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Computing / USB Installable Applications

Computing
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USB Installable Applications

USB drive

USB sticks, pens, flash, smart drive, whatever. Those little things you stick in your USB port and can store files on.

Turns out there are a number of useful applications that run on Windows that can be installed on a USB stick. Once installed on the USB stick, you just take it with you and whereever you go you can stick it in a Windows computer and have access to the programs without having to install anything on someone elseís computer (or on your computer at work). You donít need “admin” privileges, you don’t leave any trace behind when you leave. All clean and simple.

Note that this will not work on some older USB sticks, but you don’t need a special U3 smart drive (though they may make things a little easier, for example, you probably wouldn’t need PStart).

All applications I use on my USB stick are FREE. Not necessarily open-source, but free of any cost, license fee, or advertising. Here are the ones I use and recommend:

  • PStart --- the key to it all
  • KeePass --- password manager
  • IrfanView --- image & graphics file viewer and tweaker
  • TinyClock
  • Calendar --- displays a calendar (not an appointment book or scheduler)
  • TimeSync --- set your computer clock to an official standard
  • SpaceMonger --- find out where your hard disk space has gone
  • Meazure™ --- screen magnifier and ruler, snapshot a window or rectangle
  • NetStumbler --- channel and signal strength of wireless networks in range
  • VLC --- multimedia player with embedded codecs
  • Simple Sudoku --- my favorite computer version of this addictive game
  • XVI32 Hex Editor --- just in case you really want to get geeky

Other websites listing USB installable applications:


PStart

PStart

PStart is a simple tray tool to start user defined applications. Designed to run portable applications (like portable Firefox & Thunderbird), you can start anything runnable from USB key devices or removable disks.

The primary drawback to installing applications on a USB stick is that there is no way in Windows to define shortcuts with relative paths. In other words, since the USB may be assigned a different drive letter every time it is plugged into a computer, you can’t define a shortcut (a little icon that you can double-click on to start the application) because Windows requires that, in defining the shortcut, you specify the drive letter of the device which contains the application to run.

Somehow, magically, PStart gets around this by giving you a window into which program start icons (shortcuts) can be created so that no matter what the drive letter is, clicking on the icon starts the application (assuming PStart and the application to be started are both on the same device).

PStart takes up less than 700Kb (0.7Mb) of your USB drive.

KeePass

KeePass

KeePass is a free/open-source password manager or safe which helps you to manage your passwords in a secure way. You can put all your passwords in one database, which is locked with one master key or a key-disk. So you only have to remember one single master password or insert the key-disk to unlock the whole database. The databases are encrypted using the best and most secure encryption algorithms currently known (AES and Twofish).

It is easy to copy the database to another machine or USB stick so you can (manually) synchronize KeePass on various machines and on various USB drives. Just don’t make changes in two different places without synchronizing the two after changing one.

KeePass takes up less than 850Kb (0.85Mb) of your USB drive (as long as you don’t have more than several thousand passwords to keep track of).

IrfanView

IrfanView

IrfanView is a very fast, small, compact and innovative FREEWARE (for non-commercial use) graphic viewer for Windows 9x/ME/NT/2000/XP/2003.

You can view just about any image file type with IrfanView, and you can convert from one file type to another, you can apply some effects to an image (sharpen, resize, fix brightness and contrast, and many more complicated effects), cut, crop, print, etc. A very handy tool. On your main computer, you may want to install it so you can associate it with image file extensions (i.e., so if you double-click on an image it opens in IrfanView). But, having this on a USB stick is great when you’re on the go.

IrfanView takes up less than 2Mb of your USB drive, though the optional plugins available from the IrfanView website can bring the total to about 8.5Mb.

TinyClock

TinyClock is exactly what it sounds like --- a tiny clock. I use the floating stay-on-top window, and stick it up at the top of my screen where a maximized application's title bar goes. It is the perfect height to fit in there, and the colors are customizable so I have it blend in well with my chosen theme. It is a digital clock capable of showing 12 or 24 hour time, and I have it format the date the way I like it. Although I have it on my USB stick, I also have it installed on all computers I use and have it startup when I log in (or start Windows).

TinyClock comes as a single file, a 23Kb (0.023Mb) executable.

Calendar

Calendar is another approriately named application. It provides a 1 to 12 month calendar. Nothing more. You can’t schedule anything or remind yourself of important dates. You just get a nice, clean calendar --- when that is exactly all you need.

Calendar is a 20Kb download and takes up 47Kb (0.047Mb) of your USB drive.

TimeSync

TimeSync, from the same guy who wrote Calendar, is a simple, small application to synchronize your computer's clock with the official U.S. NIST clock (see www.time.gov). There are a lot of other applications out there that do the same thing, and may have a lot more features (like automatically adjusting your clock every day or so). But, for your USB drive, this is simple and small. And it works.

TimeSync is a 18Kb download and takes up 32Kb (0.032Mb) of your USB drive.

SpaceMonger

SpaceMonger

I use the "old" SpaceMonger 1.4 because it is free. There is a commercial version now that costs $19.95 and probably has more features; but the free version is sufficient to give me the information I need: which files are eating up my disk space?

It uses a tree-map display, where each folder or file is represented as a rectangle, with the area of the rectangle proportional to the size of the folder/file.

There are other applications that display a tree-map view of disk space usage, a notable one is SequoiaView. Unfortunately, its website of late has been causing both Internet Explorer and Firefox to hang, so don't blame me if clicking on the link freezes your browser. The display for SequioaView is a bit more entertaining, but it does not label things like SpaceMonger does; rather, it relies solely on tooltips (the little info popup when you move your mouse cursor over something) to display the names.

SpaceMonger takes up about 220Kb (0.22Mb) of your USB drive.
SequoiaView takes up about 1.9Mb of your USB drive.

Meazure™

Meazure™ is a great little tool that answers questions like: What are the dimensions of that image? How big is this window? Does this layout fit on an NTSC display? What color are these pixels? What does this icon look like close up? How can I capture an arbitrary portion of the screen?

I primarily use it to take screen captures, particularly when I just want to capture a single window, or some rectangular portion of the screen. I also use it when I want to find out what color a pixel is.

Meazure takes up about 1.3Mb of your USB drive.

NetStumbler

NetStumbler is useful for troubleshooting wireless networking issues. It will show you the signal strength of all wireless networks you can see, and what channel they are using. Useful for figuring out, e.g., that your neighbor is using Channel 11 so you probably want to set your router to use a different channel.

NetStumbler takes up about 2Mb of your USB drive.

VLC

VLC is a free cross-platform media player that can play many different types of multimedia files (including (MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, mp3, ogg) without the need for additional codecs. It can also handle DVDs, VCDs, and various streaming multimedia formats.

VLC is powerful but not small. It takes up about 27Mb of your USB drive.

Simple Sudoku

Simple Sudoku

Simple Sudoku makes high quality puzzles that are symmetrical, have a single solution, and do not require trial & error to solve. The user can also choose between five levels of complexity - from Easy to Extreme. Each puzzle is generated randomly so there is an almost limitless selection.

Not only does Simple Sudoku make challenging puzzles, it also provides tools to help solve them - removing the drudgery but not the fun. Keeping track of possible values for blank cells (candidates), providing filters and color markers are just some of the tools available to make solving even those really tricky puzzles possible. Also, if you ever get really stuck, Simple Sudoku can get you started again with a discreet hint (without giving everything away).

You can also create your own puzzles, or enter in puzzles from magazines or newspapers and solve them on your computer.

Caution: Sudoku can be addictive.

Simple Sudoku takes up about 1.5Mb of your USB drive.

XVI32 Hex Editor

The XVI32 Hex Editor is a geek-tool. If you think hex is just a magic spell of some kind, then this is not something you are ever going to need. However, if you understand that 0x42 is 66 and that DEADBEEF can be a number, and you sometimes need to try to understand or modify a binary file, then this is a handy tool for your USB drive.

The XVI32 Hex Editor takes up just under 1Mb of your USB drive.


Immediate necessity makes many things convenient, which if continued would grow into oppressions. Expedience and right are different things.

Thomas Paine
Common Sense, 1776

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