This Christmas, I received a Target gift card, which I used to purchase a new 2gig USB drive. I don’t normally purchase new electronics for reasons outlined in this article, so I was quite excited!
1. The first thing I loaded was TrueCrypt, so I could protect all my data. I checked the TrueCrypt.org website and they are scheduling the release of TrueCrypt 5 for later this month some time in February, I can’t wait to upgrade. Version 5 should have a Linux and OSX GUI.
I used TrueCrypt to create a 1.5 Gig NTFS volume on my USB drive. I keep ALL my documents and programs in the encrypted partition. Why, you ask? If I kept my program files outside the encrypted volume and my USB drive was lost or stolen, it would be like my laptop was stolen while it was signed in. Who ever found it would have full access to every website and FTP host I use.
Running programs from encrypted volumes might seem like it would be slow, but it is not. USB drives can be formatted with FAT or FAT32, both of which are very inefficient. TrueCrypt can format the encrypted volume as NTFS, a vast improvement. I have noticed that programs actually run more smoothly from the encrypted volume, at about the same speed.
I did leave about 500meg outside the encrypted partition. I use this to store TrueCrypt and virus/spyware cleanup programs like HiJackThis and SpyBot Search & Destroy. That way, I can cleanup a machine before I open my encrypted volume.
2. The second application is PStart. PStart is a great, minimalist start menu.
I’ve looked at other program launchers including the PortableApps suite, Imation’s U3 and Lexar’s PowerToGo. None are as simple and useful as PStart. Pstart lets me add programs or folders to my start menu. It can be configured to close as soon as an application is launched, remain resident until closed, or remain open. Because of it’s size, it loads very quickly and the only thing I have to do to install it is copy PStart.exe to the root directory of my encrypted volume.
3. EverNote PE, a recent addition, is a note manager. It’s user interface reminds me of the old Apple Newton, like one continuous roll of toilet-paper. I use it as a place to store information about networks I manage, IP addresses, software license keys, notes on how I setup a particular server, technotes, quotes and various other random bits of information. You can drop in graphics or clippings from other programs like Excel, Word, Paint, etc. Data is accessed via a hierarchical tree or via a terrific search feature. It is actually fun software to use. This is the only commercial software of the bunch. Everything else is Free. I purchased the Portable Edition, especially designed for USB drives.
4. KeePass – an awesome open source password manager. I use it to track all my passwords for work, personal, online banking and e-mail. KeePass encrypts the passwords and since KeePass is already on an encrypted volume, everything is doubly protected.
5. TotalCommander is a swiss army knife style file manager. It displays two folder windows side by side and allows you to copy or move files from one to the other. You can also delete, edit and do many other things, but the two I use it most for are FTP and synchronizing files from my USB to my Hard Drive. The built in FTP client is great. Once I realized that I needed to define a transparent firewall, I found that it worked better than FileZilla. I use TotalCommander for all my FTP needs.
Not only are my files on my USB drive encrypted, but so are the ones on my hard drive. I actually have 1.5gig TrueCrypt volume on my hard drive that matches what is on my USB and I use TotalCommander to synchronize the files.
TotalCommander is not a portable application, but from the authors website, you can download a utility which will copy TotalCommander, it’s plugins and the .INI file to your USB drive. Totally cool.
6. EditPadLite – this is my choice for a multi-file, tabbed interface text editor. The keyboard shortcuts in EditPadLite make sense to me and EditPadLite can be configured to keep it’s settings in an .INI file, making it an ideal portable editor.
There are other nice editors, including a PortableApps version of NotePad++.
7. Thunderbird Portable Edition. This is a version of Thunderbird e-mail, specifically configured to run from a USB drive. It is part of the PortableApps suite. I normally use web based e-mail for my personal e-mail and Lotus Notes at work. I have Thunderbird to read all my mail boxes as IMAP using SSL, for those times I just really want a real e-mail client.
I also have a copy of Q10, which I am trying out for writing posts. It is the most minimal program I have ever tried. All that is onscreen are yellow letters on a black background. Since I can’t use it to fiddle with graphics or fonts, it helps me focus on writing. One cool thing about Q10 that I just discovered is that it reopens the last file that you worked on, even if the USB drive letter changes. Q10 worked so well for this post that I may try it out at work for memos and TPS reports.
What’s on your USB drive?