U3 Lets USB Drives Carry Usable Programs
Along With Data
Portable Applications Initiatives Still Have A Way To Go
by Daniel P. Dern ([email protected])
Product Name: U3, U3/Smart, SmartDrive Price (MSRP): Free feature on U3 Smart-enabled drives Availability: Now Product URL: U3.com
Tech Requirements, if any: U3/Smart USB drives, Windows XP
Want to carry not only your documents but also programs and settings on a USB drive, so you can be productive on other computers, instead of having to tote one around, or rely on Internet access for web apps or remote-control/access to Internet storage, or
getting to your computer?
The U3 “smartdrive” initiative (www.u3.com) is one of several efforts underway, along with Ceedo (http://www.ceedo.com/), Mojopac (http://mojopac.com) and the portable apps initiative (www.portableapps.com).
The challenge, in the post-DOS/Win3 era, is either jiggering applications so they don’t need installing, or Registry entries — and either
only put data on the flash drive, or clean up all traces from the borrowed system during a clean exit.
U3’s approach is to include an additional controller on the drive, According to U3 Chief Executive Officer Kate Purmal, there’s no price
bump to U3-ize a drive, and pre-installed 5MB read-only partition
for the U3 LaunchPad software takes up a mere 5MB — noise level on today’s 500MB to 2GB sub-$100 flash drives.
U3-enabled USB drives — look for a U3/Smart logo on the drive
— are available from US vendors including Kingston, Memorex, PNY,
and SanDisk. According to Purmal, Gartner predicts 70% of 150 million flash
cards that will be sold in 2008 them will be U3/Smart.
To date, over 130 business/productivity, Internet, backup/synch, security, entertainment and other applications have been created,
ported, or otherwise certified to for U3. These include freeware
like Mozilla, Thunderbird, OpenOffice, and FoxIT, which covers your web,
email, office, and Acrobat. There’s also lots of feeware, like Gaviri’s PocketSearch organizers, and games.
And with 10,000+ software developers working with U3’s SDK,
the odds are good that more apps are en route. and there’s no added cost.
Most U3/Smart drives will include some apps pre-loaded; the U3 LaunchPad
includes links to the U3 Software Central repository
At Ziff-Davis’ October 2006 Digital Life Expo (www.digitallife.com), U3 was announcing and showing new additions, like Yahoo! Widget Engine 3.1, and availability of U3 drives from PNY.
U3 is pretty easy to use. Allot about fifteen minutes to get the hang of what’s what and where.
and start downloading free or trial-versions of apps beyond whatever comes pre-loaded on the stick you buy.
Things to like about U3 — reasonably fast start-up and exit, good range of apps. Cons include only being able to use
U3 or portable apps. Also, the LaunchPad can’t be resized.
U3 isn’t the only apps-on-a-stick game in town; the other approaches also have their pros and cons
Ceedo’s 2MB download ($29.95 after a free thirty-day trial), lets you use Ceedo-ready/approved, or portable apps. Ceedo takes longer than U3 to crank up, but seems to offers a little more access to your current programs, and you can use any USB stick (space permitting).
Mojopac, if I understand correctly, lets you install your current Windows apps, and run them, with your settings, in a secure session. One problem I’ve encountered so far is that Mojopac has seriously gronked Windows Explorer, grrr — a dealbreaker, as far as I’m concerned.
The safest and simplest is to use portable applications — applications that don’t need Registry entries, and don’t leave data behind — like trusty DOS apps of yore. PortableApps.com (www.portableapps.com) lists lots of these, including Firefox, along with email, IM, media player and other apps like Putty and PuttyFTP. This isn’t the same as a full-session
environment, but there’s less to go wrong.
Or, of course, if you can do a reboot-from-USB, you can do a Linux stick, or even Linux and a VMware virtual machine of your Windows system.
General caveats: 1) Use a password, and/or file encryption, if you have personal/business data. 2) Be sure to use the included “Eject” utility, to make
sure the mobile apps are finished cleaning up after themselves, in terms of removing any files or other traces from the computer, before disconnecting the USB drive.