What is a virtual PC?
The “virtual pc” is not really a PC but a small device that will help those people who like to travel light. Some of the problems one encounters when travelling and using other people’s PCs is that you leave a history of your activity behind on every PC on which you work. You also do not have your favourite bookmarks in the browser and you need to carry a USB memory stick with you to carry files anyway. If you are the super light-weight traveller, or one without a personal PC but a regular user of PCs in different places, you could try the “virtual pc”.
How to build your own virtual PC
Start with a USB memory stick of at least 512meg; try to get a 1 or 2 gig memory stick if you are going to go and buy one for this exercise. A 512 memory stick will carry most of the programs you would want to carry, but not much more. For this, it is worth it to try to get at least a 1 gig stick or try for 2 gig (budget and availability permitting).
Incidentally, I use the term “memory stick” in here, but these devices have many names like “thumb drive”, “flash drive” and “pen drive” as well. By whatever name, it is a very useful little data storage device that can also store working programs. These are programs that will run directly off the memory stick, when you plug it into a PC. Most PCs will run the programs, but you may find a few incompatibilities with older operating systems and, unfortunately, Macs.
Getting the software
Once you have bought your memory stick, go to http://portableapps.com/ and look for the typical programs you need in your daily life of while travelling. For a start, you might need Portable Firefox which will enable you to run your own browser and carry your own books marks with it. It will also ensure that you do not leave a history on the PC you are making use of. Portable OpenOffice is an absolute must – this will enable you to open all kinds of files and save them in many different formats, including PDF. There is seldom a problem with opening regular Word documents which can be edited and saved as Word again when done. Portable Thunderbird is useful as an email program. You can use a PC that is not connected to the Internet to prepare lots of emails and then, when you get the chance, plug the “portable pc” into a connected PC and upload all your email. You can easily setup a free email account on Google (someone needs to invite you to open a free account) and then setup your “portable pc” to synchronise email with it whenever you get the chance.
There are other programs that will satisfy some of the needs of the more demanding users like Portable GIMP, which could be a useful program to have if you need to edit graphics. Portable NVU for editing webpages, Portable FileZilla for doing FTPs, Portabel Sunbird for a calendar and games like Portable Sodoku. The collection of programs has grown every few weeks when I take another look.
A few tips
For Microsoft users
Create a folder for each of the programs and copy or install the program to its own folder. Then create a shortcut for starting each program in the “root” of the memory stick. If this does not make sense, ask the nearest geek or teenager, they will be only to happy to help. While you are there, create a folder call “My Documents”, just like the one you would have on your regular PC if you were carrying one – don’t leave all your data files in the “root” of the memory stick – it just makes it a mess. If you do all this, when you plug your memory stick into the next PC you go to, a folder should open up showing you the “root” of the memory stick. Here you will find the shortcuts to the various programs you have installed on the memory stick and your folder of documents called “My Documents”. Double clicking on the program you want to use will launch that program, running directly off the memory stick. Your carry your own programs, history, favourites and data files with you wherever you go without the need to carry a PC.
For those more technically inclined - you may want to set up an autorun feature for your Virtual PC. See useful links below.