Although I took an employee position a couple of years ago, I still retain some legacies of my days as a consultant. I have scores of books about development and seven suits in shades ranging from grey to black; I also have the U3 drive with tools that I either found on SourceForge or wrote myself installed on it. Yes, I said installed; U3 software isn’t something you write or get from SourceForge — it’s something that you download from U3 Software Central (Figure A).
Figure A

U3 Software Central

For the longest time, I’d hunt around U3 Software Central and hope that I’d find something reasonably close to what I needed. Unfortunately, more often than not, I’d leave disappointed. This lack of results usually meant that I’d have a folder full of executables on my drive that I’d need to navigate to. At least that’s what used to happen before I found a program called U3 Package Prototyper (Figure B), which takes an executable file and creates a prototype U3 package from it.
Figure B

U3 Package Prototyper

U3 Package Prototyper is pretty much foolproof as long as you keep in mind these three things:

  • This utility is for prototyping not for creating packages that require multiple dlls, so if there is a single exe file, you’re good to go.
  • If the executable is named release, then the name on the U3 LaunchPad will be Prototype of release, which is not very meaningful.
  • A unique icon is a good idea.

In Visual Studio, icons can be added by right-clicking on the project and selecting Properties. You’ll get a screen like the one in Figure C; from there, you can hunt around for an icon that you’ve created, found on your computer, or downloaded from a Web site like Icon Archive.
Figure C

Visual Studio project properties

Using U3 Package Prototyper, I was able to create a portable version of my ApplyStyleSheets utility. I use it for testing XSL style sheets that may or may not have extension functions; it’s one of those things that I don’t leave home without. Having it installed on my U3 drive certainly makes my life easier.

However, U3 Package Prototyper does have several issues, the least of which is that it appends every program name with U3 Prototype of (Figure D). I could live with this annoyance, but what I can’t live with is the limitation of only a single executable. So, if I’m creating anything more than a quick and dirty U3 package, I use PackageFactory for U3.
Figure D

U3 Launchpad

PackageFactory for U3 is equivalent to U3 Package Prototyper in much the same way that a zip drive is to a stack of punch cards. It has a GUI (Figure E), and it has an Advanced Mode where it’s possible to add company name, version number, description, an application URL, and more executables (Figure F). With a little ambition I might be able to update the OpenOffice on my U3 drive to something a little more recent than version 2.0.
Figure E

PackageFactory for U3

Figure F

PackageFactory for U3 Advanced Mode

I’ve been using both of these programs for a while now without any problems — unless you think that buying a second 4 GB SanDisk USB drive is a problem or that pricing the 8 GB, 16 GB, and 32 GB drives is problem. My only real concern is my growing obsession with installing my own applications.

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