August 7, 2009

10 Cool Things You Can Do With Your USB Flash Drive

10 Things to Do with Your USB Flash DriveGreg Shultz, in the 10 Things blog on, shares how you can use your USB flash drive to do a whole lot more than just move data around. Flash drives big enough to handle any of these tasks are cheap enough that you’ll wonder how you lived without them.

With flash drives as large as 256GB now available (though at a premium price) and 16GB drives costing as little as $35 on Amazon, there are more reasons than ever to explore just how much you can do with that flash drive you carry around with you.

Manage Data

Even if all you use your flash drive for is to move data around, the Microsoft USB Flash Drive Manager will help you do it more efficiently. You can copy files to and from your drive, backup and restore an entire flash drive to and from your hard disk, change the drive label, and even launch Drive Manager automatically when you plug in the drive.

PortableApps MenuRun Applications

Even without a U3 smart drive, you can run programs directly from your USB drive. has free, open source software that lets you run ‘portable’ apps without installing software to your PC. When you use someone else’s computer, you can continue to use your software just as if it was on your own computer – without installing anything on your friend’s computer.

This benefit isn’t limited to USB drives. You can run the programs from portable hard drives and even MP3 players that show up as a separate drive on your computer.

Portable apps are optimized for use on removable drives and don’t interfere with software installed on the PC.

Because your personal data is kept on your flash drive you have increased security. When you unplug the device, none of your personal data is left behind. has an entire collection of programs you can install with a single download. These include OpenOffice (word processing, spreadsheet, presentations, database and drawing), Firefox, Thunderbird (email), Sunbird (calendar and tasks), ClamWin (antivirus), Pidgin (instant messaging), Sumatra PDF reader, KeePass Password Safe, and CoolPlayer+ (audio player). You also get a couple games. You may not get the latest version of the ‘full’ versions, but the portable apps are definitely functional and will let you work even if you don’t have access to your own computer.

Lock Your PC

Have you ever seen a movie where a person in some secret government agency puts a card into a PC to use it? Predator is a free program that lets you do that with your USB drive. When you take the drive out of your computer, the screen darkens and your keyboard and mouse are frozen. Plug it back in and everything goes back to normal.

Connect to a Wireless Network

Both Windows XP and Vista let you save wireless network configuration information to your flash drive. When you set up a new computer, connecting it to your network is then a snap. Recently when I visited my daughter and her family in Utah, I connected to their home wireless network in a few seconds with the configuration information saved on a flash card from a camera.

Create a Password Reset Disk

If you don’t use passwords on your computer, skip this. But if you use a ‘strong’ password, you may worry that after taking a vacation or other long trip (without your computer) you will have forgotten the password to log on to your computer. Both XP and Vista let you create a backup of those passwords. Vista lets you save the information on a flash drive. If your computer is part of a domain network, this technique won’t work.

Boost Vista Performance

If your flash drive is ReadyBoost capable, you can use it as additional memory cache. Because flash drives don’t have moving parts, they can be faster than your hard drive.

Run (or Test) a Website

With the free Server2Go software, you can run a Web server that supports Apache, PHP, MySQL, and Perl right from a USB flash drive. Why would you want to do that? Imagine demoing a site live in a meeting – without having to worry about internet connections. Or working on a site when you’re on a plane (without having to pay for spotty and unreliable access at 35,000 feet), sitting in a campground (after, of course, the rest of your family has gone to sleep), etc.

Password Protect Data on Your Drive

Worried that others will get sensitive or confidential data if you lose your USB drive? There are free programs that let you create a secret partition on the drive and then password-protect/encrypt that partition. Check out Rohos.

Boot an Operating System

Use your flash drive to boot Windows or Linux. But expect to have an interesting adventure unless you are a real techno whiz.

Store Your MP3 Files

Put your MP3 files on your flash drive and you can use your computer to play your files without having to worry about running down the battery on your MP3 player. Of course, I wouldn’t plan to go jogging if you have to carry your laptop with you…

Final Thoughts

Are there other things you do with your USB drive? Please share them with others by leaving a comment.


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11 comments to 10 Cool Things You Can Do With Your USB Flash Drive

  • Null

    Another good Linux distro to put on a flash drive is puppy linux. The last time I checked the install size was 50-90 MB.. Plenty of space is left to install really fun games. The website is

  • vdavisson

    I’m storing this on my partition on my Zen Vision:M 30G mp3 player drive!

  • Tim

    You really have great posts!

    My son uses the flash drive to boot Fedora (a Unix version) with some basic applications. He has our daughter doing it with her own flash drive too.

    He installed a Unix version on a friend’s computer when it had a virus requiring a HD reformat. It works fine. It did not restore right of the windows restore disks.

  • Suzan

    Did you know these little drives are called something different in different parts of the country? Flash, jump and thumb are all regional descriptors. Learned that in a podcasting class this weekend. Like pop. soda, and soft drink. Or couch and sofa. But why, I ask, in this day of high speed technology would a flash drive be called something different in different parts of the country or world? That just doesn’t make sense. Ideas?

    • Doug

      They are referred to by different names due to early marketing. Different companies tried to brand them differently. I believe it was Lexar that called thiers Jump Drives. Another company called them thumb drives based on them being about the size of your thumb. Techies always called them Flash drives because they are essentially flash memory cards encased in a USB connection. You will hear people from different organizations using the different names, not necessarily different parts of the country. It stems from thought leaders and early adopters and what brand they first purchased, and how they shared the information with their friends. Fo

  • Stephen G.

    Once I got a virus that broke my Vista OS, so I installed Linux Mint onto a thumb drive. Since Windows viruses don’t work on Linux, I could safely get my data off, and do a format and reinstall.

    Making your computer boot to a pen drive isn’t that hard, and it can really save your bacon if your computer is having trouble.

  • Devin

    TrueCrypt (, another application for “Password Protect Data on Your Drive”

  • I carry a complete version of Open Office so that I can edit and print docs from any PC available. This is particularly useful when using business centers in hotels.

  • Derwin Shelley

    Love reading your articles…great job!

  • Kent Fisher

    Very cool stuff and most I did not know. Thanks for the info.