My first computer in college was a Macintosh LC III. The hard drive that came with it was 80MB only and I remember having a stack of floppies around for backup. Nowadays I carry most of my essentials on a SanDisk Cruzer Micro; this tiny flash drive is pretty incredible when compared to that 80MB hard drive. It features 1GB of space, which currently leaves me plenty of room for data files and programs. At the same time it is absolutely tiny and easy to carry. Although I have had other USB flash drives, I personally prefer the Sandisk Cruzer Micro for three reasons: the first being it’s physical size, the second has to do with the rubber casing which makes it easy to handle, and the last reason is the U3 software that makes it easier to manage portable applications.
The U3 Drive
U3 is really a platform which some flash drive manufacturers use to make their drives more appealing. These flash drives, usually referred to as smart drives come preformatted in two partitions. One partition automatically loads the U3 Launcher application and the main partition is for your program and document storage. The Launcher sets up a U3 icon on the Task Bar for you to click on. Think of it as a second Start Menu.
Clicking on the U3 icon will bring up the Launchpad as shown above (shown with third party applications already installed). Some smart drives come with third party applications already setup. SanDisk does not come with any third party applications. They include only their CruzerSync software, for which they sell a Pro version upgrade on their website for. Most U3 applications are just repackaged applications that are retrofitted to work on the U3 platform. This also means that most U3 apps are actually commercial applications that you have to purchase from the Software Central site. Although most opensource applications like Firefox are being ported, see Firefox Goes Portable.
The U3 Launchpad
The best features of the Launchpad is that it makes portable software easy to install, launch, and maintain. SanDisk’s implementation of the U3 system is also excellent. Unlike other vendors (like BestBuy’s GeekSquad brand), SanDisk actually updates the U3 software via a software update feature. Their last update, updated the Launchpad’s theme to a brushed metal background similar to Apple’s Safari.