What can you do with a few gigabytes and a USB port? Quite a lot, with the right software. Learn how to encrypt your work, run whole systems, rescue Windows, and customize your thumb drive with these USB-geared tricks.
Note: Gina previously rounded up 10 thumb drive tricks in April 2007, and we’ve borrowed a few of those ideas here. But many of the apps have updated, some have been replaced with better offerings, and a few totally new cool things (Chrome OS! XBMC!) have made their way into this mix.
10. Give Your Drive a Custom Icon
An “oldie” but goodie. If you use multiple USB drives, or just want to make your USB drive more recognizable at a glance, you can give it a custom icon. The root of the trick is keeping a .ico file on the drive—you can create one from any image with any number of tools, including the ConvertIcon webapp. Now when you plug in your USB drive, you’ll know which one you’re looking at on your desktop and explorer windows.
9. Try Out Chrome OS Now
Google’s fast and light netbook operating system, Chrome OS, isn’t due out until late fall, but thumb drive owners can jump into an open-source build of the code so far. As explained by Gina, you can run a custom build of Chrome OS from Hexxeh from your thumb drive and try out Chrome as it stands today. Isn’t open source development cool? (Original post)
8. Browse and Work Securely with DemocraKey
If you’re on vacation, or working somewhere else where the security, tracking, and privacy conditions are unknown, you’ll be glad you have the DemocraKey bundle. It’s a set of Windows-based apps—including a browser, image editor, email client, and encryption suite—that makes browsing and working much more anonymous and secure. (Original post)
7. Run an XBMC Media Center From It
XBMC Live, a version of the awesome XBMC media center software built for thumb drives, is great for showing off XBMC to your friends and relatives on their own gear, but also loading onto your netbook or laptop when it primarily pulls other duty with a standard operating system. It’s also how Adam starts off the process of building a silent, cheap media center, providing a peek at how well things will run when XBMC is going full-force.
6. Save Your Windows System
If you’ve chosen to put an Ubuntu system on your thumb drive, you’ve already got everything you need to fix a Windows system that just isn’t working. From an Ubuntu thumb drive, you can scan and fix viruses, recover files, analyze and clean up disk space, fix partitions, and recover lost Windows passwords. All that is covered in our complete guide to saving your Windows system with a thumb drive.
5. Prevent Leaving Your Drive Behind
USB drives are small, light, and look like any other peripheral—so, yeah, a good share get lost and left behind. If you’re trading your drive between Windows systems, Flash Drive Reminder can pop up a window when you’re starting to log off or shut down, reminding you that you’ve got a drive plugged in and, hey, won’t you yank it out while you’re thinking of it? (Original post)
4. Install a Portable Windows App Suite
If you’re short on space for Windows, or you just like to keep certain apps with you or contained on a separate disk, your USB drive can function as a full-fledged launcher. PortableApps offers no-install-needed versions of Firefox, Chrome, Pidgin, GIMP, Notepad++, and many other favorite bits of open source software. There are other suites out there—some accused of playing fast and loose with licenses and software property—but PortableApps remains the most consistent and up-to-date collection of free, go-anywhere Windows software. (Original post)
3. Encrypt and Set Your Drive to Self-Destruct in Emergencies
Not physically self-destruct, as cool as that would be. But with USB Safeguard, you can make it so that either your entire drive requires an encryption drive, or just select files do. In more unique fashion, USB Safeguard can be set to wipe your files entirely if someone tries to access them without your password too many times. Losing a cheap thumb drive is much better than losing the keys to your checking account. (Original post)
2. Sync the Files You Need
Rather than manually copy the files you need back and forth between USB and hard drive, why not automatically sync what you need? It’s the least you can do to help your thumb drive keep up with Dropbox. Tools like SyncBack Freeware or Microsoft’s own SyncToy give you the option to automatically copy, or delete, the files that stick out on either side.
1. Keep a Portable Linux OS Handy
Linux systems have long been handy on a USB drive—they’re fast, free, and very customizable. We rounded up the major thumb drive systems, and found that Puppy Linux and the various Ubuntu flavors (including the lightweight Xubuntu) found the most favor among readers (and editors, too, for that matter). As for making the drives, we recommend the uSbuntu or Unetbootin tools on Windows for making read-only systems, and Universal USB Installer for making a persistent system of any Linux OS on any drive. (Original posts: Universal USB, Unetbootin, uSbuntu)
What’s the most valuable player on your own USB drive? What tools make your thumb drive fit into your workflow? We’re all ears in the comments.
By: Kevin Purdy