Using WebApps and U3 to Keep Your Hard Drive Clean

We are all guilty of it. Every single one of us (myself included) have installed unnecessary applications onto our computers. We install a program, use it once, and then forget about it until we get low on that precious hard drive space. It is at the point that we receive that low drive space warning that we open up the Add/Remove Applications Control Panel applet in Windows and begin purging those programs we do not use anymore. Those one off deals that we only needed that one time, to do that one thing. We even eventually reinstall our computers from the base operating system on up so that we can have a fresh start, no more unneeded applications. So this week, we are going to look at utilizing two methods to help keep those hard drives clean and those installed programs down to a minimum.

Our goal here is simple. We will utilize web applications and a U3 device to help us maintain the status quo. Since web applications are becoming more popular than ever, utilizing them regularly is becoming less difficult, but also a great way to get things done. Also, U3 devices, USB memory sticks with self contained application runner on them, can be utilized to not only have applications that you require on a regular basis, but to also have both the programs and the documents with you as well.

Why am I looking at this? Well, I recently did a complete reinstall of my system. I attempted to move to Windows Vista, but due to some Nvidia driver issues I had to revert back to XP. Since I did not dual boot, I had to do completely reinstall Windows XP. While reinstalling I made some decisions, the first was that I would not install any applications that had a web counter part (some exceptions apply to this rule) and the second was anything that I would need in multiple places would be installed to my 1GB U3 memory stick. My idea is that when I go to my Add/Remove programs, the only programs on that list will be ones that I can uninstall without a second thought. Like I said there are some exceptions to that rule, for example Visual Studio 2005 which I use both to do work from home and personal coding projects. That is not going to fit on USB flash drive easily. Things that I use all the time but do not need with me on the USB flash drive like Tag & Rename or Skype. But overall, the idea is to try and not install as many programs as possible.

Lets begin with looking at some kinds of applications that have web application alternatives that will serve most people’s needs. First and foremost, Google Docs. We have covered Google Docs before, and already know that it is a fairly feature-rich web application for creating, editing, and sharing document and spreadsheet files. You can export a document to PDF, save it to a variety of formats, and even print from the web site as easily as you can from Word or Open Office. While Google Docs only has a word processor and spreadsheet application at the moment, realistically these are the two main parts of Microsoft Office that get used by the larger majority of the computer using population.

I wanted to mention Google Docs first not only because it is a major part of our strategy in utilizing web applications but because it also shows some of the biggest flaws presented by using web applications. That flaw being that if you want to open a document that is on your physical computer, you need to import it into Google Docs before you can do anything with it. This is not exceptionally difficult to do, but if you have a lot of documents that are on your PC already then uploading them to Google Docs is time consuming at best.

This is where our U3 device comes into play. Yes, an USB flash drive can be used to store documents on it, but if you spend a slightly bit more amount of coin (around $10) you can get something that can run applications on any computer. With this ability you can install one of several portable versions of word processor that will run from a U3 flash drive. Open Office is just one of the several forms available.

So now you have two options, for keeping those applications off of our computer. We can use web applications like the following: Google Docs for documents, Meebo for instant messaging, Ajax13 for a variety of applications, Gliffy for diagrams, and iScrybe for information management. Also, we can use a U3 flash drive and install portable versions of Open Office, Trillian, Firefox, and even KeePass.

When it comes to using the U3 based flash drive, everything can run self contained on the device. So in essence you would only need to install those applications once, on the flash drive and you can take them with you to any computer you so choose. And who would not want their favorite applications with them where ever they go?

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