The USB drive is a handy little gadget that serves the purpose once reserved for floppy disks and Zip drives. It’s commonly used to move folders, files, and data easily from one computer to another in a format that’s often small enough to be given a second job as a key chain. There’s no need to burn data into the drive as you would with a CD or DVD; you can erase from and overwrite onto the USB drive as often as you need to until the darned thing falls apart. Add the fact that even USB drives capable of storing relatively large amounts of data are pretty darned cheap nowadays and you’ve got an ideal little workhorse for those files that you want to be able to use between the office, home, laptop, band camp, coffee shop, cyberpub, school, or wherever, really. One might wonder if a miraculous device so well suited to carting your data all over creation might have any alternative uses — wonder no more! You can also use a USB drive to boost your computer’s performance and run portable applications.
What’s a portable application? Think about the files that you want to take from one computer to another — the reason you’re using a USB drive in the first place. Now think larger: Wouldn’t it be nice if you could use entire applications between computers without having to install them onto each system? There you go! Simply put, that’s what portable applications are. Mozilla’s Firefox Web browser, The OpenOffice suite of free Microsoft Office replacement applications, Google’s Chrome Web browser, and the Miranda IM client are just a few examples of portable applications that can be used directly from a USB drive. Looking a little further, you’ll find that everything from games to space simulators to Bible study to sound editors to the Skype VoIP service can also be used as portable applications from a USB drive.
A few words of caution: Because a USB drive is so easy to use, it’s especially susceptible to viruses and malware, and because of its portable nature, it can serve as an unwitting carrier of such viruses and malware between computers. Make sure you’re using reliable sources to download portable apps (and really, haven’t we learned that this is a good idea no matter what it is we’re downloading?); one such recommended source is PortableApps.com.
Depending on your operating system, knowing how to use a USB drive to run portable applications is as easy as your usual method of saving to or running regular applications from any other hard drive on your computer. The hard drives view on my computer (still running on Windows Vista, I’m moderately ashamed to say) looks like this before I add a USB drive:
And then like this after the USB drive is added (notice the new Removable Disk “J” drive):
Double clicking on that J drive will show me everything that’s currently on that drive. Double clicking on a portable application stored on that drive will run it on my computer — just as it would with any natively stored application. It’s really as easy as that! For an even easier time of it, the aforementioned PortableApps.com has an excellent platform for helping you add, delete, manage, and update portable applications.
Do you regularly use any portable applications from a USB drive? Let us know what your experience has been and if you recommend any for our fellow LockerGnome readers.