I’ve had a U3 flash drive for a while now, and overall it seems pretty slick. You can read about what U3 is here.
While it is slick, I’m still not using it exclusively for applications yet, mostly because there isn’t much software available for it. I’m talking freeware here, and John T. Haller’s Portable Application Suite is far more complete than what’s out there for U3, at least so far. On the upside, it’s very easy to install new applications to a U3 drive from the launcher program that starts (usually) automatically when you insert the drive in a computer.
The U3 software data, such as the settings for Firefox, are not easy to find. You’ll find a “system” folder on the data portion of the drive. Under that you’ll find a fold for each application with a very long name that seems randomly generated. Unfortunately, copying settings from another instance of Firefox didn’t work, and there’s no way to import settings, so it may be a manual process depending on the application.
In the Portable Apps Suite, I could just copy the relevant files over and save myself the hassle. I must state that I have tested this only with Firefox, not with anything else.
I downloaded RoboForm, which is a kind of password safe/auto-filler for web logins. It wants to work only with the browser loaded into the U3 portion of the drive, and I’m too lazy to manually re-enter my bookmarks, so I haven’t used it much.
The anti-virus is really quite nice. I’m talking here about the ability to contain it – most AV programs want to scan everything constantly, and as a result become so problematic they get turned off. This one can be run only when you want, which makes it much more manageable.
The system also has a security feature, which requires a password to access the files. The files are not encrypted, so it’s not the most secure thing in the world, but it is very fast and secure enough to thwart the casual person who finds a misplaced drive.
I found that on one of the computers I used the drive, Windows wanted to reboot after discovering the system portion of the U3. Sometimes Firefox just gives an error on startup. The system doesn’t always autorun, but the “launcher” can be started manually – required if you have security turned on.
So all is not perfect in U3-land, but it is a good idea and those who find installing the Portable Application Suite or similar software too intimidating, will like the ease of installation.