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Typically an external hard drive wouldn't qualify as an emerging technology. And even when one adds the ability to use an external USB drive to move files and some personal settings to other computers, it hardly transforms an external drive into something new.
But the Seagate FreeAgent Go drive added a new twist that intrigued me enough to give it a test drive. This twist was the ability to have a portable USB external drive that would hold not only settings and files but also your commonly used applications. And even better, make it possible to plug that drive into anyone's host Windows system and have immediate access to those files and applications without installing or leaving anything on the temporary host system.
For this review I tested a 160GB FreeAgent Go unit that is priced at $117.99. The unit is nicely small and slim, taking up not much more space than many smart phones. However, despite the size, I would have liked it if the unit came with some kind of carrying case, especially since the FreeAgent Go uses a unique two-USB port cable that I would hate to lose.
That two-USB cable setup is one of the first small gotchas of the unit, as both USB connections need to be plugged into a system, which may be a problem when you're borrowing a friend's system and you need to unplug some accessories to use your FreeAgent Go.
Plugging in the unit automatically brings up the standard Windows autorun options, with a couple of unique additions, the topmost being Run Ceedo. Ceedo is the unit's integrated Windows-like software. On launching, Ceedo brings up its own Windows Start menu from which I could access files on the system and, more importantly, launch applications that are installed solely on the Ceedo drive. I also liked that it worked fine even when running on a system with limited user rights.
When this works it is very cool, essentially letting users travel with a small device that has all of their content and applications and from which they can run on any Windows machine without the hassles of installing new applications on someone else's system.
However, getting to this wasn't as easy as I first anticipated. When I first heard of this device, the idea that jumped into my head was that it would use some form of disk-based virtual machine technology. I thought it would be very cool to create a full VM of my machine, put it on the drive and then run that VM from any machine without having to install any VM software on that machine.
But FreeAgent Go doesn't work that way. To add my own applications to the device, I first had to install them. Many small and open-source applications are freely available to install into Ceedo on the FreeAgent, including the Firefox browser or the Thunderbird mail client. But to install their own applications to the device, users will need to purchase a $39.95 add-on called Argo. Using Argo I could run the installation program of any application and install it into Ceedo on the FreeAgent Go, making it accessible from other computers that I plugged into.
This worked and the applications ran well under Ceedo, but it is time consuming and a bit tedious if there are a lot of applications you want to put on the drive. Also, some applications didn't successfully install using Argo, including the VMWare Player.
All of these core Windows and application access features of the FreeAgent Go are only available on Windows XP or newer systems. However, when plugged into a Mac or other system, the FreeAgent Go does work as a plain external USB drive.
Along with the FreeAgent Go, I also tested the FreeAgent Pro, which is mainly notable as the successor to the former Maxtor One-Touch external drives (Maxtor was acquired by Seagate).
The $274.95 FreeAgent Pro unit I tested had a whopping 750GB of storage and could be configured to use Firewire, USB or eSATA. Two separate plates screw into the bottom of the unit to provide ports for either Firewire or USB and eSATA.
After that, it's pretty much a standard external drive. It includes a set of utilities (which are also available for the FreeAgent Go) that help automate backups and also integrate nicely with Windows system restore features.