Portable Applications for the Remote Professional

The new space-hungry multimedia applications coupled with consumer desire for the convenience of external “plug and play” drives have resulted in a host of new possibilities for data portability and ease of use for the remote professional.

The cost to store data is plummeting. In 2007 I saw the price of a 500 gig drive cut in half in a matter of weeks. Having the “space” to store your stuff is no longer the same issue it might have been a couple years ago.

I just picked up an external terabyte drive for under $250 and a portable drive (about the size of a deck of playing cards) that holds 250 gigs of information and cost less than $140. As an “old-time” geek, I find that incredible.

Many of the newer small portable drives don’t even require external power, so a short USB cord is all you need to carry. Simple “lipstick” flash drives with 16 gigs of storage space can be purchased without breaking the bank.

There are a number of Open Source programs that make it possible to plug in an external drive into a host computer and use the hardware (cpu, monitor, video, peripherals) to run personal programs without leaving a “footprint” behind. (For Apple fans, you can even use your iPod or your iPhone to run the software!)

What does this mean for you? You can now buy an external drive of any size that meets your needs and carry it to a client’s site rather than carrying an entire computer. You can also take it on a trip, to a library, or even to a friend’s house. You can plug it in any usb drive to open and run files, perform diagnostics, access your personal data, send emails, look up your usernames and passwords and never leave any trace of your personal information on your client’s computer. You are simply “borrowing” the hardware to view, edit and manipulate your information – the software programs and data reside on your drive.

If you are new to “portable apps” and would like a basic tour, visit http://portableapps.com/ to get an “all in one” package of applications for Windows OS and Mac OS (Linux is coming soon). My favorites from this line-up are:

If you are a rebel and would like to pick and choose your own apps, try any of the following websites to pick and choose your programs for any use:

You may also want to use the portable option to try out new or beta software without risking your main machine’s set up. Lifehacker offers an example on safely trying the Firefox 3 beta from a flashdrive.

If you are interested in running Linux on a portable, check out http://www.pendrivelinux.com/ for more information.

To keep your data secure on these small (and infinitely easy-to-misplace) devices, install a copy of TrueCrypt, a highly-acclaimed opensource “on-the-fly” encryption program – just in case.

Now you know how to work from anywhere by borrowing a computer, rather than lugging your own, without any worry about privacy or confidentiality issues for your data or your client data. And, when you are finished working you simply pull your drive from the USB port and take it with you. Now THAT is portability!