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How to survive without a laptop

How to survive without a laptop
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First Published: Wed, Apr 09 2008. 01 15 AM IST
Updated: Sun, Apr 27 2008. 11 15 PM IST
While heading for a business trip or a vacation, how many times have you found yourself muttering not-so-sweet-nothings about having to lug that 2.5kg laptop along? Still, you cannot imagine going out without this essential piece of baggage because who knows, you may need those “important” emails, keep your calendar up to date, or, more importantly, you may want all those application tools you are comfortable with, wherever you are.
Perhaps you’ve never thought of it, but you can leave your laptop behind and yet manage to do all of the above, and more, with something as diminutive and humble as a USB pen drive fuelled by portable application power. Portable applications are small, self-contained, stand-alone, no-install fuss software programs that can be used on the go, safely and easily. They allow you to harness the power of any available PC to access/edit existing data or create it via a set of familiar applications, tools and utilities that are always within reach. So, it’s not just documents, spreadsheets, presentations, mails or data that you can have in your pocket, but also the applications that create and modify them. The caveat, of course, is that there should be a personal computer with a USB port nearby for you to plug and play. Then, in this age of ubiquitous computing, that shouldn’t be a problem.
Let’s take a look at some of the best portable applications that you can “dump” on your thumb drive for computing without a laptop.
Tiny USB Office
Formerly known as Floppy Office, this office productivity suite gives you a range of stand-alone, free software applications. The suite encompasses programs for database creation, data encryption, email, file compression, file sharing, FTP file transfers, flowchart creation, MSN messaging, tree-style outlining, PDF creation, password recovery and secure file deletion. And yes, of course, there are Excel-compatible spreadsheeting, text editing, word processing and app launching programs in there as well…all this in less than 2.5 megabytes (MB). Remember, you don’t need to install anything—just click and run. But, if frills, bells and whistles are what you need, point your browser elsewhere.
You can try the OpenOffice.org Portable if you want a more solid, full-featured suite. The 77.4MB download includes a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation tool, drawing package and database program. (http://portableapps.com/apps/office/openoffice_portable)
PortableApps.com Suite
This collection of portable applications collates a Web browser, email client, office suite, calendar/scheduler, instant messaging client, antivirus, sudoku, backup utility and integrated menu, all pre-configured to work portably. The heavyweight Standard version tips the scales at 89.5MB while its Lite sibling weighs in at 30.4MB.
Also check out a host of other portable applications listed in the left column of the PortableApps website. Along with standard utilities and apps, you will find everything from portable versions of media players (VLC and MPLayer), image editor (Gimp) and video and audio editors (VirtualDub and Audacity).
Plug a MojoPac-enabled device into any Windows PC and it automatically launches your regular, familiar environment on the host PC—communications, music, games, application, IM, files and desktop settings. This PC-on-a-stick technology empowers not just your flash drives for portable computing, but also your iPod or USB hard drive. Once you install MojoPac on a USB 2.0 compliant storage device, you can upload your applications and files, modify your user settings and environment preferences, and carry these everywhere. Check out what the MojoPac Freedom freeware has to offer first and then, if you find it worthwhile, maybe you can fork out $50 for the Deluxe version.
Mozilla Firefox
This free, USB drive-friendly version of arguably the best browser in the Web business today is essential baggage for all those who are finicky about their browser settings, bookmarks and extensions. The fast and full-featured 6MB browser comes with pop up-blocking, tabbed-browsing, integrated search, decent security and privacy features, automatic updates, and much more. This portable edition leaves no personal information footprints on the machine you run it on.
Mozilla Thunderbird
Don’t leave home without this if you want to carry a portable office on a pen drive and if mail is the lifeblood of your productivity. The 6.7MB portable version of Thunderbird allows you to take your emails, address book as well as account settings wherever you go. The popular email client offers everything from quick message search, customizable views, support for IMAP/POP, to RSS support and more. The freeware is programmed to eradicate all data trails on the host PC once you’ve finished work. If mail encryption and signing is critical to your work, plug in GPG and Enigmail with this.
U3 Smart Drives
U3 smart drives are specially formatted flash drives that come pre-installed with U3 Launchpad, a program that emulates the Windows 2000/XP start menu and controls program installation. You can plug a U3 pen drive into any PC and work, play games, send mails or edit files as if you were working on your own PC. Applications write files and register information to the host PC, but this information is deleted once the flash drive is ejected. Apart from pre-loaded software, it comes with a bundled antivirus, offers built-in password protection and allows you to access more U3 smart portable software from http://software.u3.com/.
A portable little password manager and form-filler program, RoboForm2Go stores all your login information on a USB drive and runs directly off it. It affixes itself to Internet Explorer and memorizes your passwords and bookmarks as you type them. Henceforth, it can log you into online accounts automatically via a single toolbar click. Similarly, it “learns” to fill registration and checkout forms as well. It uses AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) encryption and password protection to secure your data on the drive.
In addition, it can help beat keyloggers (malicious program that trap your keystrokes as you type) on alien PCs by not using the keyboard to type passwords. No traces of RoboForm2Go are left on the computer once you have ejected the USB drive. The free version gives up to 10 logins. Also check out KeePass Portable ( http://keepass.info/)
With such a plethora of programs on a USB drive, you surely don’t want to fumble for the right program icons each time. You can save yourself the trouble if you have PStart installed on the USB drive. To make things easier, and have all programs in order at your click and call, this is a neat, portable user-defined applications start menu. Apart from giving you fast access to programs and documents, it boasts a customizable interface, advanced launch parameters, scheduled runs and custom icons.
It includes a dinky notes organizer, a search feature, backup/restore functionality, and also displays information about the space on your drive.
Okay, so we’ve given you your portable Web browser. Now, are you wondering how you ship along your cartload of bookmarks? It’s time to introduce TrayURL, the portable bookmark manager. Small, swift, and seriously simple, it sits in your system tray and allows you to go where you want to with a number of Web browsers. It lets you categorize your bookmarks, has a site login and password pasting utility, and allows import and export data as well.
Miranda IM
Out of office or home and missing those chats with friends and colleagues on AIM (AOL Instant Messenger), Gadu-Gadu, IAX (Inter-Asterisk Exchange), ICQ, IRC (Internet Relay Chat), Jabber, MSN, Netsend, Tlen, or Yahoo? Carry this 2MB multiprotocol instant messaging client for Windows on your pen drive and you won’t miss out on anything. The tool boasts of more than 350 plug-ins that encompass most popular IM protocols. Though it is a lightweight client, it offers all the basic functionality required—import of existing contacts, member search and online status changes. You could also try the heavier-bodied (12.4MB) multilingual Pidgin Portable (http://portableapps.com/apps/internet/pidgin_portable).
ClamWin Portable
Antivirus utility (6MB)
Sumatra PDF Portable
PDF viewer (1.1MB)
PDFTK Builder
PortablePDF manipulation utility (3MB)
Notepad utility with AES 256bit encryption (312KB)
EssentialPIM Portable
Calendar, contacts, tasks, personal information organizer (Pro-4.68MB, Free-2.89MB)
Sunbird Portable
Calendar, to-do, schedule manager (5.1MB)
USB Disk Ejector
USB devices quick eject tool (466KB)
Drive/data encryption program (2.5MB)
AbiWord Portable
Word-compatible word processor (7.8-14.9MB)
Lightweight multi-document word processor (3.78MB)
Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Wed, Apr 09 2008. 01 15 AM IST