Typically, an external hard drive wouldnt qualify as an emerging technology, nor would adding the capability to move files and personal settings from that external drive to other computers transform the device into something new enough to merit that designation.
However, the Seagate Technologys FreeAgent Go drive adds a new twist that intrigued us enough to give it a test drive. This twist was the ability to have a portable USB external drive that would not only hold and transfer settings and files, but also perform these functions with ones commonly used applications. Even better, its possible to plug the FreeAgent Go into any Windows system and have immediate access to the files and applications stored within the device without installing or leaving anything on the host system.
For this review, we tested a 160GByte FreeAgent Go unit that is priced at $159. The unit drive is pleasantly small and slim, and it takes little more space than many smart phones. However, despite its the size, we would have liked to see the unit come with a carrying case, especially since the FreeAgent Go uses a unique two- USB-port cable that we would hate to lose.
That two-USB-port cable setup is one of the products first small gotchas of the unit. Both of the USB connections need to be plugged into a host system, which may be a problem when youre plugging into a host machine where unoccupied USB ports are at a premium.
When we plugged in the unit, we were greeted with a dialog in which Windows standard auto-run options appeared alongside a couple of unique additions, the topmost of which was an option to run Ceedo, the FreeAgent Gos products integrated Windows-like software. On launching, Ceedo brings up its own Windows Start menu from which we could access files on the system and, more importantly, launch applications that are installed solely on the Ceedo drive.
When this works, it is very cool, essentially letting users travel with a small device that contains 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 elses system.
However, getting to this point wasnt as easy as we first anticipated. When we first heard of this device, the idea that came to mind was that it would use some form of disk-based virtual machine technology. We were intrigued by the idea of creating a full VM of our machine, putting it on the drive, and then running that VM from any machine without having to install any VM software on that machine.
But FreeAgent Go doesnt work in that way. In order to add our own applications to the device, we first had to install them. Many small and open-source applications are freely available to install into Ceedo on the FreeAgent Go, including the Firefox browser or the Thunderbird mail client.
But in order to install their own applications to the device, users will need to purchase a $20 add-on called Argo. Using Argo, we could run the installation program of any application and install it into Ceedo on the FreeAgent Go, making it accessible from other computers that we 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.
All of these core Windows and application access features of the FreeAgent Go are available only on Windows XP or newer systems. However, when plugged into a Macintosh or Linux system, the FreeAgent Go does work as a plain external USB drive.
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