Flash or thumb drives are probably a dime a dozen nowadays with good quality original 2GB drive costing as little as N1500.  Apart from the popular use of simple file transfers, many are missing out on the best use that any of these tiny data buckets can fulfill. Enthusiasts know that flash drives are the perfect portable repositories for all sorts of software that can breathe life or enhance your PC usage experience.

Run Portable Applications

The first thing you’ll want to install on your USB rescue drive is PortableApps, a free, open-source platform for installing desktop applications on USB drives and other removable media. PortableApps manages the installation of new portable software on your USB drive, and it also acts as a front end when you’re actually using the USB drive, allowing you to browse and launch applications easily.

PortableApps maintains a list of hundreds of “portable” versions of popular free programs, each of them designed to work without installation. For the complete list, see portableapps.com/apps.

Each of the following applications that has “Portable” in its title is available for the PortableApps platform. You can download these items at the URLs provided, or start PortableApps and click Apps ▸ Get More Apps. You’ll see a large list of applications; just check the ones you want and then click Next to download and install all of them automatically.

Boot an operating system

If you want to do more than just run your own applications, you might want to consider booting an entire operating system from your USB flash drive. You can boot either Windows or Linux from a USB flash drive; however, the process is not an exact science and you may be in for a technical adventure.

Most existing operating systems support or can be adapted to support this feature.

Run A Website From It

If you are a Web developer, you may be interested to know that with Server2Go, you can easily run a Web server that supports Apache, PHP, MySQL, and Perl right from a USB flash drive. You can use Server2Go right out of the box without any installation. It runs on all versions of Windows, supports most common browsers, and is completely free. To a developer, the benefits of having a portable Web server on a USB drive are numerous. For example, imagine being able to carry a live Web site demo into a sales pitch meeting. For more information about this package, visit the Server2Go site.

Lock Your PC

Have you ever seen a movie in which a person in some secret government installation simply inserts and removes a card to log in and log out of a PC? If you thought that idea was cool, you’ll definitely want to investigate Predator. Once installed and configured, this little freeware utility will allow you to turn a USB flash drive into a key you can use to lock and unlock your computer.

While the USB flash drive is connected to your computer, everything works as it normally would. Once you remove the USB flash drive, your computer is locked down — the keyboard and mouse are disabled and the screen darkens. To unlock your computer, you just plug in the USB flash drive and the computer will be unlocked and you can begin using it.

PREDATOR locks your PC when you are away, even if your Windows session is still opened. It uses a regular USB flash drive as an access control device, and works as follows:

  • you insert the USB drive
  • you run PREDATOR (autostart with Windows is possible)
  • you do your work…
  • when you’re away from your PC, you simply remove the USB drive:
  • once it is removed, the keyboard and mouse are disabled and the screen darkens
  • when you return back to your PC, you put the USB flash drive in place:
  • keyboard and mouse are immediately released, and the display is restored.

It’s easier and faster than closing your Windows session, since you do not have to retype your password when you return.

Turn a USB Flash Drive into Extra Virtual RAM

It is not hard to turn an extra USB stick lying around collecting dust into an extra memory for your computer, allowing it to run speedier and manage more applications better.

You can put the flash drive to good use by using it to increase the virtual RAM on your Windows computer, preferably a USB drive smaller than 4 GB. The procedure has been summarized below:

  • Rename your thumb drive as “RAM DRIVE” or something similar, so you can see which drive is being used as RAM.
  • Delete all the stuff on the flash drive. Check for hidden files.
  • Right click on My Computer, and go to Properties. Once there, click on Advanced and go to the system output’s Settings.
  • Click on Advanced, and then Edit.
  • Click on your thumb drive above, and select “user-defined size.” Here you can see the size of your flash drive.
  • Calculate the size of the flash drive, and subtract 5 Mb.
  • Type this number in the first box. In the second box, type in the same number.
  • Click Set and confirm all your settings, applying them wherever you can.
  • Restart your computer.

Windows 7 users should go into their System Properties, under the Performance tab for these options. After you’re done, your computer will recognize your flash drive as extra virtual memory. Do not pull out your thumb drive after these settings are implemented. It could crash your computer. More detailed information can be found here.

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