New software and updated USB flash
drives make it much easier to go mobile.

My fascination with USB flash drives goes back a number of years. When I wrote about these devices in my first book, Virtual Office News for a High Margin Practice, flash drives were marketed strictly as portable storage. With typical drive sizes from 8 MB to 128 MB, and prices from about $30 to $300, these drives were-though somewhat expensive-replacements for floppy disks.
Flash drives have really caught on, and prices have fallen dramatically. The $29.95 that bought you a 16 MB drive five or six years ago can now easily net you a 2 GB drive on sale if you shop carefully. When used on a current computer, flash drives are a convenient method of copying, transporting and backing up files. You simply insert the drive in a USB port and allow the computer to recognize it and assign it a drive letter. Once that is done, you can access files as you would on any other drive. You can move files to or from the drive by simply dragging and dropping them.
With 2 GB, and even 4 GB drives commonly available at affordable prices, and even larger drives on the way, flash drives are now being used in new and exciting ways. Three new ways let advisors use them to improve their productivity.

Portable Software Applications

Smart flash drives can launch their own applications. According to the U3 Web site: "Analysts project sales of USB flash drives to grow to 150 million units worldwide by 2008-and 70% of those are projected to be smart drives." There are two common types of USB drive software applications: portable applications (non-U3 applications) and U3 applications. Both have their appeal.

Portable applications are small applications that can be downloaded to, and run off of, a USB flash drive. Typically, these applications require nothing more than the downloaded software and a USB flash drive. What types of applications are we talking about? Well, it could be just about anything, but common ones are Web browsers, e-mail applications, security programs, utilities and office-type applications.    

Why would you want to own this type of software? There are a number of reasons, but portability, security and peace of mind rank high on my list. For example, let's say you want to load a slide presentation on a disk and take it with you. You expect that a laptop with the software necessary to run your presentation awaits you at your destination. When you arrive, you realize that the laptop's version of the presentation software is not compatible with yours, or perhaps the computer fails. With a portable version of the application loaded on your drive as well as the data file, there's no problem.         You can simply run the presentation from the copy of the application stored on the flash drive, using any other computer.
If you carry a browser application on your flash drive, you can carry all of your browser settings and favorites along with you. When you use the application on another computer, all of your personal information stays securely on the drive. When you finish browsing, no trace of your activities is left on the host machine.    

E-mail programs are another popular portable application. A number of programs allow you to download new e-mail while on the road, store it on the drive, and sync them up with your primary e-mail program when you return home.

Portable Applications Suite

If you would like to try out a number of portable programs to get a feel for their utility, the Portable Apps Suite is a good place to start ( This free download includes portable editions of a Web browser (Mozilla Firefox), e-mail client (Mozilla Thunderbird), calendar/task manager (Mozilla Sunbird), an office suite (OpenOffice), an antivirus application (ClamWin), an instant message application (Gaim) and a Sudoku game, all organized with a nice user menu. The full suite can be loaded on a drive as small as 512 MB. The individual applications listed above, as well as a number of other interesting ones, can be downloaded at

Rocket Mobile & Security Center

Rocket Software recently sent me a copy of their Rocket Mobile & Security Center loaded on a 1 GB Memorex flash drive. The drive included Rocket Launchpad, which serves a function similar to the Portable Applications menu or the Windows start menu. The lauchpad makes it easy to access the programs loaded on the drive. The files listed on the left are the ones currently loaded on the drive. In this case, there is a document entitled "Evaluation Guide," the Firefox browser and the Rocket Mobile & Security Center. On the right, buttons let you add more applications, a backup and restore app and other tools. At the bottom left of the screen a nifty little meter shows how much space is free on the drive.
The Rocket Mobile & Security Center includes a number of appealing applications, but the big draw is the Rocket Security Vault. This application offers an easy, portable security solution. It is ideal for protecting both laptop computers and the information contained on external devices such as external hard drives and flash drives.

Once installed, the software allows users to create secure, encrypted lockboxes. Each lockbox can be named (My Secure Business Documents, for example), and each lockbox is assigned its own drive letter on your computer. So, even though you might create three separate lockboxes on a single flash drive, for example, one box would appear as Drive G, the next as Drive I and the third as Drive J.
Each "drive" is really one, single encrypted file. Rocket uses a strong 128-bit encryption method of storing the data. When you use the proper procedures and enter the proper password, the drive appears, giving the user full access. When the lockbox is closed, it is hidden and encrypted.
I gave the Security Vault application a try and I found it easy to use. A Wizard walked me through setting up a few lock boxes, and once the setup was complete, I was able to use the lockboxes without any trouble. When carrying sensitive client information on an external hard drive or a laptop, I would certainly consider using this application. In order for any encryption system to be effective, advisors have to use it. This one is simple enough that most will.

The Suite also includes a Password Vault that can store Web site accounts, application accounts and account memos. It is supposed to be able to automatically fill in your user name and password, but I had mixed results with this function, perhaps because of other security utilities on my PC or security enhancements on some Web sites. Whatever the case, the ability to store all of my user names and passwords securely was the main point of the exercise, and the Password Vault does this well. It also serves as a favorites list for often-used Web sites. I can click on the name of the site I want to visit from within the vault. If all goes well, the user name and password are entered automatically. If not, I simply typed or copied them in. Not perfect, but good enough.
If you've ever had to deal with nosy neighbors at an airport or other public location, you'll like Rocket Security Shades. This application, with the touch of a button, can alter the background of your computer, making it difficult, if not impossible, for anyone other than the user to read the screen.
Finally, there is RocketTime. This little applet makes sure that your laptop clock remains accurate. This is particularly important if you are logging calls, e-mail, etc., for compliance or security purposes. RocketTime also allows you to conveniently view the time in multiple time zones on one dashboard, a very helpful tool for road warriors.
The full Rocket Mobile & Security Center sells for $49.95. It looks to me like an excellent addition to the traveling advisor's toolkit. It can be purchased here:

U3 Software Applications

The PortableApps Suite and Rocket Software each use their own proprietary launch pads to display and start their applications. Many firms (including those who offer a non-U3 flash version of their software) are writing software to the U3 standard. In fact, a few hundred applications are available at U3 Software Central ( These applications include business software, utilities, games, audio players and more. Some like Foxit Reader (a PDF reader), Open Office, Essential PIM (calendar, note, contact storage) and Firefox are free. Others, like DmailSync Plus, profiled below, charge a modest fee.
The U3 standard insures that applications will perform correctly on U3 flash drives equipped with the U3 launchpad. U3 flash drives cost a bit more than non-U3 drives, but their ease of use and compatibility with a wide range of U3 programs make them a good choice for the less tech savvy. Many leading flash drive manufacturers, including Kingston, Memorex, M-Systems, SanDisk and Verbatim, produce U3 drives.
I recently purchased a 2-GB, U3 DataTraveler Smart USB Flash drive manufactured by Kingston Technology. The U3 launchpad offers the ability to manage programs, purchase and install new ones, alter settings and password-protect the drive. The drive ships with a number of applications pre-installed, but they are of limited use. The U3 version of Pass2Go (which recently was renamed RoboForm2Go), an award-winning application that stores bookmarks and passwords, fills forms, automatically logs you in to password protected Web sites and encrypts all data in a 60-day trial version.     After the trial expires, you can continue to use the software with limited functionality, or you can purchase a full license for $39.95. ACDSee PE is a limited version of the digital photo management package. ZinioReader allows subscribers to the Zinio service to read digital editions of many well-known periodicals at a discounted price.

DmailerSync Plus

To see how an advisor might actually benefit from a U3 drive, I downloaded an application called DmailerSync Plus using the "Download Programs" button on my U3 launchpad.
DmailerSync Plus allows the synchronization and backup of all personal files (productivity documents, photos, audio and video files, etc.), computer settings (Internet Explorer and Firefox favorites, desktop wallpaper) as well as all data in Outlook, Outlook Express or Outlook Web Access applications (e-mail, attached documents, files, contacts, notes, tasks, calendar) from a personal computer to a U3 flash drive. Users can then access and edit them from any Windows PC wherever they go, even if Outlook or Outlook Express is not pre-installed on it. When finished, DmailerSync Plus synchronizes all changes back to a user's home or work computer as if they had never been away. All user information stays on the drive. No user files are transferred to the host computer.
The benefits of such an application should be apparent. An advisor can load MS Outlook and any work files necessary for the task at hand onto a U3 drive, and then take the drive on the road instead of a laptop. Even if an advisor decides to take a laptop on the road, a U3 drive as a backup insures that critical information will be available and ready for use even if a tragedy should befall the laptop.

In my brief tests, the application generally performed well, with some limitations. If I took all e-mail attachments with me on a 2 GB U3 drive, my full Outlook file would exceed the drive's capacity, so I used the default setting and left my attachments at home. Photos, music and video files tend to be large, so only take the ones you really need. If I was going to visit clients on a trip I'd take only those client folders, along with any general folders I might need; and I'd encrypt the drive.

The more files you take with you, the longer the initial copying/encryption process and subsequent synchronizations takes. In my case, the initial file upload to the U3 drive took at least 30 minutes. Once the initial sync was complete, performance was acceptable.
At $39.95, DmailerSync Plus offers both functionality and peace of mind. I expect to see many advisors sing U3 applications before long.

Windows ReadyBoost Memory Expansion

Many computers equipped with Microsoft's new VISTA operating system include a new optional feature called ReadyBoost. Windows ReadyBoost offers a new, innovative method of adding memory, on a temporary or semipermanent basis, to your system. You can use flash memory devices, such as USB flash drives, to improve performance without having to open up the computer and install RAM chips the traditional way. The flash memory device serves as an additional memory cache-that is, memory that the computer can access much more quickly than it can access data on the hard disk drive. This new technology is just one more reason that USB flash memory drives are becoming a necessity for all computer users.
There are a multitude of reasons to own flash drives, and with prices plummeting there is no excuse not to own a few. The devices continue to be an excellent medium for copying, transporting and storing files, but they now can store and run software applications, opening up a whole new area of functionality. As VISTA PCs proliferate, readers will require additional flash memory to power ReadyBoost. If you are not yet using USB flash drives in your practice, it's time to start!