above solution won’t account for it. This is because most programs today are made with a “multi-user” system in mind. So while the main EXE fles would reside in the Program files folder, the data related to the user, such as cookies, Web history, bookmarks, webpage cache, and so on would reside in the user’s profile folder (the applicationData folder created by Windows). This leads to a situation where you can run Firefox from the pendrive and install a particularly nice extension and skin while on one PC, but when you plug it into some other PC, you fnd your settings and extension and skin have gone back to what they were. So nonportable applications do run just fne, but on every such computer that you use them on, a litter of your settings and files is being left behind. In the interest of privacy, and “running clean”, portable apps can be used. These base themselves entirely out of a pendrive. That way, changes made to Firefox’s settings are retained, as is the registration key entered into a shareware program, and that toolbar you downloaded for quick access from a particular program will remain just the way you left it. If there is an application you need that isn’t already “portability friendly” you can just create a portable version using MojoPac. Settings that you modify on apps within the MojoPac layer won’t affect Windows.

As a Cache to Boost Speed

Imagine plugging in a pendrive and getting your computer to run faster. named ReadyBoost, this feature was publicised a lot during the launch of Windows Vista, where it was claimed that if you are low on RAM and want to make your PC run like it had more RAM, you only have to insert a relatively fast pendrive into a USB port. What this does really, is use the pendrive as a memory cache, sort of like a pagefle but faster. traditionally, the pagefile was located on the hard disk as a file in C: drive. But locating a part of it on a pendrive is faster because its “access time” is lower than that of spinning hard disks. In real terms, this means the waiting time is reduced with a pendrive as compared to an HDD – where the platters need to spin for the read head to reach the pagefile. Therefore, when ReadyBoost is enabled, applications and fles can load faster. Similar functionality is also possible on Windows XP with a tiny shareware application named eBoostr, downloadable from www.eboostr.com.  You would see a visible performance gain only on a PC with 1GB of RAM or less, since 2GB or more RAM would already provide good perceived system speed. Note that ReadyBoost is not equivalent to adding more RAM per se. Adding a cheap 4GB pendrive to an old desktop with 512 MB of RAM, won’t magically result in 4.5 GB of RAM. Also keep in mind that pendrives (based on flash memory) are designed for a specifc number of writes only, so using them as cache would wear them out quicker than they otherwise would, if used purely as data transport media.

Encrypt Private Data in Transit

Transferring private data (such as your passwords or company documents) on a pendrive can be quite ugly, in the face of the risk that it could be stolen somehow. everyday file transfers such as multimedia might still not pose an issue, but private files coming into the possession of someone else is a worrying prospect. This could be solved in two ways – hardware-encrypted pendrives and sofware-encrypted ones that you can setup yourself. Sofware encryption is possible with freeware such as truecrypt, Dekart Private disk light, and is even supported natively with Windows’ own Bitlocker. once the drive is encrypted, you can safely carry private data on it, secure in the knowledge that even losing it won’t reveal company secrets to the wrong person. This also opens the doors for using it as a temporary backup media.

Play Movies Off it on Compatible DVD Players

Dissatisfaction with playing only discs on a DVD player gave rise to a new breed of players. These can understand and play not only the usual VCD, DVD, and audioCD. Discs with JPeG photos, MP3 songs, and DivX movies are also supported. a host USB port and MemoryCard slots that are also provided on these players. This USB port on a player is very useful when you do not want to waste time with writing a movie fle to DVD, or quickly want to view a few photos from a digicam’s memory card. you can simply copy the files you want from a computer to a USB pendrive and plug it into the player, to view your multimedia on the TV. The only restriction these players have on an acceptable medium, is that the storage device you plug in should be formatted in the FAT32 file-system, it should be the frst partition in the case of portable HDDs, and should receive extra power through its own cable. The Xbox 360 game console can also play movies and songs from a pendrive. What is more, even some mobile phones today come with a USB port (the OpenMoko freerunner can read and write to a pendrive plugged in to it).

Schedule Backups

If the files you’d like to backup are few in number, it probably makes little sense to buy an extra hard disk drive, or an external hard disk. These files can easily be backed up onto the pendrive, either manually, or by programs that can automate backups on a schedule. You can install one-click  backup programs like allway sync or MS Synctoy, insert your drive, one click, and it’s done! do keep in mind that any such backup can only be temporary and not for the long term, since pendrives degrade with wear and tear.

Key Drive for a Wireless Network

Ever since WinXP SP2, as long as a Wi-Fi driver was installed, Windows had its own wizard to guide a person through confguring a wireless network. no more poorly made third-party wizard that could vary on every laptop, and crash mid-way through setting up the network on account of some inexplicable error. Windows’ own Wi-Fi wizard ofers the ability to save valid network settings to a pendrive.  This pendrive can be used to confgure all other PCs on a wireless network easily and automatically, without having to labor through a wizard each time.

Consolidated Drivers Disc for Sysadmin

Those who have to install and manage computers could heave a sigh of relief at the thought of a consolidated driver disk. system administrators at any business organization, need to deal with a constant stream of new incoming PCs and ones that need to be repaired. Having drivers ready for all the hardware present in all of them on a single disk, could save a lot of time and effort. Also, unlike a CD or DVD (one time use), a pendrive is faster and can be kept updated constantly with additions and removals.

Transfer Business files by Courier

Considering slow Internet speeds and the cost of high-bandwidth commercial connections, moving huge fles from one office location to the other, is mostly done via couriered DVDs. While in transit, these DVDs are prone to damage, reaching the destination with scratched surfaces and broken cases. There is an alternative - data worth 8 DVDs can be stored on a single cheap pendrive of 32 GB. and it will work just fine even if it has been dropped or soaked in rain.

Make it a Calling Card

Business cards are passé! USB flash drives are the new calling cards. Te new wave of digital calling cards can be branded with your name, show of your skills, your portfolio (for example, website / graphic designers), and contain relevant viewer applications for an unfettered exhibition of your work. They also contain details of how you can be contacted.

To Learn to Use Linux

To learn to use Linux if your hard disk drive is used by Windows and you don’t want to put data on it at risk, it can be a good idea to install linux to a pendrive instead. This will help you retain the data on your hard disk as is, while also having a portable operating system on your pendrive itself. You could use it to learn a non-Microsoft OS, to showoff to friends, or to get around any restricted computers outside by booting into your own self-contained unrestricted operating system. It is also useful for other situations, for instance if a friend’s PC is virus-infested, you could boot off the pendrive, delete the pesky virus’ EXE files, and do lots more, securely. If you have to use a shared computer, you might also appreciate having an OS that keeps your Web surfing data such as bookmarks, cookies, history, and passwords safe and private. Just about any live distro is suitable for installing on a pendrive – Knoppix, DamnSmallLinux, Puppy linux, Linux Mint, etc. While installing is fairly simple, there are websites (such as www.pendrivelinux.com ) for non-geeks, that provide precise and detailed steps targeted at any given distro.

As Windows Installation and System Recovery Environment

A number of PCs today (netbooks, ultraportable laptops, compact green business desktops) come without an optical drive. This rules out usage of

CD/DVDs to install or repair Windows on these machines. USB pendrives are ideally suited to become the medium of choice, under such conditions. If created and managed right, pendrives can be faster and more durable for such system management functions.

For the Gifting Season

You already see branded pendrives being handed out at conferences, with the company’s USP (information, brochures, etc) stored on it. Not only that, some land developers and builders give one such pendrive to everyone that walks into their office - people are glad that they get a free pendrive, and the builder has the satisfaction that the plans and details he has given will autorun everytime someone uses it. You could also be creative with gifting pendrives — paint one with funky colors, load it with photos and scans of happy family events and gift it to mom — and see the broad smile she breaks out into, while she views them...

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