A USB thumbdrive can be a lot of things—a backup of important photos, a quick transfer device for big files, a cheap way to give out documents. It can also be a Swiss Army knife of portable software, filled with software that runs straight off the USB drive. These tools can be useful for working with computers you can't install your own software on, or laptops that have dropped the CD drive for a thinner chassis. Our colleagues at TechRadar have covered a variety of portable tools, and we've put together six we recommend below. Make your own USB Swiss Army knife.
We've written about why we consider CCleaner an essential tool. You can and should install it on your PC to clean out junk files and fix registry errors. But what if you want to run CCleaner on a computer at school with limited account privileges, or help out a relative for a one-time clean-up? Install CCleaner portable to a thumb drive instead, run it on whatever machine you want, and walk away. Easy.
VLC Media Player Portable
VLC is another one of our essential tools, and it's just as essential as a portable media player. With a big 64GB flash drive, you can load up on movies and TV shows and play them on any device with a USB port. With VLC portable on the drive, you won't have to worry about file compatibility issues or having an Internet connection to download a working player. You'll have all you need in your pocket.
Google Chrome Portable
What kind of computer doesn't have a web browser installed already? Realistically, no computer—but your parents may still use Internet Explorer, no matter how hard you try to convince them to change. With Chrome Portable, you can use your own browser on someone else's computer, access your bookmarks and other synced profile information. Seriously, though—convince mom and dad to use a better browser.
The Ubuntu Live CD (especially in USB drive form) is an invaluable tool for Windows users. You can use it to install Ubuntu, of course, but if you're happily running Windows, it serves a different purpose. When Windows won't boot, or you have a nasty virus, and it seems like a total reinstall is the only solution, you're probably confronting a terrible realization: there are some very important files you haven't backed up. You're going to lose them. Enter the Live CD: you can run Ubuntu off a USB drive, access all your files, and back them up. You may even be able to clear out that virus or fix your Windows errors while you're at it. Here's how to create a bootable Ubuntu USB drive.
Okay, we're actually cheating a bit with these last two. While not a portable tool like the ones listed above, ImgBurn is a great tool for making other files portable. ImgBurn is a free, very easy tool for creating disc image ISOs from CDs or DVDs, or creating a disc image from a file folder. It's a great way to rip old game discs so you can mount them later in a virtual drive. Just don't forget to copy down those old serials. While you can grab a portable version here , this is one you'll probably want to install on your main PC, or wherever you'll be ripping those old discs you have lying around.
Daemon Tools Lite
Daemon Tools isn't portable, either, but it's the other side of the ImgBurn equation. If you create a bunch of portable disc image files or backups with ImgBurn, you'll need something to mount them with, and Daemon Tools is the age-old standby. You can mount any image with a few clicks from the system tray, and Windows will treat it like a real physical disc drive.
You can't install Daemon Tools to a USB thumbdrive, but it's an important piece of software to have on an Ultrabook or other computer with no disc drive, and you can always keep an installer handy on your USB key. At some point, you'll likely have to install something that comes on a CD, and Daemon Tools will be there to help.
Looking for more portable apps for your USB multitool? Check out PortableApps.com .