How many times have you emailed a document to yourself, either at home or the
office, because you worked on it in one location, need it in another, and it's
too big for a floppy?
How many times have you wished you had a CD burner, because you needed
to take a bunch of files with you?
How many times have you lugged around a laptop just because it contained
a bunch of special files you may or may not need at another location?
Have you ever wished you had an iPod or other cool music device so
you could take your music with you to listen to while working on a
Ever had to fuss with passing project files to a network drive or some FTP
site so you can have them accessible to you while on the road?
I'll lay odds that everyone reading this article has had to pull off one of
the above stunts just so you could have the information you need with
you. I know I've done all of the above, many times.
But no more! I've pretty much solved this problem...and I did it for less than
$80! If you want to buy the perfect gift for some computer user this year...get
them a Flash Drive!
What's a Flash Drive?
It's probably the coolest thing since sliced bread! It's a tiny hard drive
that fits into any USB (Universal Serial Bus) port on a computer. And since
nearly every computer that's been built for the last several years
has included at least one USB port, there's little chance that you'll come up
against a computer where you can't use your pocket hard drive.
It's as small as a car key. As you can see in the image below, I have my Flash
Drive on my key ring and it's about the same size as my Chrysler computerized
car key. Yet my Flash Drive will hold 256 mb of data!
As you can see in this next image, you simply pull it apart. Then you can plug
it into any computer that has a USB port.
A tiny data chip holds all your data. Plug it in and you're ready to access
all the data you've stored on it. As you can see from the image below, I can
quickly plug my Flash Drive into the back of a laptop.
Accessing Your Data
Give the PC a few seconds to recognize the new device and you're on your way.
Granted, you'll want to be using Windows 2000 or XP so the new USB device is
recognized automatically. If you're using a lower-level operating system, such
as Windows 98, you'll need to install the drivers (that come with it) before
the device will be recognized. Newer operating systems will find and run the
new device in about 30 seconds after you plug it in.
In the image below, you can see my Windows Explorer. I've named the drive DianFlashDr
and there you see it now in the list of available drives.
I just click on the drive and all the data I need to keep with me is instantly
available to me on any computer I choose.
I can carry my entire code library with me, as well as my entire support library,
my consulting files, various presentations I like to use during breaks when
I'm teaching a course and various documents on which I'm currently working.
This allows me to have everything, wherever I am.
Removing Your Flash Drive
When you're done using or copying the files you need, just unplug the device
and you're on your way.
However, you'll want to be sure to detach the drive properly. Rather
than just ripping it out of the USB port, which can damage the drive, take a
second to locate the drive icon that will be in the SysTray of the computer
you're using. See the image below.
Double click the icon and a dialog box will appear, like the one shown below,
that lists all the currently accessed USB devices.
Click on the one you want to remove and click Stop. This will
cause the computer to stop accessing the drive. Once that's done, you'll see
a message, like the one below, letting you know that it's now safe to unplug
your device. Pull it out, snap it back to your key ring and off you go!
Uses for a Flash Drive
At work, the computers we use are keyboard PCs (the whole computer is contained
inside the keyboard). And although they have slots for floppy or CD drives,
we don't generally use them, so we haven't installed any. Software programs
are all pushed out from the Citrix server, so there's no real need to install
software individually. However, there are times when I'd like to either access
files that I might normally keep with me on a CD or ones I'd like to take home
with me to continue working on them. Without a floppy drive or CD, I was left
with passing the files to my web site for downloading or emailing them to myself.
I quickly realized it was time to invest in a Flash Drive. I'd seen them, but
never felt the need for one. Little did I know the convenience I was missing!
I've only had mine for a couple months, but I use it daily! It's always with
me. When I'm at home, I can access the files I keep on it from work, if need
be. And while at work, I can quickly plug it in to get to my code library or
other resources I'm used to having at my fingertips at home.
When I teach, I have all my backup reference files with me, should a question
arise. And between classes, I can access one of my music presentations to provide
a little break in the silence by displaying some fun presentation or just listening
to some of the mood music I keep on the drive.
Maybe you plan to head to Grandma's house for the holidays. Wouldn't it be
great to have all those photos with you to show off, without lugging a computer
or pile of photo albums. As long as Granny is hip and has a computer (as my
83 yr old mother does<g>), you need only plug in the device and run your
What? You don't have photo presentation software? Be sure to check out our
Archives to read the many articles we have on ways to create cool photo displays,
such as Microsoft
Photo Story, 3D
Album and PowerPoint
Photo Album...so you can knock their socks off this holiday!
Or load up your Flash Drive with all your favorite MP3 music files. Then when
Aunt Dorothy decides it's time to play her Bing Crosby Christmas Album, you
can toss in Mannheim Steamroller's holiday classics, by plugging in your loaded
Flash Drive, and get the joint rockin!
So How Much and What Brand?
Prices vary. Although the smaller ones are getting harder and harder to find,
since most folks are apparently going for the larger drives.
I purchased my 256 mb drive for about $79 at Best Buy. On the low end, a 64
mb is about $29—the largest I've seen, a 1 gig drive, goes for about $329.
But you can do a lot of damage with a 256 mb drive and a 512 isn't bad at $179,
if you need that much space.
As for brands, you'll have to decide that one. I purchased the FujiFilm brand
just because I liked the style. But there are tons of styles
from which to choose. Below is a sampling of some of the styles of various types
of Flash Drives available.
Extending Your USB Ports
And know that, if you only have one USB port on your computer, such as with
a laptop, you can purchase a USB hub. Like a power strip (extension
cord), it gives you several additional slots. Plug the cord from the hub into
the one USB plug in your PC and you'll now have multiple new plugs. Or, there
are also USB cards available that can be installed in an available PCI slot
in your computer. This, too, will give you multiple USB slots. This way you
can have many USB devices running without having to pull plugs all the time.
I have both a card and a hub on my main system. These days it seems
like everything is USB...which is cool. My digital camera, camcorder, printer,
scanner, flash drive, auto GPS and cell phone all have USB plugs that allow
me to access and program them all via my computer. With the extra plugs, I can
have everybody plugged in and ready to go...as long as I can remember which
plug is for which device!<smile>
Technology is getting just too cool!