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Cool Things You Can Do with a USB Flash Drive

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  1. Run Applications Directly from Your Flash Drive
  2. Boost PC Performance Using Windows ReadyBoost
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Flash drives aren't just great for storing and transferring your files. They can come in handy in many other ways, too. Eric Geier shows you five other cool things you can do with them.
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USB flash or thumb drives are a convenient way to store and transfer your files and documents. They're small, so you can slip them into your pocket or on your keychain. You can take them between home, work, school, and your friends.

Storing your files, though, isn't the only thing they can do. We're going to discover other things they can do, other uses for USB flash drives.

Run Applications Directly from Your Flash Drive

It's possible to install and run some traditional software programs on your USB flash drive. However, many applications use the Windows Registry. This would likely limit the use of the applications to when you're on the same PC in which you made the original installation.

To get around this limitation, you can use a portable application solution. First, check your drive documentation and/or the contents of the drive to see whether it already has something installed. One popular launcher and software suite is U3 (see Figure 1), especially on SanDisk drives.

If your flash drive isn't loaded with something, you can try other solutions. Like U3 and others, PortableApps.com provides a whole suite of programs: web browser and Internet programs, email clients, file sharing apps, music and video utilities, office suite, security tools, games, and development tools. You can basically run all your apps from your flash drive.

Boot into a Linux Distribution

If you haven't used Linux before, maybe now's the time. You don't have to dump Windows or Apple. The Linux and open source community can provide you with a desktop operating system and thousands of applications. All this for free, and all from your USB flash drive!

Many Linux desktop distributions can easily be installed directly onto portable USB drives. This lets you take your entire desktop and applications to any PC without making any changes to the hard drive of the host computer. It's like a live CD, but you can save changes and store files.

UNetbootin is a utility that can create bootable USB drives for Ubuntu, Fedora, and other Linux distributions without burning a CD. It runs on both Windows and Linux. It can even download the distribution files for you, or you can supply your own CD image.

There are also many other special Linux distributions that you can load onto your USB drive, customized for a particular use:

  • BackTrack gives you many different network security, penetration, and forensics tools.
  • stresslinux lets you do load and stability testing.
  • GParted Live provides disk and partition management.
  • Clonezilla Live lets you do disk and partition backup and cloning.
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