Web Culture

4 Ways To Use a USB or External Drive Like Your Own Mobile Computer

Tim Lenahan 02-08-2009

4 Ways To Use a USB or External Drive Like Your Own Mobile Computer screenshotThese days we all have places to go, people to see, and things to do. Life is just like that; we’re never in one place anymore!


As busy as we all are, and as much as we are always on the move, it ends up being a real pain trying to carry our laptops around with us. With our laptops, we need to make sure to bring our peripherals, including our power supplies, mouses, and possibly even our printers and such.

Today I want to share 4 methods of using a USB drive or an external hard drive to make your computing portable so that you can leave your laptop at home for once. This way, you can use any local computer you want, taking advantage of the convenience of just carrying your portable hard drive with you.

For each one of these methods, there have been previous posts written (both by myself and here on MakeUseOf) so I will link to them as I go.

(1)  File Syncing:



The first option is possibly the easiest option and is done with the least effort. The basic idea is to have a copy of your most needed files saved on a portable external hard drive. This is handy because any computer you end up using these days will have USB ports so you can gain access to your files.

You also want to make sure that all of the most recent changes to those files are with you. You can do this by “syncing 10 Sync Tools every Office Worker Should Know About Read More ” (or synchronizing) them.  Here on MakeUseOf, Shankar has written an article showing how easy the process can be How to Sync Files between PC and USB Thumb Drive? Read More . Just make sure that when you return to your computer, you sync the USB files and the originals on the computer. With all of your files a portable hard drive away, your important functions will be as portable as your portable drive is.

BUT, what about those programs you leave behind on your own PC?

(2) Portable Applications:



Portable applications (aka portable apps) are programs that you can install on an external hard drive to be run on almost any computer with a USB port. All parts of the program are typically located in one folder and therefore it is portable. This is very handy because you can find many useful programs (Aibek lists 100 Portable Apps in this 100 Portable Apps for Your USB Stick for Windows and macOS Portable apps let you take your favorite software anywhere via a flash drive or cloud storage. Here are 100 of them to cover your every need, from games to image editors. Read More post) that you can carry with you, feeling confident that all of your settings are staying the same. Now, any computer you come in contact with will have your favorite programs right there for your use.

Portable applications, along with your personal files synced, will make your computing experience virtually portable.  Check out a review of a cool suite containing many portable applications, including a standalone programs menu, called PortableApps Suite.

BUT, what if you enjoy having a consistent Operating System experience?

(3) Virtual Operating System:



Mojopac offers a solution you may like. It’s almost like Windows XP installed on your external hard drive.  This means that you can have your OS settings, programs, and files just the way you like running on any computer that has an external hard drive (and that runs XP but most if not many still do so it shouldn’t be much of an issue).

The programs installed in the Mojopac installation are all located on your portable hard drive so it enables true portability. I did a review but if you want cool screen shots and a video, check out the 4 Ways to Carry your PC on iPod or USB Thumbdrive 4 Ways to Carry your PC on iPod or USB Thumbdrive Read More that was published earlier on MakeUseOf.

What if a “virtual” OS isn’t good enough?  What if you want the safety and flexibility of actually booting from your portable hard drive?

(4) Operating Systems Which Are Boot-able From An External Hard Drive:



Another solution for making your computing portable is to install an operating system that can be booted straight from your thumb drive. There are several operating systems that you can use in such a case, one of which being Windows XP!

Basically if you can get a bootable live CD version, you can use an external portable hard drive instead of a CD!  Check out some of these links showing how: How to make your own Windows Live CD How To Make Your Own Windows Live CD Read More (check out this added help from Lifehacker), UNetbootin Creates USB-Bootable Linux the Easy Way.

There you have it, four methods for making your computing portable! Which of these do you typically use? Can you think of another method that doesn’t fit in these four categories? Let us know!

Image credit: Wheels00

Explore more about: Portable App, USB, USB Drive.

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  1. Chixtugtush
    September 27, 2009 at 4:49 am

    Thank you for great post!

  2. roboform
    September 8, 2009 at 9:31 am

    @Tim: Looking back, you are correct, looks like the RoboForm mention was in the first comment. Hopefully I did add something to this discussion of your excellent post :-)

  3. Tim Lenahan
    September 8, 2009 at 5:12 am

    @Roboform: "Are you referring to my taking the time to comment on a blog post that is about our product?" I don't remember mentioning roboform in the post. I don't however mind someone adding a comment about software that may ADD to the topic discussed.

  4. danny
    September 7, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    Is it just me or do I sense hostility here? You know guys, I read in a medical journal.....ok...fine...I wrote it then read it. :)but did you know that hostility is a sign of fiber deficiency?
    In my case, I honestly had to reinstall roboform several times after I got hit by a win32 virus and told roboform what was happening to my computer and when I found out my reinstall privileges had been exhausted. They were kind enough to grant me a few more reinstall.

  5. roboform
    August 9, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    @btuna: Thank you for clarifying.

    Re: Omarra Byrd (or on any other affiliate for that matter), thank you for making your opinion heard. I'll take it into consideration and do some more research. Fair enough?

    Regarding our pricing model, the vast majority of our users still generally uses RoboForm on only on their home computer or USB key, making us quite cost-effective in those cases. But we have seen that a growing number of users is using RoboForm on more and more machines and devices-so obviously we want to cater to this group as well. A first step towards addressing this was making our mobile versions free. A second step was the introduction of RoboForm Online for cloud syncing, also free. With our next big release of version 7, we are moving to a pricing model that is user-centric rather than hardware-centric, precisely so we don't become prohibitively expensive for users such as yourself who operate on multiple machines but with the the same set of logins etc.


  6. bTuna
    August 9, 2009 at 11:01 pm

    "We do not charge home users a recurring fee."

    Nowhere did I state that you did. You do require a user to purchase a new license for every connected machine they want to install Roboform on to sync to. Install Roboform, select the sync option... oops! Sorry, pay for Goodsync. Want to sync to Roboform on your second PC? More $$. Office? $$ Mobile? Pay for that too.

    I was a longtime Roboform user. I am well aware of your products and the benefits they offer, along with your marketing tactics. Roboform is indeed a great product, and it's a shame that it's fallen behind and is now in the position of having to play catch-up when it comes to features, as your last post confirms. I simply no longer see value in paying more fees to keep using the same functionality every time I add a PC or another mobile device. Not with more nimble, cost-effective alternatives.

    Alternatives that steer clear of the deceptive, seedy used-car approach of your affiliates such as Omarra Byrd.

    "Also, accusing us of “spamming” is uncalled for. Are you referring to my taking the time to comment on a blog post that is about our product?"

    No, I'm referring to exactly what I said I was referring to: your minions like Omarra Byrd. Do not misappropriate my words.

    I also never said he was an employee of yours. As an affiliate, however, he derives an income from your company... through use of deception and misleading readers, as seen above. That you reward that kind of disingenuous marketing reflects very, very poorly on Roboform, in my humble opinion.

  7. roboform
    August 8, 2009 at 10:55 pm

    @btuna: Thank you for your response. RoboForm Pro desktop version is a $29.95 one-time fee with lifetime 24/7 email + live phone support during US business hours. We give a $20 discount on RoboForm2Go to desktop users. This has been our price for as long as I can remember. We do not charge home users a recurring fee. For most of our users, this has been considered a fair price for the time-savings, security, and convenience of encrypted 1-click logins and form-filling. I think the term "money-pit" is a tad harsh on your part.

    RoboForm Online syncing is free.

    Also, accusing us of "spamming" is uncalled for. Are you referring to my taking the time to comment on a blog post that is about our product? Most webmasters welcome this and it is certainly not excessive IMO. Omarra Byrd is not an employee of RoboForm.

    We have a number of things in the development pipeline for the consumer market: http://roboform.com/browsers.html Most notably, a native Safari app, a Chrome extension, and a native iPhone app. In addition, we are also developing javascript functionality for use on non-supported browsers+Linux.

    We already have native Windows Mobile, Palm, Symbian, and Blackberry add-ons. Yubikey/dual-factor authentication is something we're considering but frankly have not gotten many user requests for.

    In terms of us "focusing on marketing" and not innovating, a little context might be of use. We've been in business for 10 years and were operating at a time when a little program called Gator was wrecking havoc on people's machines. This caused a huge number of users to fear entering their personal info into any software, including ours. In addition, form filling/password management is not in the same category as say, anti-virus. The average internet user still has neither heard of nor believes they have a need for such an application. So every day we do our best to preach the gospel of password management and grow the market by bringing in new users. We've had a bit of success largely because we've avoided the evil tactics of our predecessors (see Gator) and offer valuable functionality.

    IMO the fact that there are now more competing offerings in this space than before is a testament to the success of Roboform and other software that has been around for the past 5-6 years. Because we have behaved in a responsible manner, a large amount of users has seen that they can safely store their data in a password management software, thus creating a significant user base for this product category that rightly demands the best solution for their changing needs. This is easily evidenced by the fact that the term 'roboform' is much more popular in Google than the term 'password manager'.

    We know that there are startups busy trying to appeal to the RoboForm user base. We think this is unfortunate, since despite the limited success we've had, the vast majority of internet users still either use their browser or something less sophisticated to store their passwords. This is why we continue to pursue our original task of seeking out new users and growing the password management space while at the same time doing the best we can to satisfy our millions of active users.

    -Simon Davis
    Marketing Manager/Siber Systems
    s2davis (at) roboform [dot] com

  8. roboform
    August 5, 2009 at 8:11 am

    @Xgeoph Ray, thanks for the rec:-) Our USB version is called RoboForm2Go. To my knowledge lastpass does not have a version that will run and store all data on a USB drive.

    Re: sync programs, there is also GoodSync for USB: goodsync2go.com/goodsync2go.html (disclosure: we also make this product)

    • bTuna
      August 7, 2009 at 2:20 pm

      That's the problem. You buy Roboform... then you buy Roboform2Go. Then you advertise a syncing option--but wait!--more money for Goodsync! Then another Roboofrm license for the computer you're syncing to. It's a money pit.

      Better to use Lastpass. Works everywhere right out of the box, native syncing, easy online access without getting nickle and dimed to death buying license after license.

      RF is a great program--I used it for years before I switched--but you're more focused on marketing than product development. Not to mention the jackass spammers like Omarra Byrd, see above. Thanks, but no thanks--Lastpass is better.

    • bTuna
      August 7, 2009 at 2:21 pm

      Oh, and to add... Lastpass does have a portable version.

      Also bookmarklets to enable functionality in any browser, including Opera, Chrome, and Safari, where Roboform locks you into using Firefox or IE. No thanks.

    • bTuna
      August 7, 2009 at 2:24 pm

      Forgot about the native iPhone app, Blackberry app, Yubikey support...

      While RF is busy spamming, others are innovating new features and actually keeping up with new tech.

  9. Omarra Byrd
    August 3, 2009 at 10:51 am

    I have to agree with Ray. I absolutely love the RoboForm software myself. I use it all of the time and it takes all of the menial everyday tasks that I have to perform on my computer daily and shortens them extremely! What once took me fifteen minutes to complete now takes me only one second because RoboForm does the same task with just one click. In fact I saw a Report about a lot of RoboForm’s capabilities for use that aren’t even touched on in the User’s Manual for RoboForm. You can get that Report here:


    There is also a FREE version of RoboForm that you can download on this web page, just to test the RoboForm software out for yourself! I highly recommend it!

    • bTuna
      August 3, 2009 at 5:10 pm

      "In fact I saw a Report about a lot of RoboForm’s capabilities for use that aren’t even touched on in the User’s Manual for RoboForm. You can get that Report here:"

      You "saw" a report? Had you forgotten that you wrote it, or miss your name at the top of the page?

      Thanks for the SPAM.

    • Xgeoph Ray
      August 3, 2009 at 5:35 pm

      Ommara Byrd- Come on man, I know you want to plug your referral link to RoboForm and your ebook, but it takes away from the credibility of my posting when you're trying to make money off of it. Anyways, don't let the ad posted here pull you away, RoboForm is a great product. Do your own google search and see for yourself. Geeze.

    • jkc
      August 7, 2009 at 1:09 am

      Omarra, your suit Jacket is way toooo long and i lost 47 minutes of my life reading your crappy adertisement! A word is enough for a wiseman greedo.

      Speaking of greedo, here is my site.

      it is just a bunch of dumb stuff....

  10. bTuna
    August 3, 2009 at 12:52 am

    I was a Roboform user for several years, licensed on two PCs plus the portable on my flash drive, until I tried LastPass.

    LP is a newer product, and is sometimes a bit raw in some areas compared to a mature offering like Roboform... but the developers are incredibly responsive. Seemless syncing, mobile versions for just about every platform, handy bookmarklets for use in any browser that isn't supported via plugin (ie, Opera)... it's very powerful. And free. Highly recommend.

  11. Xgeoph Ray
    August 2, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    I can't recommend enough that everyone should use Portable RoboForm (free for up to 10 accounts, inexpensive for the unlimited account version).

    . Manage your passwords and Log In automatically.
    . Fill long registration and checkout forms with one click.
    . Encrypt your passwords to achieve complete security.
    . Generate random passwords to maximize password strength.
    . Fight Phishing by entering passwords only on matching web sites.
    . Defeat Keyloggers by not using the keyboard to type passwords.
    . Back up your passwords and copy them between computers.
    . Synchronize passwords between computers using GoodSync.
    RoboForm Password Manager is:
    . Portable: RoboForm2Go runs from USB key, no install needed.
    . Phone-friendly: sync your passwords to Windows Mobile and Palm.
    . Universal: works with Internet Explorer, AOL/MSN, Firefox.
    . IE 8, IE 7, Firefox 3.5 and Vista are fully supported.

    • Tim Lenahan
      August 2, 2009 at 10:15 pm

      Great recommendation! I'll be sure to check it out!