Your ultimate USB drive toolkit

Being a computer guy I’m often asked by people to look at their computer and tell them what’s wrong or can I help them figure something out. For that reason, I’m doing this post on some real tech tricks to make you look like a star. All that from a USB drive.

The first thing you have to realize is that being prepared for anything is always your goal. I’m never unarmed. There are a couple things that are always on my person like most men: wallet, keys, watch, cell phone, and most times my PDA (an HP IPAQ) . Turning any of these items into multipurpose tools makes you ready for anything. Women can of course get more mileage out of this because they carry a purse. Now, for the really techy, I will continue with a blog post on the ultimate home support system because there are a lot of times I connect to my systems at home from a client’s site. I put a USB stick on my keyring that has a ton of goodies as well as my IPAQ. Today we’ll focus on the USB stick.

For the quick and easy route I’d suggest a simple USB stick (doesn’t have to be U3) but you want it to 1 gig or bigger. This will work on a drive as small as 128mb but I always like to keep extra space on the drive in case I need to copy a lot of files over to it for backup purposes. The last thing you want to do with a machine that is on it’s last leg is turn it off and hope it comes back on.

For a long time now I’d been downloading applications individually and copying them to the drive. You’re still going to install some extra ones to the drive but first download this handy set of tools: PCRepairsystem.zip . It’s a fabulous set of tools from the site Daily Cup of Tech. It’s a zip file that you just download and extract to your USB drive. Pull out your drive and stick it back in and you’re done! Well, almost done. When you put it in it puts a little coffee bean next to your computer’s clock on the task bar. Right clicking on that clock brings up a list of programs that do everything from drive repair to rootkit revealers to CD burning. These will serve you well. Get to know what each program does and you have most everything you need.

Next make a visit to www.portableapps.com. This site is full of applications that you may already be using all the time except these are made to run straight from a USB drive. Believe me, having access to a computer and not having administrative rights can totally shut you down because you can’t just download and install the applications you wanted until this.

Take a look around and get what you like. These are some of the ones that I put on my stick and the reasons why.

Firefox: Always want a fully capable web browser.
Clamwin: To be able to walk up and scan a computer for virus’ is absolutely essential.
WinSCP: If you have access to another machine with a secure connection you can FTP or SSH to and from it. Openoffice: A full Microsoft Office competitor on a USB stick? You can’t beat that.
VLC: Will view any video or play any audio.
Gimp: A Photoshop like program. You may need to resize or edit photos or something for someone.

Now with all of these you have to save the file to your desktop then install them and give your USB drive letter in the install path. For example, where it says “Install path: \openoffice” put H: (or whatever your drive’s letter is) in front to make it H:\openoffice.

In closing, I’d suggest you open every program you put on your USB drive before leaving home. The last thing you want to do is be surprised while you’re on location. A good example of this is that the first time you run Clamwin it wants to download the virus database. Assuming you’re at a site with dialup or no internet on the machine you’ve just wasted a ton of time or won’t even be able to fix the problem.

Also, the program SIW on the PCRepairkit should be your first stop when looking at a system. It will tell you everything about the machine. Save this to your USB stick. Should anything happen to the computer you know what it had before.

That’s it! Go out there and make the world a better place with safe computing.

Oh, and just for your convenience, keep some music, podcasts, or things to read on your USB stick. You might get stuck somewhere for a long time. No need to be bored while a virus scan or drive repair runs.  I also put my resume on the drive.  As a consultant you have this time as a window of opportunity if someone really likes you and may have a big project coming up.

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