There is a lot more you can do with a USB flash drive other than storage and data transfer. The latest USB flash drives offer ample space and ultrafast data transfers for multiple desktop applications, hi-definition media files, as well as routine data transfers.
Firstly, do you know that there are a host of portable applications that can be stored on USB flash drives and used from USB flash drives without being installed on a computer or portable device? In this article I will explain how to access productivity applications including a full office suite, for free.
Of course using a USB flash drive is not without risks, unless you know how to set it up properly. I will explain how to format a drive with the NTFS file system, protect it from viruses and get the jump on common concerns like data corruption. USB flash drives are also great maintenance tools for your computer. They can be used for disk usage analysis and even to install an operating system!
USB flash drives have definitely made data transfer and storage very convenient. To get the most out of these tiny yet powerful devices it’s important to understand the possible risks associated with using them and to have knowledge of how to overcome those risks.
Getting a virus is perhaps the most common risk associated with USB flash drives. People do not realise that swapping games, images and files can end up infecting their computer. USB flash drives are often connected to various mobile devices and different networks which increase the chances of them being infected with viruses.
How to protect your USB flash drive from viruses?
Unfortunately, the autorun of a USB drive may be where a virus can be hidden. Windows uses autorun to give you the option to explore, open or copy the contents of a USB drive. If this is enabled, Windows will read the flash drive automatically and inadvertently infect the computer with the virus in the process. Disabling autorun may prevent this.
It is important to scan your USB flash drive before transferring any data to or from the drive. You can try various antivirus programs such as Kaspersky, BitDefender, or Norton Antivirus to scan your flash drive.
Another possible risk for USB flash drives is the corruption of data. Do you religiously follow the ‘Safely Remove your USB Device’ instructions on your computer or other devices? If you are in the habit of simply pulling out the USB flash drive from the USB port as soon as you’ve finished, you could end up losing important data
Even if you think that you have closed all the files on the flash drive, it is possible that the device is still active in the background without any visible indication. If you have important data on your USB flash drive and no back up, you might lose the data. Disconnecting the flash drive is so simple - right click on it and select ‘Safely Remove Hardware’ or double click the icon in the system tray of your computer.
If you have lost data on a USB flash drive, there are various data recovery tools and simple system tweaks to recover it. What about data lost due to the loss of the device itself? Recently in the United States, a USB flash drive carrying nearly 16,000 student and employee social security numbers was stolen from a State Community College, causing great embarrassment for authorities. Encryption of data can prevent such data from being accessed, even if a drive is stolen. There are various tools available to encrypt data on a USB flash drive. My personal favourite being LocknGo from Keynesis (www.keynesis.com)
How to format a drive with the NTFS file system
The most recent variants of Microsoft’s operating systems support NTFS, an advanced file system. Below I explain how to format your USB flash drive with the NTFS file system when it’s plugged into a PC running Windows XP. By doing so you will enjoy better encryption and a boost in performance from your USB flash drive.
Microsoft introduced NTFS, an advanced file system, with the Windows NT operating system and continued using it in Windows 2000, XP and Vista. NTFS is a standard file system that supports high performance, a self healing mechanism and file encryption. It also offers file compression and auditing, thereby providing larger volumes of storage than the older FAT file systems.
If you format a USB flash drive with the NTFS file system, it will increase the storage space by compressing the files. NTFS allows you to encrypt data on files and folders with the help of Windows XP’s integrated file encryption feature. The NTFS file system also allows you to grant and deny permission for individual files and folders. You can also set a disk quota.
You can’t format USB flash drives with the NTFS file system in Windows XP by default. But with a little tweaking you can and here is how. Before you follow these steps, make sure your important data is removed from the drive as the data will be permanently lost during formatting.
Insert the USB flash drive into a USB port. Right click on ‘My Computer’ and then click ‘Properties’
Select ‘Hardware’ and open ‘Device Manager’. There you will see the ‘Disk Drives’ tab. Expand it to display all the drives. Select your USB flash drive and double click to open ‘Properties’. Go to ‘Policies’. The selected default option will be ‘Optimize for Quick removal’, change it to ‘Optimize for Performance’ and click ‘OK’.
Now close the window and open ‘My Computer’. Right click on the USB flash drive and select ‘Format’. The Format box will now have the option to format with the NTFS file system or FAT and FAT32 systems. (The options would have been limited to FAT and FAT32 if the steps above had not been taken). Select ‘NTFS file system’ and start formatting. Now your USB drive will be formatted with the NTFS file system. With NTFS formatting, your files will be more secure and you can also enjoy more space for your files and folders.
How to run portable apps from USB flash drives
Life becomes a lot simpler when you can travel light with your little netbook or notebook and a USB flash drive, which can literally carry your entire digital world. The PortableApps.com Suite allows you to run applications directly from your USB flash drive, without the need for installation. Here’s what this suite has to offer.
The PortableApps.com Suite offers a collection of portable apps, which are preconfigured to work from portable devices such as USB flash drives. The suite includes portable versions of Mozilla Firefox for web browser, Mozilla Thunderbird for email client, office suite, Mozilla Sunbird for calendar/scheduler, Pidgin for instant messaging, Clamwin for antivirus, CoolPlayer for audio player, Sudoku game, KeePass Password Safe for password manager, Sumatra PDF for PDF reader, minesweeper clone, backup utility and integrated menu.
You can install the PortableApps.com Suite and Platform from their homepage at http://portableapps.com. Clicking the download button gives you the option of installing only the platform or one of the two suites, Suite Light and Suite Standard. Suite Light replaces OpenOffice with AbiWord Portable. Suite Light can be installed on 256MB+ devices and Suite Standard requires 512MB+ devices. You can download a suite of your choice. You need only to add the apps of your choice and install the suite in the root directory of your USB flash drive.
Now you can simply plug in your USB flash drive to launch the apps when you need to, and unplug it when you are through. It’s that simple.