Portable office on your USB flash drive

Portable office on your USB flash drive

Summary: I don't know what I'd do without my USB flash drives. Over the years they have evolved from being a mere storage device where I dumped files that I wanted to take with me when I was on the move into a platform in their own right. With the aid of a few software applications and utilities (some free, some not), you can do the same to your USB flash drive.

TOPICS: Hardware

I don't know what I'd do without my USB flash drives.  Over the years they have evolved from being a mere storage device where I dumped files that I wanted to take with me when I was on the move into a platform in their own right.  With the aid of a few software applications and utilities (some free, some not), you can do the same to your USB flash drive.

The first thing that you need is a USB flash drive that has decent capacity.  The more capacity you have the better, really.  You can probably get away with using a 512MB drive but I think that 1GB is better, while 2GB is ideal.  This allows you to have plenty of storage space for applications while leaving you with enough space for files and backups.  My current flash drive of choice is a 2GB Kingston Data Traveler Elite Privacy Edition.  I like this drive because everything I load onto it is password protected and encrypted using 128-bit hardware-based AES encryption. 

OK, so you have your flash drive, what applications can you load onto it?  There are plenty to choose from!


My main email client is Microsoft Outlook, so there's no chance of installing that onto a USB flash drive and making it portable.  However, I have found a great software utility called DmailerSync Plus which allows me to clone my Outlook data (emails, contacts, tasks and so on) and access them from the USB drive.  On top of that, DmailerSync Plus also allows me to create a copy of my Internet Explorer and Firefox favorites and also any files that I select and take these with me too.  Everything I need to access my data and even send and receive email is stored on the USB drive.

For added piece of mind, everything is password protected and encrypted using 128-bit AES.

The great thing about DmailerSync Plus is that it's not just confined to USB flash drives - you can install it onto memory cards, iPods, PDAs and even the Sony PSP - so there's no excuse not to have your Outlook data with you all the time!

DmailerSync Plus costs $39.95.

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When it comes to having a portable browser, you have two to choose from.  Portable Firefox or OperaUSB.  These are both tweaked versions of the desktop browser, having been modified so that they don't store files or modify anything on the host PC.  Both of these are free to download and use.

Which you choose is a matter of personal preference, but there's nothing (other than storage space limitations) stopping you from having both installed on your USB drive.


I don't know about you, but I handle a lot of PDF files.  On my main PC and my notebook I have the industry standard Adobe Reader installed, but this is a big, cumbersome and clumsy program that demands a lot of system requirements.  It also can't be installed on a USB flash drive if you want to have a portable PDF reader. 

This is where the Foxit Reader comes in.  Foxit Reader is a free PDF reader that's small, fast and can be stored on a USB flash drive so that you always have access to a PDF reader. 

Chat/Instant Messaging

When it comes to keeping in touch with your chat/IM buddies, there are two popular options for people on the move.  You have Trillian Anywhere, which involves tweaking an existing Trillian installation so that it will run off a USB flash drive, or Miranda IM, a small but fully-featured multi-protocol instant messaging client.

Of the two, Trillian has the most features but Miranda IM is quicker and easier to install onto a USB flash drive (that's because it doesn't need installing - you just copy the executable file over to the USB drive and you're ready to go).


As I said earlier, my Kingston Data Traveler Elite Privacy Edition automatically encrypts all data stored on it.  But not all drives to this, so it might be useful to have a separate encryption utility. 

A good utility that allows you to take it on the move is Crypto Anywhere.  If you are an existing PGP user then Crypto Anywhere will be of added benefit to you because it is based on the OpenPGP standard and is compatible with PGP.

A license of Crypto Anywhere costs $39.95.

Office Applications

Don't even think about trying to install Microsoft Office applications onto a USB flash drive - it just won't work!  However, there are a couple of applications that will allow you to create, open, and edit Office documents.

The first is AbiWord.  AbiWord is a free program that allows you to work with Microsoft Word documents.  This is a great tool for those who are on the move but want to be able to continue to edit and save Word documents on systems that don't have Word installed on them.

Another alternative is OpenOffice.  This suite will take up a lot more space on your USB key and is a lot slower to run that AbiWord, but it will give you the ability to work with a whole range of Office document formats, not just Word.  Just like AbiWord, OpenOffice is free to download and use.

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Password Storage

Without a doubt, the best password storage utility that I've come across is called PasswordSafe.  PasswordSafe is a simple yet secure password storage utility that can be used to organize all your user names and passwords.  It can also be used to create good, random passwords.

PasswordSafe is also free!

Portable File Compression

You've been sent a compressed file by email and want to see what's inside it.  Unfortunately you don't have anything to decompress the file on the PC you are using.  If you have Portable7zip installed (a portable version of the free 7zip compression tool) then you can handle a multitude of compressed file formats. 

The page I've listed for Portable7zip is in French but rest assured, the utility itself is in English.


Take antivirus with you where ever you go with ClamWin Portable - this is a free stand-alone virus scanner that the security conscious can take with them on a USB key and use to scan files before they run them.  This could prevent you infecting your host computer with files that you download and run.

Audio Player

It's nice to be able to take tunes with you when on the move.  Using XMPlay you can play a whole host of different formats (OGG / MP3 / MP2 / MP1 / WMA / WAV / MO3 / IT / XM / S3M / MTM / MOD / UMX audio formats). 

XMPlay is free and requires no installation.


Want to run a web server from a USB drive?  That's no problem with WOS Portable - a fully-functional Apache web server on a stick which comes complete with PHP and MySQL. 

WOS Portable comes in two flavors - a normal version that 's 200MB and a small version that's 20MB.

WOS Portable is a super tool that allows you to have all the benefits of a web server without the hassle of having to carry a PC running the software with you.  I love WOS for things like PHP development and for trying out new things in WordPress before I roll them out live.

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Topic: Hardware

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  • excellent article

    I really loved all the applications that you introduced like DmailerSync Plus, ClamWin Portable, XMPlay, AbiWord, Portable Firefox , OperaUSB.
    • Thanks

      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
  • Two points

    1. You should become familiar with the grief caused people who receive mail from the outlook family, and you would probably stop using it. For starters, a large file becomes incredibly larger at the recepient's end. Thunderbird lacks only the 'mail merge' function that outlooks have, but how often do people mail merge?

    2. With airport security and other 'protect the people' security programs going around, having a bootable flash memory seems risky if you carry anything an untrained clerk considers a violation, not to speak of the delays at airports and missing your flight because of an eager-beaver. I don't carry my portable pc anymore. Just a usb drive I can use on any machine at the destination. And the programs I use, such as thunderbird is installed there. Most people have messengers and browsers installed in their machines, so I don't need to carry them in my drive.
    • I'm afraid I'm stuck with Outlook

      Not that it gives me much grief ...
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
  • Could you take this to the next step and actually boot from the drive?

    If possible this would make your flash drive truely a personal PC in your pocket. It also would enable me to boot to Linux (Ubuntu for instance) from any machine.
    • Portable OS

      If you want a portable, private OS that can run off a flash drive WITHIN windows (so no reboot, no BIOS changes required. Useful for computers a t libraries where modifying their machine's BIOS is frowned upon.) try Damn Small Linux. Available at http://www.damnsmalllinux.org/ , this little slugger packs a pretty good wallop for fitting in a 50 MB footprint. Plus, being Linux based, you can add as many Linux programs you want to it.

      Also, if you have gobs of space on your flash drive and want a few more features, try DSL-N (Damn Small Linux- NOT!). It's a little bigger but has more features.

      As for installing a BOOTABLE Linux Distro to a USB drive (in other words, not running IN windows, but directly) try this post:


      (Note: that post is specifically for Ubuntu Dapper Drake. Other distros/versions will probably be differant)

      Now where things could get REALLY cool, is if you were to install Ubuntu to a USB Hard Drive and use VMWare and run WINDOWS XP from the removable HDD, INSIDE Ubuntu! How freaky would that be? (I can see wheels turning already >:) ) For how to install XP using VMWare look at this post:


      Please note however, that post is for installing XP via VMWare on a NON-REMOVABLE (FIXED) HDD. Procedures may be different for installing to a usb drive. There may also be other complications revolving around windows XP having the machine it is attached to constantly changing. Might drive it a little bonkers, not to mention the whole windows genuine advantage C.R.A.P. that MAY cause the copy of XP on the USB drive to be invalidated. I have not played around much with the whole VMWare thing so this may or may not be an issue, you'll have to try it for yourself. :)
    • That's for another article!

      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • Look forward to it

        And your suggestions.

        I'm looking for a way to do this without installing Linux on my HD. With a 4GB or an 8GB flash drive, I'd like more than what DSL offers along with the proper video & audio drivers, etc...
        hasta la Vista, bah-bie
  • The Next Level...

    ... along this train of thought would be highly portable headless PCs that can provide secure mobile data access while not leaving much if any footprint on the host "head" machine, and which cannot be compromised by it (or allow compromise of a connected corporate network).

    Check out Realm Systems for an interesting current example of this and consider the logical extensions of this idea...
  • Awesome idea

    I've been looking for this kind of thing for months, but it's not quite there yet. The thing that's really missing is the amount of storage. That will change with the introduction of Samsung's 32GigaBit flash memory chips. Put 8 chips together and you have 32 GigaBytes of storage. At that point, you could carry whatever you want around with you....
  • Check this product...really cool

    Hi Everybody,

    i have come across this wonderful company i-flapp technologies (www.i-flapp.com) their technology allows user to carry applications like photoshop, complete office suite 2003 & XP, project, visio, lotus notes and is compatible to USB drive and external HDD and also works in any operating system...really excitied about this product...
  • RE: Portable apps

    Then there's

  • RE: Portable office on your USB flash drive

    Fantastic!! Really useful and truly portable and professional.

    Thanks for your very informative blogs.

  • RE: Portable office on your USB flash drive

    How about an article revisiting this?

    Still a valuable option for some of us--my wife is NON tech, yet has to shift between 4 computers and HAS TO keep most of her stuff on MS Office. Work computer on Vista Pro, home on XP home; academic office on XP pro, library is ???

    Would love to get close to dream of carrying 'her computer' (personal settings, files) on stick.
  • www.portableoutlook.com

    Hi Friends

    for Outlook through Pen Drive or Portability / Mobility tool for Outlook

    Visit : www.portableoutlook.com


  • www.portableoutlook.com

    Hi Friend

    for Outlook through Pen Drive or Portability / Mobility tool for Outlook

    Visit : www.portableoutlook.com