USB drives are a dime a dozen. They get handed out at corporate events, included with other USB gadgets and in most cases, tossed into a computer desk drawer and forgotten. That’s because most computer users assume that a USB drive is only useful for one thing—transferring files from one computer to another. But in reality, a USB drive has a number of very cool functions that can boost your productivity, or perhaps just your geek factor. Here are a few of the best.
1. Run Portable Apps
Portable apps are standalone applications that can be run entirely from a USB drive or some other type of removable media. The application either does not need any settings or configuration files to function properly, or it saves all of this data directly onto the USB drive. This is handy if you have a specific web browser you like to use, along with your preferences, bookmarks and extensions. Instead of reinstalling all of your most used tools each time you log on to someone else’s computer, you can just plug in your USB drive and run your portable apps. This is also a great tool for technical support professionals who may carry diagnostic tools and software on a USB drive.
Check out PortableApps.com for more information.
2. Lock Your PC
For most of us, a strong password is all we need to secure our PC. But what if you wanted to let others use your computer without telling them your password? Or what if you didn’t want to be bothered with remembering your password? If that’s the case for you, you can use a USB security key. These work similarly to a car key—without it, the engine won’t run. Simply insert the USB stick into the computer and it fires up. Remove it, and all users are blocked from access.
Symantec makes a USB security key, or you can try a program called Predator: http://www.montpellier-informatique.com/predator/en/index.php?n=Main.Telechargement
3. Run a Web Server
Web developers need a development server for testing their web applications and server-side scripts. To save yourself from uploading your web apps each time you want to test them out, you can install a local development server that creates a web environment on your computer. For coders on the go, a USB version of a web server fits the bill. Try Server2Go or XAMP.
4. Run an Operating System
Likewise, you can run full-fledged operating systems from USB drives. The most logical use is to include a lightweight version of Linux for disk recovery or other diagnostic purposes (i.e. if the system won’t boot normally). But you can also run versions of Windows or other operating systems from a USB drive.
Puppy Linux is a popular portable OS, as is DSL (Damn Small Linux).
5. Boost Your Performance
Windows Vista and Windows 7 computers feature a technology called ReadyBoost, which lets you use any removable media as random access memory. This has a similar effect as adding new physical RAM to your computer, meaning your machine runs faster and multitasks more smoothly.
Try a few of the tips above with the next USB drive you get your hands on. Those USB sticks are more useful than you thought.