NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, November 2010
LiberKey - Hundreds of Free Programs Run From a Flash Drive
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host
(click to email author)


I had previously written about the USB flash drive that I always carry with me as it is attached to my car keychain. That 2 GB flash drive contains my frequently updated, malware scanners (Malwarebytes, SUPERAntispyware, and others), as well as my emergency contact and medical information. I have also used it many times when I had the need to save or transport files. Now, I may be copying all of those files to a new, much smaller size but higher capacity 8 GB flash drive, as I now have a lot more files to carry with me. That is because I recently found out about a new free flash drive utility LiberKey (http://www.liberkey.com) that is a freeware competitor to U3 and other flash drive utilities that acts as a graphical front end and manager for portable utilities.

Not being sure how much space I would eventually need on a USB flash drive to install all of my present files and the LiberKey files, I decided to use a newly purchased, small sized, 8 GB flash drive. Now that the price of flash drives has come down significantly over the past year, many local and online sellers are offering larger capacity, name brand flash drives at reasonable prices; I paid under $15 for this 8 GB drive (recently on sale again for $11), as well as purchased several 16 GB drives for less than $25. That is quite a plunge in price as I paid over $40 for a 256 MB USB flash drive just a few years ago. With prices like these, more people will be carrying flash drives with them on a regular basis, and LiberKey would be a wise choice to enable the use of programs on the flash drive, rather than just using the drive for pure storage.

I started this process by downloading the LiberKey installer, a 3.82 MB executable, and installing it to the root of the flash drive. This utility provides the front end, or graphical user interface (GUI), and other functions that enables the LiberKey to function. The GUI can display a menu of the installed applications sorted by type either in a tabular format or as large icons, the choice being selected by clicking on the tiny icon in the top right corner of the menu window. Once the front end has been installed on the flash drive, the user can either download manually any or all of the 302 free portable programs currently listed on the LiberKey website, or he can download one of the integrated bundles. The three bundles available, all of which contain a wide variety of programs which will automatically be catalogued and indexed by the LiberKey software are the Basic bundle, the Standard bundle, or the Ultimate bundle. The Basic bundle consists of a dozen free programs, which are a 37 MB download, and uses 113 MB of space when installed. The Basic bundle includes an audio player, CD burner, compression utility, photo editor, browser (Firefox portable), several office utilities, a password manager, and a video player. For those who want more than the Basic bundle, LiberKey offers a Standard bundle, which is much larger than the Basic, and includes 89 applications, which is a 176 MB download, and uses 468 MB of flash drive space when all are installed. The Standard bundle has everything the Basic bundle has, as well as dozens of additional applications that can provide much increased functionality, all of which can be run from the USB flash drive. Being one who typically wants everything, I downloaded the Ultimate bundle, a comprehensive collection of 164 free portable utilities. This was a large download of 233 MB, and occupied 619 MB of space on the flash drive. These 164 applications can be used for almost all tasks for which someone would use a computer. With a fast internet connection, and a fast computer, it took about 30 minutes to download the Ultimate bundle and install all of the applications to the flash drive.

While the Ultimate bundle is very comprehensive, the bundle only comprises slightly more than half of the free applications available on the LiberKey website. Some of the additional portable applications that can be downloaded and installed on a flash drive with LiberKey include several of my desktop favorites, including IrfanView, VLC media player, OpenOffice, FoxIt PDF reader, Opera browser, Google's Chrome browser, some educational software, CCleaner, and many others. To download these portable versions, and automatically install them to the flash drive, open LiberKey from the flash drive, and then click on "LiberKey Tools" at the bottom right of the window. Choose "Browse the Applications Catalog", and a browser window will open that is synchronized with the utilities that are already installed on the flash drive while displaying a menu of all of the currently available applications, sorted by genre'. To make this quick and easy for the user, the synchronized web page uses a series of icons to guide the user. A "red +" indicates a category that includes new applications, while a "yellow up-arrow" indicates that within a category, there are updates available for programs already installed on the flash drive. Once a category is open, a "green check" indicates that an installed program is up-to-date, a "yellow up-arrow" indicates a program that has an available update newer than what is installed on the flash drive, and a "white +" in a red circle indicates a program not currently installed on the flash drive that is available for download and installation.

Upon selecting a new or updated application by clicking on it, a window opens with a detailed description of the program with an install link near the bottom of the window. That opens a "Launch Application" window where "LiberKey Creator" should be selected. This then opens "LiberKey Creator" which will automatically download and install the application to the flash drive, and update the LiberKey interface and directory. Multiple programs can be selected for installation before clicking "Install Selected Applications", which will also display the download and install process, as well as available space on the flash drive. One cute feature of this install utility is that if it displays a "green asterisk", the installer will check for an update before the download and installation. By my choice, between the installer, the Ultimate bundle, and the few dozen additional programs that I selected for LiberKey to download and install, I still have over 5 GB free on my drive.

With over 200 applications now installed on my flash drive, it is inevitable that many of them will frequently have updates available. Rather than having to manually check for updates, clicking on "LiberKey Tools" and then "Check Updates" will do just that, and display if any updates are available for the LiberKeys software or any of the installed software titles; if any are available, one click will automatically download and install the updates. Another button on the update window displays the number of additional applications that are available, and can directly open the LiberKey applications' web page where additional applications can be selected.

Now that I have about 200 applications installed on my new 8 GB flash drive, and I will always have that drive with me, it is unlikely that I will come across a computer where I cannot do whatever I would want to do. I can now open, play, repair, convert, edit, or other wise use or manipulate any type of file with only what is on my flash drive, with no need to install anything on the computer. This is the epitome of convenience in that it would be unnecessary to install any software on any computer that I use, because I have it all. That is an enormous convenience.

In the short time that I have used it, LiberKeys is a most convenient and comprehensive free utility that everyone should use.

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