Browser

You can take your applications with you if you have the SanDisk Cruzer with U3

U3 is a platform that transforms a regular USB Flash Drive into what is referred to as a Smart Drive. Smart Drives allow the wielder to travel from computer to computer bringing with them their own applications and preferences.

This article is also available as a TechRepublic download.

As much as I like being a "road warrior" or consultant, there are some definite minuses beyond the lack of anything that remotely resembles security or benefits. An example of what I mean is the applications, except for those rare occasions where it is permissible to use my own laptop I find myself using a machine provided by the client. This means that most of the potential Weapons of Mass Destruction, in the case of the laptops, that I use often come equipped with applications that are either several years out of date or that I never even heard of.

Another minus is the fact that like Felix the Cat I travel with my own bag of tricks, as in a library of JavaScript routines and XSL style sheets. I put a lot of my own time into developing some pretty slick personal things that I'd rather not have to recreate for each and every client. Hey, why reinvent wheel when there's a perfectly good one lying around?

Until relatively recently, there wasn't much that I could do about the former minus, the latter minus was corrected by the use of a USB Flash Drive. I'd like to point out something from the previous sentence, the phrase "Until relatively recently". Imaging my surprise to discover, while shopping for a larger USB Flash Drive, a single solution that resolved two of the minuses at once -- a SanDisk Cruzer with U3.

Applications

Contrary to my initial opinion, U3 is not another Irish rock band, instead it is a platform that transforms a regular USB Flash Drive into what is referred to as a Smart Drive. Smart Drives allow the wielder to travel from computer to computer bringing with them their own applications and preferences. This is one of those things that make sense even if you're more the casual user than the road warrior.

Consider for example that, like me, you have a relative that is fond of frequently destroying Internet Explorer on their home PC and wants to try Firefox. The usual tactic is to tell them to download it themselves, but as usual they can't because Internet Explorer is too polluted to work. With a Smart Drive all that you need to do is plug it into a convenient USB port and launch Firefox using the U3 Launch Pad shown in Figure A.

Figure A

U3 Launch Pad

Of course the same family member that needs Firefox, shown in Figure B, is usually the same one that is a charter member of the Virus of the Month Club. Fortunately there's an application that deals with this as well, Avast! Antivirus U3 Edition Virus Shield comes pre-installed. Other pre-installed applications are: Launch Pad, Launch Pad Tour, SignupShield Passwords and Skype.

In addition to the aforementioned there are also a number of other applications that are U3 enabled which can be downloaded and installed. These additional applications range from Web browsers, like Firefox, to office suites, like Open Office, which I happen to be using right now. There are also both free and pay games, office tools, media tools and utilities.

Figure B

U3 version of Firefox

As interesting as the above sound, there is something else that really perks my interest as a developer, namely a developer's kit that can be used to create my own U3 enabled applications. Or, for the extremely lazy such as myself, a developer's kit that can be used to U3 enable applications that I can get the source code for. Lookout Slashdot, here I come.

Getting the developer's kit requires registering with U3, but since it is free there really isn't an issue. While as of this moment I have only perused the documentation it appears to go into great detail as to how to migrate an application. In addition to the development kit with its documentation and tools there is also a developer's forum where it is possible to get help when I get stuck, er, application developers get stuck. Hey, even if I never actually develop an application at least I know how to and where to go for help.

Mini or Titanium

Once I settled on the Cruzer a number of options presented themselves, first there are two types of Cruzer, the Mini and the Titanium. The confusing thing is that regardless of the name, there really isn't much of a size difference; instead the difference is one of durability. As with most USB drives the Mini (Figure C) has a plastic case, while the Titanium (Figure D) has what's referred to as a liquid metal case capable of withstanding up to 2,000 pounds (US) of pressure. While the price of Titanium is slightly higher than the Mini the peace of mind is more than worth it, although I have to admit that I couldn't bring myself to steal my wife's Durango to test the liquid metal case, it's just too pretty to mess-up.

Figure C

Cruzer Mini

Figure D

Cruzer Titanium

The second option once I settled on a Cruzer was one of size, just how much storage do I need? To answer this question, I looked back upon an old laptop that I owned -- a Toshiba Satellite with 3.6GB. However, unlike the laptop, the Cruzer doesn't need to lug an OS. For this and other reasons, I settled upon 2GB, but since your requirements might be different, Table A shows the available memory for both the Mini and the Titanium.

Table A

Mini and Titanium memory

Cruzer

512MB

1GB

2GB

4GB

Mini

X

X

X

X

Titanium

 

X

X

 

One issue

Just so you don't think that this is a glowing review of the Cruzer, I did have a single problem. It was on my primary machine, which my wife thinks has way too much software installed. It turned out that she was right, again. It seems that there is a known issue, not initially by me, with U3 and Nero, where the drive functioned only as a USB drive and not a U3 enabled drive. Basically I could get at my files, but not my applications. After some early panic on my part where I briefly considered rebuilding my laptop, I did what I should have done first, visited the U3 support forum, Doh!

Becoming indispensable

Recently a number of publications have spoken out about how USB devices allow individuals to commit large scale data theft, basically saying that the technology is inherently evil. The interesting thing is that these same publications have spoken out in the past first against and then for some of the very same technologies. Take the PC, for example, originally it was looked upon as a toy or a security threat, but today there are very few businesses that could survive without one. Devices and software like those described here are like everything else in the world, initially looked upon with fear and suspicion, but eventually becoming indispensable.

21 comments
apple2
apple2

Using Cruzer Mini 2G for a month, with OpenOffice and Avast!U3. I wonder how I managed do without before. For me, the extra cost ($5) over a normal USB Flash Drive worth every cent.

jimrinflorida
jimrinflorida

Just got my Mini 2GB U3 for 29.99 at Best Buy. It was on sale from 103.00. What a find!!

foreigner
foreigner

A significant difference that I did not see mentioned, probably more important than resistance to being run over by a car, is speed. The "Titanium" model holds memory of a higher level of performance than the "Micro" model, that apparently holds "value" level. The respective read speeds are 15MB/s versus 10MB/s. The respective write speeds are 9MB/s versus 5MB/s http://u3.sandisk.com/CompareU3_drives.html Whenever USB drive manufacturers do not advertise speed, it usually means that the slowest, cheapest memory be used. The two models described have the limit: "U3 functionality only supported on Windows 2000 & XP OS". No Vista | Linux in here yet. Other brands have additional interesting qualities such as OS support, extra security and number and value of applications.

Phil737
Phil737

I found U3 interesting but limited in the number of available applications. On top of that quite a few are payware. I found another site portableapps.com which provides a menu very similar to U3 with the advantage that it can be installed on any key, not only U3 limited. It offers more software and all free. If you are still thinking about U3 check portableapps first !

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Do you have a U3 equipped USB Flash Drive? How do you like the U3 functionality? If you haven't tried it yet; do you plan to try an U3 USB Flash Drive in the near future? Does the prospect of ubiquitous USB drives make you nervous?

gypkap
gypkap

4GB SandDisk Cruzer U3 for $35 at my local Costco, which I bought. There's a special (that I didn't bite on; only needed one) for 3 Cruzers also, but I forget the capacity of those.

ejkolkman
ejkolkman

There are many sites that offer free portable apps, and that are not tied to any specific menu. I use PStart (found a U3 version) with my U3 drive. If I can't find it for free for U3, I can usually find it free somewhere else and run it from PStart.

Ike_C
Ike_C

Let me see if I understand, the U3 device allows you to bring apps that are then installed in the host computer???? Or are the apps installed in the U3 and can be executed off the host computer????? For example, I need Photoshop to make photo or graphic creations at the user site, he or she does not have Photoshop, does the U3 allow me to bring my own copy and use it there?

gadgetgirl
gadgetgirl

http://portablefreeware.com/ which has excellent write ups on the apps. As I posted previously, there is a forum write up to convert portable apps to U3 apps, if that would be any use to you - let me know if you want the link GG

limboid
limboid

I am not a techie but I enjoy what technology can do for me. I just started using U3 on a 4GB Cruzer. I have a spyware and virus program activated and am using anonymizer to disquise the IP address of the host computer I may plug into. My question is, if the host computer has a keystroke logger (trojan spyware) thereon, will it be able to detect my keystrokes when in a U3 application? I know I am not leaving any footprint on the host computer but can the host computer track my activities via a keystroke logger, etc? I travel a lot and use a lot of different computers in different locations. Thanks for the help/advice.

rfwebber
rfwebber

I just purchased a 1.0 GB SanDisk Cruzer Micro USB Flash Drive. I have found that it conflicts with Nero InCD4, which is installed on my Windows XP computer. It causes the computer to freeze. (It works fine with my other computer, which doesn't have InCD.) Is it because of the U3 software on the flash drive? Could I erase the software (using my other computer) and get it to work?

sheath8682
sheath8682

I have recently purchased the above, and have found it to be a very useful tool, far more functional than standard basic flash drive. One thing though you may be interested in is, that if you have Nero InCD4 installed on the PC that you are using with the U3 Flash drive, you may find that your PC may run slow or even freeze and that the mouse pointer may flash erratically. There is a known conflict with Nero InCD and the U3 software. At present the only thing you can do is to disable Nero Incd whilst using your U3 equipped Flash Drive. I am told that there is a fix on the way, but quite when I have not been able to find out. Apart from that small problem, the U3 equipped Flash drive is a great little device.

?/\/\?|???\/???
?/\/\?|???\/???

I have been using a U3 drive for the better part of a year now. I used to use the programs a lot more; now I primarily just use FireFox and Maxthon. It's great if you can get accustomed to waiting a bit longer for new versions of apps (according to http://software.u3.com/Product_Details.aspx?ProductId=89&Selection=9&Lang=en-US, FF2.0 For U3 is yet to be released). My usage of the drive would appear to be rather specific, which caused me some problems that I was ultimately able to work around. Details at http://mygreenpaste.blogspot.com/2006/07/u3-usb-flash-drive-and-remote-desktop.html (U3 USB Flash Drive and Remote Desktop Woes) and http://mygreenpaste.blogspot.com/2006/08/initial-experience-with-detours-from.html (Initial Experience with Detours from Microsoft Research), if anyone's interested.

Paul_Miller
Paul_Miller

I have a SanDisk U3 micro drive since over six months. the most useful application on it I find to be Carry it Easy +Plus. I always had trouble keeping work and home pc in sync before. now it couldn?t be easier ;-) I love U3

gadgetgirl
gadgetgirl

mine isn't the SanDisk, though, it's a 4Gb DISGO (lots cheaper than the SanDisk over here) I've literally just got it - about 10 days ago - so haven't had a proper "play" with it yet. But I have installed some of the free U3 progs. Currently installed are: Firefox OpenOffice PDF Reader Data shredder PasswordShield Launchpad MedicAlert PhotoBackPack I also have some personal DR files on there: Incident documentation Evidence folder Personal paperwork back up pics (about 250 of 'em) and the amazing thing is I still have 3.13Mb free on the stick. This purchase of mine originally came from this thread, which I admit I haven't had time to have a good read through since getting my U3: http://techrepublic.com.com/5208-6230-0.html?forumID=8&threadID=199299 I have found a U3 forum where it tells you how to convert a portable app to a U3 app, but it's technical! I'm too scared to try it! I just got this baby and I don't want to break it. If anyone has step by step idiots guides out there, let me know! This is a great tool for me, but in my post, it's going to be hell on wheels to get the rest of the users in here NOT to use them. GG

DanLM
DanLM

I haven't really installed anything that is U3 on my drive, other then the encryption stuff that comes with the drive. By the way, the cruisor is the flash drive that I use. I like it. BUT, I installed more on it that I take with me. ;o) FireFox portable Thunderbird portable Sunbird portable Editpad pro portable Portable Shreader Portable history eraser The USB can with encryption, so everything I have is always encrypted. If your IT and a geek to boot(me), then you got to have one. Dan

jsmi3413
jsmi3413

You install U3 apps on the U3 (cruzer) drive and they are executed from the U3 drive. I do not know of any way to install photoshop on a U3 drive and take it from machine to machine. Same with Portable Apps programs. They are coded for the Portable Apps OS and you cannot install Photoshop and take it from machine to machine.

gadgetgirl
gadgetgirl

Yes, Ike, it does. Sorta. There are specific programs which have been "converted" to U3 - to make them smaller, if possible, than a portable app, and also available from the U3 launchpad (self explanatory, if you realise that you have nowhere else to put program icons) U3 doesn't yet have a version of photoshop, but I have downloaded PhotoBackPack from there, which is easy to use and will edit images. Obviously, it won't do anywhere near the same amount of things that Photoshop will, but it's a start. If you need just a portable app for this, you can still do it from the U3, but store it in the documents folder, and run it from there. I think, though, if graphics are your profession Ike, that it would pay you to do a lot of research on portable app photo programs first. Depending on the detail you need to get into, it may not be feasible for you. Hope this helps GG

DanLM
DanLM

Lol, just having portable apps is what made my day. I can change directories and click on an exec. chuckle, I'm not that lazy yet. Just being able to have the applications I use all the time with me is what I was after. Edit Pad pro was worth the buy, and helps me a lot at work. Dan

DancerStL
DancerStL

You may want to look at GIMP portable at http://portableapps.com/. It has many of the same capabilities as Photoshop. Further information for GIMP may be found at http://www.gimp.org/about/introduction.html. I've been using many of the applications available through PortableApps.com and have found them to be very stable. This includes a recent update to Firefox 2.0 Portable. PortableApps also includes a luncher to which you may add your own applications. HTH...

tarkers
tarkers

Have you guys heard of Moka5 ? Forget apps, you can take your whole PC with you and you can publish PC's to your website and use a browser to stream your PC from wherever you can use a browser. I have a couple of PC's and a few servers that i takes around with me on a freecom 60Gb drive. I'm going to get a ethernet external drive so say for instance, my customers Data server has gone down, i run Moka5, boot up one of the virtual servers, join it to the domain, restore the customers data and Bobs your uncle. www.moka5.com