Flash Drive Toolkit (Like a Boss)
In this article, I’ll describe the various tools I keep on my flash drive. For a list of the various purposes I have for my flash drives, see my article The Three Flash Drives You Need to Have.
The first and most essential tool in any I.T. toolbox is Hiren’s Boot CD. Hiren’s is something that has been essential for every I.T. job I’ve ever had. The majority of the software on the disk is freeware, but the distribution always comes with at least a few commercial applications. While they are perfectly legal to have as long as you own a copy of them, I would risk a lot by linking to something that distributes said programs. However, it’s pretty easy to find, if you look in the usual places.
As for installation onto USB drive, newer distributions of Hiren’s actually come with a tool that will take care of that for you. The tool is called RMprepUSB, and is located in the “Partition / Boot / MBR” folder in the Hiren’s menu. To access the Hiren’s menu without writing a flash drive or burning a disk, assuming you got an ISO, you can either mount the disk using Virtual Clone Drive, or extract the disk image using WinRaR.
For now, I’ll leave you to poke around in the Hiren’s program menu. It’s structured very well, and many of the most useful apps are self-explanatory, and I don’t think I’ve yet run across one that’s harmful just to open. Though do be careful with any partitioning programs…including that USB prep app I mentioned earlier. I would highly recommend some of the tools in the drivers section, as they can alleviate a bit of the Windows re-installation pain. If you use Hiren’s, leave a comment below with your favorite applications.
Ninite is an automatic program downloader, It’s incredibly useful if you are either constantly installing Windows on various machines (your own or otherwise), or if you are working on peoples’ computers and typically either finding they lack applications you want / need to use, or if you’re regularly recommending things. You can put together your own Ninite package, with whatever apps you like (within their selection). The result is a tiny (<1MB) executable file, which will connect to the internet and download the latest version of the applications selected. Here is a link to the installer I normally put on computers I work on. It outfits them with everything they’ll need to run most file types, a few editors, and TeamViewer for remote diagnostics (though I much prefer LogMeIn).
Portable Apps is a collection of programs designed to be run from the flash drive. As with Ninite, you select the ones you wish to download. While you can run Chrome portable, with the new way bookmarks are linked to your account and so forth, I don’t see the need. The most useful things I got out of Portable Apps were Gimp, PuTTY, Pidgin, Audacity, VirtualDub, and Notepad++. Pidgin is great because you can configure all of your IM accounts, and be signed in to everything from your flash drive without much hassle. Notepad++ was real fun once I installed and configured plugins to use FTP, so that I could edit files on my server just by opening up Notepad++ in Portable Apps. I don’t think I ever did get around to getting Portable VirtualBox working. What are some of your most useful Portable Apps? Let me know in the comments below.
Sharepod provides extended functionality for iTunes and iPods. I have to admit, it’s been a while since I “fixed” someone’s iTunes, but if I remember correctly, the primary reason I kept this software is: When you rip music from a CD into iTunes, it only works on that computer (and iTunes installation). So when you re-install Windows, all of that music becomes unusable, unless you import it manually using Sharepod.
Windows Registry Fixes
Every once in a while, a virus will come along and screw up essential file associations that antivirus programs don’t typically restore. The worst of these is exe file associations, where Windows will wind up asking you which program you want to use to open an exe (program). So, I keep the following registry files on my flash drive, should I need them:
To use them, just double-click the .reg file. You don’t even need to copy it off the flash drive. It will make the change in the currently running Windows OS on the machine.
Sysinternals is an incredibly powerful suite of power tools. Most of these are included in Hiren’s, but there’s still use in checking them out individually, if only to better understand their uses.
The winsock fix is a small and highly effective program. I’m surprised this one isn’t included in Hiren’s, but there’s likely something else I haven’t explored that performs this task. It’s a single-button program that clears up pretty much anything that could be causing network connectivity issues. Despite it saying “XP”, I’ve seen it work in Vista and 7 as well.
Aida is a system information tool. When CPUZ isn’t cutting it for getting the info you need about your hardware, Aida can almost always find the information. I’ve used this software to remote log in to a user’s laptop with an unresponsive screen, grab the screen model number, and used that to order a new one. That just happens to be one specific case, but there are many little bits of useful information this program is capable of digging up.