Friday, March 24, 2006

Really safe flash drive

Well, those of you afraid of using flash drives in case you lose them and lose your data to someone else, fret no more - you can now get a Kingston Self-destructing flash drive!

If the wrong person gets a hold of it they'll get only 25 attempts to get the password right and access your data. If they fail the drive and any data on it is gone forever! Just make sure this drive is not the only place where you saved the sensitive data...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Cheap, disposable flash drives

Well, maybe not disposable but close to it: M-Systems is marketing a new line of flash drives [via Engadget] aimed at people who just need a little more space to replace the aging floppy drive. It is not clear from the press release if the drives support U3, which indicates they probably don't. Still, I can see that many people would take to this product, with a surface label that they can write on and clearly label their drives, just like they did when floppies were around.

SanDisk rolled out a similar effort last year with their Shoot & Store line of flash media, including Shoot & Store USB flash drive. Low cost, low capacity flash drives, albeit at a fairly high cost-per-megabyte.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Flash drives and security: friends or foes?

I never got a chance to post a link to a great post by Méprisant last month on some of the best portable apps available right now. Most of them are free, and the list spans several categories, although most of them are not U3-enabled.

There are some great suggestions in that list, and I have picked up a few applications I haven't tried before. I do disagree on one point - when introducing a security category Méprisant noted:

Antivirus and Spyware : NOTE : I personally think don't think this category should exist. The entire point of using portable software is to perform certain tasks on machines that do not have the software to perform these tasks, like in an internet cafe. If I wanted to disinfect an infected machine, I would run either an online virus scanner or boot the machine from antivirus software cd.

Unfortunately, using a compromised computer is not a good idea! In the past I had a special USB flash drive with a Read Only switch that enabled me to plug into any computer without worrying that my drive will be compromised by spyware or viruses resident on that computer. Unfortunately, this seriously limits what you can do with your drive so having spyware and virus protection is the next best thing. You don't want to spread disease with your flash drive, always use protection! :)

Another reason for having security software on your drive is rescuing computers that are often not easily fixed. Think of your mom's computer, you happen to be there one evening and hear of all the problems she is having. It takes almost no time to plug in your drive with up-to-date virus/spyware definitions and clean it - even if the network access on the computer has been disabled by the virus. I love that about portable security!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Gmail on your USB drive?

Some people will tell you that networked applications will obsolete all other types of applications, including portable apps running on your USB drive. AJAX-based services have pushed web apps a giant step forward, as services like GMail and Google Maps give you very responsive interfaces as well as accessibility from anywhere on the planet. I mean, would you rather search for available domains the old way, by typing and submitting random words into a Whois tool hoping to hit one that's available, or would you prefer going to Instant Domain Search and finding an available domain in no time at all? Unfortunately, once you're offline you're toast - good luck catching up on your GMail while on an 8-hour flight to London.

To solve this problem a company called Morfik is hoping to extend the reach of AJAX applications beyond the network, all the way to your USB flash drive! They have developed technology that provides a simulated platform for AJAX applications so that you can use them offline. AJAX unplugged indeed! As a proof-of-concept they have converted GMail front end to run directly off a USB flash drive, just like any other portable app would. This in itself is an amazing feat - Morfik is a company to watch for some interesting solutions in the future!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Pushing the USB hardware forward

There were many interesting USB flash drive designs at CES this January. One I liked was Lexar's built-in capacity meter: it's a simple LCD indicator telling you at a glance how much free space you have left (similar to battery status indicators on cell phones). I imagine it's powered by an internal battery, as it displays capacity status even when the drive is not plugged in.

Memorex and Didigo take this concept further (albeit in a slightly different direction) with the ability to display some personal information on the LCD as well.

What I would love to see is a very simple improvement that could save a lot of people from losing their data and corrupting their drives: instead of a simple flashing LED that indicates flash drive is plugged in and active, why not put a little stencil over the LED that has an icon of the drive with a cross through it, to indicate that the drive should not be unplugged? This is similar to what iPod would display before being safely ejected, but it will make it clear to many new users that the drive should not just be yanked out at any random time. Once the drive is ejected through software, the LED will go off and the user will know it's safe to remove the drive. Cheap and effective!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Notepad2: programmer's best friend

One of the core apps for programmers, system administrators and IT staff in general must be Notepad2. It replaces Windows Notepad perfectly - it is not bloated and it is fast! Yet, it picks up on many shortcomings painfully apparent in Windows Notepad. Some of the features it adds are:
  • Customizable syntax highlighting (HTML, XML, CSS, JavaScript, VBScript, ASP, PHP, CSS, Perl/CGI, C/C++, C#, Java, VB, Pascal, Assembler, SQL, Python, NSIS, INI, REG, INF, BAT, DIFF)
  • Drag & drop text editing inside and outside Notepad2
  • Basic regular expression search and replace
  • Useful word, line and block editing shortcuts
  • Rectangular selection (Alt+Mouse)
  • Brace matching (Lisp fans rejoice), auto indent, long line marker, zoom functions
  • Support for Unicode, UTF-8, Unix and Mac text files
This is one of those apps that should be at your fingertips wherever you go, on your desktop or on someone else's. Notepad2 unfortunately did not have a U3 version but thanks to Florian's permission I created a U3 version for you to download - and it's absolutely free. Run and download it now, it will take up less than half a megabyte on your device!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Do your taxes, anywhere

In a very interesting move, H&R Block has joined with Kingston to release their tax preparation software on a USB drive:
H&R Block, the world’s largest tax services provider and Kingston, the world’s largest independent manufacturer of memory products, announced today that H&R Block will deliver TaxCut Deluxe™ tax software on a custom Kingston® 256-MB DataTraveler USB Flash Drive. This innovative concept of delivering tax software on a USB drive is convenient, portable, and a true value to taxpayers.

“We were looking for a new way to deliver our software” said Derek Swords, product director, software, H&R Block. “We feel that Kingston’s DataTraveler USB drive gives our customers an easy, secure and portable way to access and install TaxCut, and helps our customers prepare their taxes easily so they receive the best possible outcome from their tax experience. Combining our TaxCut Deluxe software with the ease-of-use, reliability and portability of the Kingston DataTraveler is a unique way for us to meet our customers’ needs and provide value beyond the tax season.’

You will be seeing a lot more software on USB drives this year!

Core apps

The concept of core apps is to have a set of applications on your smart drive that won't take up a lot of space, yet will save your bacon in desperate situations. These core apps are different for different jobs: a programmer might have her favourite light-weight editor installed on her smart drive, while a graphic designer may need his favourite screen capture utility always on hand. Some apps may overlap several categories, and some people may be more choosy than others.

My goal is to have my Travel drive, my Work drive and my Entertainment drive setup with selected core apps on each. This way whenever I leave the house I just pick up one, two or three drives I'd need that day. Let's help each other and build a list of core apps for different types of usage: send me your core apps, or if you don't know them yet, the type of programs you miss when away from your computer. I hope to expand and maintain these lists so that newcomers are able to get started quickly with their shiny new drives.

Send your suggestions to portableapps at gmail.com (replace with proper @ sign).