I have reported on a number of occasions how I have put my essential applications on a flash drive and that this gives me the advantage of being able to slip my “computer” into my pocket and use it wherever I can get access to a PC. Doing this has been both interesting and instructive but I am about to discontinue the practice for reasons that I shall explain.
Those of us who started our computing with the early “industry standard” PCs (i.e. real and counterfeit IBMs) running MS-DOS will remember how easy everything was in those days. If the software was rather simple, it had at least not yet acquired the “bloat” of recent years and it had the merit of being easy to install and uninstall. To get rid of a program, all you had to do was delete its files: there was no registry and nothing to foul up your system. (Some of us have computing memories going back even further than this but that, as they say, is another story!)
Such folk would surely greet the new “portable” applications with pleasure because they are as simple to install and remove as MS-DOS programs but more powerful and good-looking to boot. I must say that the discovery of portable software enchanted me quite apart from any ideas of carrying it around in my pocket. I now prefer to use portable applications whenever possible and only reluctantly install software that is going to clutter up the registry.
Another benefit of portable software is that it can be installed and run on the modern generation of flash drives. When I was a teacher of computing, I used to carry a floppy disc with my favourite applications on it as these came in handy when dealing with the sorts of problems that students would get themselves into. These days, I would carry a flash drive instead. And that is the point: anyone who needs to access a lot of different machines which may or may not have installed the programs he likes to use, can carry these with him and use them on any machine.
My interest in portable software on flash drives stemmed from the observation that these days many hotels provide broadband and WiFi facilities for guests. When we go away I usually forget about the computer for the duration but I thought that if I had my flash goody-bag with me I might, while on holiday, be able to check email, see how my blog was faring and even write the odd post. The idea was good but I never actually put it into practice.
While portable programs are almost as good as their bigger siblings functionally, they often suffer with regard to performance. I have found that my email client, for example, though it receives and sends mail perfectly well, often operates slowly, with mysterious moments of hiatus when nothing much seems to be happening. I have been assessing Thunderbird again and thought I would try its RSS reader function. Running from a flash drive this is so hopelessly slow that I gave up on it.
This set me thinking. One solution, of course, would be to run Thunderbird (and any other portable application) on the computer while I’m at home, and to copy them to a flash drive to take with me when I go away. Simply copying over an application from one drive to another is perfectly feasible with (most) portable applications. But that seemed like a lot of fuss and bother, just for the average 7-day breaks that we take.
This then sparked another thought: did I really need to take my “computer” with me on holiday? I have not done so yet and never wished I had. Well, apart from the odd thought that it would be good to check email in case someone, not knowing I was away had sent me an urgent message.
It was at this point that the Ninja jumped in through the window. OK, not really a Ninja, but one of those sudden realizations that slice through fuzzy thought and produce a clear solution. Haven’t I just bought a sparkling and clever new phone, to whit a Blackberry? And does said fruity gadget not do email? And does it not also connect to the Internet whereon I could, if so minded, look something up on Google or check times of trains or even post to my blog? Yes, it does all of these. In that case, what do I need a computer (or a “computer”) for?
The realization that I no longer have a need to carry software on a flash drive means that I can move those applications back onto the computer and benefit from the better speeds and efficiency. For example, I again tried Thunderbird and found that the RSS works perfectly well on the computer, so I am shifting all my feeds over to it.
Note that I am still using the portable versions of applications in preference to registry-based ones unless there is an obvious advantage in doing otherwise.
There is something in this story that is typical of our modern age. It is that when you discover some new technology and start enthusiastically applying it, quite often something even better comes along and stops you in your tracks. When I first talked of putting my software on a flash drive, I had little idea that within a short space of time I would acquire a mobile phone that would include all my needs as standard functions.
Live and learn.