Ah, the USB stick -- one of the IT admin's best friends. It travels with you and helps you rescue machines, work magic, and make end users sigh with relief. Some of these apps you copy to the hard drive and install; others can be run from the stick itself. A few of them are full-blown operating systems that can help you completely recover a corrupted or infected platform.
Whatever the style and purpose, there are plenty of portable apps for the USB stick that can be hard to live without. Here are five tools I deem must-haves.
Note: This list is also available as a photo gallery.
1: SystemRescueCDSystemRescueCD (Figure A) is the Linux distribution to have if you're going to carry one around on a USB stick. With this distribution, you can recover partitions, recover data, image a disk, test a hard disk, edit configuration files, burn a disk, check for rootkits, run an antivirus scan, securely wipe a hard drive, and much more.
2: Portable FirefoxPortable Firefox (Figure B) is there when you need it. Sometimes, a Web browser is a necessity for solving a problem. But when the browser on the desktop won't run, what do you do? You break out your portable edition of Firefox. This version of Firefox has all the great features you're used to. In fact, some will be hard-pressed to figure out that Firefox is running from a USB stick.
3: ComboFixComboFix (Figure C) makes almost every recovery tool list for me. No admin kit is complete without this powerhouse. It is my go-to tool when I encounter some of the nastier viruses and rootkits. Almost without fail, if an antivirus can't catch it, ComboFix can. Unlike common antivirus and anti-malware applications, ComboFix will display (upon completion of running) a detailed report of exactly what it took action on. Note: To run ComboFix, you'll need to copy the .exe over to the computer and install it.
4: FileZilla PortableFileZilla Portable (Figure D) is the one and only FTP client to carry around with you. Why would you need an FTP client? There will be times when you must load a file from a troubled computer to another machine. The easiest way to do this (when all other methods fail) is by using a portable FTP client. This is especially crucial when the file is too large to fit on a USB drive or if the file must be loaded to a remote machine you do not have physical access to. This application is run directly from the USB drive and isn't installed on the PC.
5: Explorer++ PortableExplorer++ Portable (Figure E) is a file manager with all the usual features you've grown to expect from a file manager. But why should you carry a file manager with you? Have you ever had to repair a machine where Explorer won't run? Makes for a major challenge. Having a portable file manager gets around that issue with ease. And why not have a file manager with features like tabs, keyboard shortcuts, a customizable UI, drag-and-drop support, and merging and splitting? In the end, the file manager is one of the most important tools on a PC. Without it, a machine can easily become crippled.
You might have noticed some of these apps link directly to the PortableApps site. That is a tool designed to make your life much easier. You can install PortableApps on your USB drive and then have a user-friendly system to add and remove apps to and from that USB drive with ease. I highly recommend this application for any and all IT admins.
What other apps are on your must-have list for carrying with you on a USB stick? Share your recommendations with fellow TechRepublic members.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.