USB drives can be found just about everywhere these days in all shapes and sizes. While most of us just use them to transport data around there are some other really great uses that they can make them even handier. Much thanks to Greg Shultz at TechRepublic for pointing these great ideas out.
Run Portable Apps
This idea while useful in a general sense for the average computer user is a boon to computer techs and security folks. The idea is that you load it up with application and give it a handy menu interface and you have a utility toolbox to go. You can either create your own or if you aren’t feeling that adventurous you can always drop by PortableApps.com and get a ready made package you can download and install to that USB.
If you are of a mind to build your own I’m going to shamelessly promote the forum community around one of my other personal blogs and suggest you check out the forum post that gives you a tutorial for creating your own portable apps USB.
If you would like a good in-depth review of the offering available at PortableApps.com you can read one over at my WinExtra blog as well.
Boot an Operating System
While you can’t boot OS X from a USB drive yet you can with Windows XP and just about any version of Linux. Unfortunately without help this isn’t something for the faint of heart but luckily there are tutorials out there to help you. Check here for how to setup XP to boot from a USB and if Linux is your poison of OS choice there is this helping hand here.
Create a password reset disk
This helpful little hint is geared more towards Windows users who have forgotten their password. With Vista you can use a USB drive rather than a floppy to create a reset disk. TechRepublic has a post telling you how to do achieve this.
Manage those USB drives
On the off chance that all you are using those USB drives for it to transport files and other data you should maybe drop by the Microsoft TechNet Magazine site and grab a copy of the Microsoft USB Flash Drive Manager. Once installed you can easily copy files to and from your drive, back up and restore the entire USB drive to and from your hard disk.
Connect to a wireless network
Wireless networks are great and to help keep them great you can use the Wireless Network Setup Wizard in ZP or the Windows Connect Now feature in Vista to save your wireless network configuration to the USB drive. Once down you can use that drive to help setup quickly and easily other computers to your wireless network.
Password protect it
As USB drives become more and more popular the chances of them being used to transport sensitive data that you don’t want prying eye to get at becomes more likely. To help you protect that data you can check out Rohos Mini Drive which will let you create a secret partition on that USB drive and then password-protect/encrypt the partition.
One of the more interesting features of Vista was the ability to use a USB drive in conjunction with the ReadyBoost technology to speed up your system. ReadyBoost uses the storage space on the drive as an additional memory cache. Because flash memory is more responsive than a hard drive the ReadyBoost provided cache can really improve your system’s responsiveness. To use it is as simple as inserting the USB drive and follow the onscreen prompts.
Lock up your PC
Using your USB drive and a program called Predator you basically create a key that will lock or unlock your computer. As long as the USB drive is connected to your computer it will operate as normal but when you remove it the keyboard and mouse are disabled and your monitor goes dark. To unlock it and return operations to normal just plug the USB back in.
Use it as an MP3 player
Has the office blues got you down because you can’t for whatever reason listen to music while you work. Well the simple answer is that pretty well every standard install of Windows will include Windows Media Player – unless of course your IT department is overly anal – so all you have to do is load up your USB drive with your MP3 you want to listen to and then when at work start up Windows Media Player and point it to the USB drive. At that point just tell it to create a library of the music and you are good to go.
Run a website
For web developers this could be a real boon as all you need is a USB drive and an install of Server2Go. Once setup what you have is a full fledged server that supports Apache, PHP, MySQL and Perl right from the USB drive. You can use Server2Go right out of the box and on all versions of Windows.