Friday, 15 June 2007

Mobile Working

[ from Gizmo's Support Alert Newsletter Issue 145, Free Edition, 24th
May, 2007, ]

I'm absolutely delighted with my new laptop replacement. It's way
lighter than my old IBM ThinkPad T42 and at $49 it's a tad cheaper as

The laptop replacement is a USB flash drive. The drive was an answer to
a conundrum I faced last month. I planned to take a two week break part
of which involved camping in the desert. The desert I figured was no
place for my IBM. Yet both before and after the camping segment I would
be in cities where I would need access to a computer.

Taking a USB thumb drive seemed like a sensible solution. As it turned
out it was not only sensible but practical. So practical I'm wondering
whether I ever need to travel with a laptop again.

While traveling I was able to do all my normal work using most of my
normal tools. The tools were on my USB drive. What was different was
that I was plugged into someone else's computer at an internet cafe or

I put quite a lot of thought into the programs I loaded onto the USB
drive before I left.

Most important was a portable version of Firefox
<> along with
TorPark <> , a special version of Firefox setup
to work with the Tor anonymizing service. Both these run entirely from
the USB drive and leave no trace of my surfing on the host PC. That's
nice but more important was the availability of my normal bookmarks,
Firefox extensions, custom bookmarks toolbar, Google toolbar and even my
surfing history from within Portable Firefox. This was made possible
simply by copying parts of my Firefox profile from my laptop to the USB
drive before I left home.

The comfort of having your familiar browsing environment available
cannot be overestimated. I've customized Firefox to work exactly how I
want so to have that available on whatever computer I was using was both
delightful and remarkable.

The comfort of the familiar was further enhanced by the use of
RoboForm2Go <> as my password and
form filler. RoboForm2Go is a portable version of the same RoboForm
program I use on my normal PC. Like Portable Firefox it leaves no trace
of itself on the PC your USB stick is plugged into. Again like I did
with Firefox, I copied my RoboForm data from my laptop to the USB stick
before I left, so all my normal passwords and login credentials were
available from my USB stick as well.

Using RoboForm2Go to automatically fill out your web session password is
a surprisingly safe procedure, particularly when using Firefox where the
speed of the typing during form completion is beyond the capacity of
keyloggers to log. I know this; I tested RoboForm2Go before I left using
five commercial keyloggers and none successfully recorded the form data.
Your RoboForm2Go master password however is more vulnerable but there
are ways to improve the security of that too. I'll be covering that in
next month's "Tip of the Month."

The other software I took on the USB drive included Portable FileZilla
<> , the
portable version of my normal FTP client, EditPad Pro
<> which is my normal text editor and
PhraseExpress <> the program I normally
use for quickly inserting boilerplate text. The latter two programs were
not available in portable versions but I found that by simply copying
the installation folder from my laptop to the USB flash drive they both
worked fine.

Handling my email was a cinch. I normally use Outlook to collect my mail
from Gmail via POP3. While traveling I simply used Gmail as webmail from
Firefox. When I got home I just collected all my mail in Outlook and had
complete copies of all my correspondence back on my laptop

Oh the pleasure of it, to sit in front of a strange PC in some strange
location and to have your normal computing environment fully available
to you. Your normal tools, your bookmarks, your passwords; everything.

And the pleasure too of not lugging around a laptop or having to worry
about it being stolen.

I suspect it's also a pleasure you may need to get used to. The future
of computing folks is going to be web based applications accessed
through your browser. In a few years you may be carrying around only one
piece of software on your USB stick: your highly personalized browser
that will give you the same computing experience on any PC, in any
location in the world.

Personally, I can't wait. After my positive USB flash drive experience
I've decided to move things along by converting one of my home PCs to
have no applications installed other than a browser. Everything will be
web based: email, calendaring, digital editing, spreadsheets, word
processing and more.

Think about the advantages: no backup worries, dramatically reduced
security concerns, no software update and licensing hassles, less
demanding hardware requirements and best of all: the availability of
your familiar computing environment from any PC.

Yes, the attractions are many but is it too early to make this bold
move? That dear readers, is what I hope to find out.

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