June 20, 2008

Carry your digital life on a keyring

by Yuri Maslikov
experience: Marketing Manager at SoftLogica
education: Economics at Novosibirsk State University

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Imagine carrying your favorite software, settings, profiles and data on a device that can fit your key chain. It is possible with portable software - computer programs that can be carried around with you on portable device and used on any Windows computer. When your flash drive, portable hard drive, iPod or other device is plugged in, you have access to your favorite software and personal data just as you would do on your own PC. You can work, play a game, message friends, send email, edit photos and more - all without worrying if applications are installed on the computer. Not all software can be portable. It needs to comply with the following requirements.

Copying such program to a different computer should not alter system registry of that computer or add any extra files to system folders. Moving the program from one folder to another neither make system unstable, nor render the program unable to run correctly. Moving all files and folders of the program to a different location should preserve your settings. Deleting the program folder guarantees that the program data will be completely removed.

There are two major media types used for the portable software: а portable hard drive device and a flash drive. The main advantage of a hard drive is its low cost per megabyte, so a portable 20 Gb hard drive can cost the same as 2Gb flash one. However, а portable hard drive has moving parts, and a good bump or drop from a few feet can damage it. A flash drive uses flash memory, which means that information is stored in a memory circuit, and there are no moving parts in it. You can drop it and be sure it would be fine. Also it is usually much smaller than a hard drive. However, keep in mind that flash memory can sustain only a limited number of write and erase cycles before failure. Thus, an active everyday usage of the flash memory can result in a card lifetime of 1-2 years. If your flash drive is 1- or 2-years old, consider buying a new one. Also, there are some programs configured to place temporary or intermediate files in memory rather than store them temporarily on the flash drive, that reduce the flash memory usage.

Recently a new type of flash drives appeared, that is specially designed for the portable software. They are coming preinstalled with the Launchpad which emulates the Windows OS start menu, and controls program installation and two partitions - one for the launch menu, and one for the programs and data. While such portable drive is highly attractive, one of the downsides of it is that most of the software for it is commercial. The best way to fill your portable drive with the best tools is to look for a portable versions of your favorite software. Everyone has its own tastes in making their collection. The following freeware tools are a pretty common choice.

Launch your portable programs from a simple menu
PStart is a simple tray tool to start user defined applications. Designed to run portable applications (like portable Firefox & Thunderbird), it can start anything runnable from USB key devices or removable disks: www.pegtop.net
Protect information on your flash drive with encrypting tools
Dekart Private Disk Light. This free disk encryption software creates a virtual encrypted disk within a file and mounts it as a real disk. All data encryption is fast, automatic, on-the-fly and with no performance penalty: www.dekart.com
TrueCrypt. You can create a virtual drive of any size you choose that contains all your private data and information. You can use it to encrypt your entire USB drive or only a segment of it if you prefer:
Carry your web browser with all your favorite bookmarks
Opera Portable - Opera browser that has been repacked so that you can run Opera by just clicking, without the need of installation or administrator rights. With download size of about 3 MB, you get the same features of Opera compared to what you get in the installation version: www.kejut.com/operaportable
Portable Firefox is the popular Mozilla Firefox web browser packaged with a PortableApps Launcher as a portable app, so you can take your bookmarks, extensions and saved passwords with you:
Carry your calendar with all your appointments
Portable Sunbird is the handy Mozilla Sunbird calendar and task manager packaged as a portable app, so you can take your calendar and to do list with you:
Essential Pim performs all your basic PIM needs: calendar, contact manager, etc. Conveniently, you can import your Outlook information, and it supports built-in encryption: www.essentialpim.com
Carry your email client with all your contacts and settings
Mozilla Thunderbird Portable is the popular Mozilla Thunderbird email client packaged as a portable app, so you can take your email, address book and account settings with you. You can also get it with GPG and Enigmail preconfigured to encrypt and sign your email: www.portableapps.com/apps/internet/email/portable_thunderbird
JBMail is a compact and portable secure e-mail client. The software has been designed for simplicity, security and “on-line mailbox access” meaning that mail is manipulated remotely and NOT stored locally. JBMail supports POP3, SMTP, SSL/TLS and all essential mail client features: www.pc-tools.net/win32/jbmail
Carry your instant messenger and your buddy list
Trillian multi-protocol instant messaging client works with AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, MSN Messenger, ICQ and IRC: www.trilliananywhere.com
Miranda IM is a multi protocol instant messenger client for Windows. Miranda IM uses very little memory and is extremely fast. It supports ICQ, AIM, MSN, Jabber, Yahoo, IRC and more:
Carry your whole office suite along with your documents and presentations
AbiWord Portable. AbiWord is a free word processing program similar to Microsoft Word. It is suitable for a variety of word processing activities and has the ability to read and write a number of document types including Microsoft Word, Word Perfect, OpenOffice.org, RTF, HTML, Palm and more: www.portableapps.com/apps/office/word_processors/portable_abiword
Portable OpenOffice is the complete OpenOffice.org office suite including a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation tool, drawing package and database packaged as a portable app. the only downside is its size (86mb to download and 167mb to install):
Carry all your important passwords and account information securely
PINs is a free feature-rich Windows program for safe and comfortable storing of any secure information like passwords, accounts, PINs etc. PINs uses a secure 448 bit Blowfish algorithm to ensure the data are not crackable. The password used for securing access to stored data is not saved anywhere: www.mirekw.com
KeePass is a free/open-source password manager or safe which helps you to manage your passwords in a secure way. You can put all your passwords in one database, which is locked with one master key or a key-disk. So you only have to remember one single master password or insert the key-disk to unlock the whole database:
Have utilities handy when visiting family or friends that are having PC problems
Portable ClamWin is the popular ClamWin antivirus packaged as a portable app, so you can take your antivirus with you to scan files on the go. Portable ClamWin has scheduled scans and updates disabled as they are not used in a portable scenario:
Handy Recovery is data recovery software designed to restore accidentally deleted files on hard and floppy drives with FAT12/16/32, NTFS and NTFS 5 file systems: www.handyrecovery.com
And a useful piece of advice here: Always wait until the drive access light has stopped blinking and then click the icon in your system tray to ‘Safely Remove’ your device. Don’t just remove it. When the portable software window is closed doesn’t mean the software has fully closed and finished writing to the disk. Back up your portable drive on a regular basis.

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