23 Things to Do With a Thumb Drive

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Your Desktop in Your Pocket

Run U3 programs and download more from the Start menu-like U3 Launchpad.
Run U3 programs and download more from the Start menu-like U3 Launchpad.
Can't install Firefox at work? Do you pine for your programs, set up your own way, at an Internet café? Try these options for taking the look and feel of your desktop with you.

Software gurus have reworked versions of assorted applications so that they run directly off your thumb drive. Our three favorites--John Haller's portable editions of the Firefox browser, Thunderbird e-mail program, and OpenOffice suite--are available here.

Migo software synchronizes files, Outlook data, Internet Explorer favorites, and other desktop elements between different PCs. You can install it on any thumb drive ($30 for the personal version, $50 for the professional edition), or buy a preloaded Migo-branded drive ($100 for 1GB).

If you don't mind buying new hardware, U3-ready drives let you run specially written applications straight from the drive. Preferences, data files, and the like all stay on the portable device, so you don't leave any traces on the computer.

Most U3 units come preloaded with various applications. You can run them or download new ones (which can cost up to $45 each) from the U3 Launchpad, which resembles Windows' Start menu and appears in the system tray when you connect the device (click on the thumbnail image above).

We tested several U3 thumb drives and found them very capable--and similar. The SanDisk U3 Cruzer Micro 1GB ($100) and the Memorex U3 Smart Mini TravelDrive 1GB ($90; memorex.com) came out ahead, mostly for their software. The TravelDrive includes Thunderbird, McAfee AntiVirus, and Migo. The Cruzer Micro has good free and trial apps. For more about U3 click here.

Pocket Gaming Without a PSP

Kill time (and maybe a few deserving alien spaceships) at grandma's house with a ready-to-go gaming thumb drive loaded with MAME. The program brings back the arcade and console hits of yesteryear by running ROM files, the individual pieces of code at the heart of all those games, and works great on thumb drives. Simply download the application and unpack it on your flash drive.

Note: Legally, you must own the original game to download any of the more than 5800 ROM files available. Visit www.mameromlinks.com to start.

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