Your Own Porta-PC

Published Date
01 - Nov - 2006
| Last Updated
01 - Nov - 2006
Your Own Porta-PC
Not too long ago, we gave you the low-down on some essential applications for your USB drive (Life in a USB Nutshell, Digit April 2006), but what if you didn't want the associated paranoia of mistakenly changing someone else's settings? Why shouldn't you be able to enjoy working on any PC in the same carefree manner that you would work on your own?

You might have heard about U3, the platform that lets you install any application directly to a Flash drive and use them anywhere. The great thing about this is that you don't need to wonder whether the application you're installing is portable or not-just install away. The downside? You'll need to buy a whole new drive that comes with U3, and if you ever tire of it or need the extra space for data, you can't get rid of it! Moreover, some applications now need re-writing for the U3 platform, and few vendors are inclined to do so.

So what if you want all the good things about U3, and not have to buy a new disk? Enter MojoPac!

What It Does
When you install MojoPac on your USB drive, it gives you your own virtual Windows XP environment, where you can install and use your applications. You'll find a 30-day trial of MojoPac on this month's CD, and it costs only $29.95 (Rs 1350)-well worth it once you realise how much use it can be to you. The first of this feature list is its ability to turn any USB storage device into a MojoPC-Flash drive, hard drive, cell phone, and even your iPod!

Installation is a matter of a few minutes-just make sure your USB device is connected to your PC, and choose it when the installer asks you to. It copies essential items from your Documents and Settings, Windows and Program Files folders, and also gives you the option of copying any other files that you want.

Running MojoPac for the first time is like running a fresh install of Windows XP-it shows you no installed programs, no matter how many are actually installed on the PC you've connected your drive to. Just like a Windows XP install, though, you can run the default applications that come with it. To start installing your applications, just pop in the installation CD or run the setup file.

How It Works
With the few essential files that it copies from your Windows installation, plus its own functionality, MojoPac successfully emulates a Windows XP installation, so any software you install on it thinks it's installing on to a full XP install. Technically, then, you don't even need to worry about violating the license agreements of the expensive software you invested in. If you need to use, say, Adobe Photoshop wherever you go, you can't go around installing it on every PC you work on-this would violate the single-user license and make you guilty of piracy. But install Photoshop on your MojoPac device, and you can use it on any Windows XP machine-and you don't have to worry about being a pirate any more!

When you open My Computer from within your MojoPC, you'll notice that your USB disk shows up as the C: drive. This protects the host PC from any drastic changes that you could make, and also ensures that even the most badly-written installers won't accidentally write to the real C: drive-we've encountered numerous installers that automatically start installing to "C:Program Files" without so much as asking you.

MojoPac not only protects the host PC, it also protects itself-it only gives you access to Windows' default programs, and is intelligent enough to distinguish between these and the rest of the programs installed on the host. So even if programs on the host PC are infected with viruses, your MojoPC stays safe because it just can't run those processes.

The Experience
Working with MojoPac requires little or no grey matter at all-your USB device will autorun when you insert it (this feature only works with Service Pack 2), you log in to your MojoPC, and start working! There's a toolbar at the top that lets you switch to your host PC's desktop just in case. Another cool feature is that when a window pops up in the host PC-as happens when someone sends you an IM-you get a friendly notification in the tray informing you of the event.

We tried MojoPac on a Transcend 512 MB Flash drive, and we did notice that applications took a little longer to load than we'd hoped-this shouldn't have happened considering the test PC had 1 GB of RAM for it to exploit. Of course, that's when we realised that we hadn't optimised it-here's how you can...

Speed Up Your Mojo
1. In My Computer (on your Host PC), right-click on the USB drive and select Properties.
2. Under the Hardware Tab, select the drive and click on the Properties button.
3. In the dialog that pops up, you'll see that "Optimize for quick removal" is selected; change this to "Optimize for Performance."

You will now see a noticeable improvement in your Mojo performance.

You And Your Mojo
Thus far, the experience of using portable programs from your USB stick lacked the feeling of seamlessness-every PC you work on is different, so it takes time to adjust to each of them. With MojoPac, your interaction with the MojoPC is the same every time, so you're always comfortable.

If you keep carrying your work between office and home, MojoPac has obvious advantages: all your data and programs travel with you, complete with their settings. You can carry all your favourite applications on your MojoPac and use them at work-everything you do within your MojoPC stays confidential, and still doesn't violate any company policies: as far as the IT infrastructure is concerned, all you did was start a program.

If you're one of those unfortunate souls whose friends keep popping over to use your PC, wantonly changing your settings and running programs you don't want them to run, force them to use MojoPac! Get them to buy USB drives and install MojoPac on them. This way, they can come and use your PC's resources, but leave your programs and settings intact.

We mentioned that MojoPac lets you switch between the MojoPC and the host PC's desktop; in addition, it needs administrative access to allow the user to install applications to his MojoPC. While this is quite frustrating (letting your annoying friend switch out of Mojo into an Administrator Desktop? The horror!), there's a simple way to work around this. First, create a Guest account on your PC-cripple its privileges as much as you can. Use this account when a friend wants to log on. MojoPac will ask for an Administrator password before it starts-enter it. Now, when your friend switches out of his MojoPC, all he sees is a limited guest account-he's better off in the MojoPC!

MojoPac has also been tested with a large number of games-head over to www.mojopac. com to see which ones-so you can exploit any high-end rig you can get your hands on. Even the rigorous DRM features are going to work fine, so no worries there.

Our Recommendations
At the very least, MojoPac requires you to have a 128 MB USB 2.0 flash drive, but you're going to need more storage depending on how you want to use it. If you want to install Microsoft Office, for example, 1 GB of storage is essential-500-odd MB for the installation itself, and the rest for storage and other applications. You also need to look at how often you're going to be reading from and writing to this drive-Flash drives start to fail after a large number of read/write cycles.

Though the developers claim that MojoPac has been optimised to perform no more writes than absolutely essential, excessive use will have you sifting through corrupt data faster than you'd like. If you're going to turn this into a way of life, an external hard disk would be a better option, giving you the advantages of both storage space and reliability. For gaming, you should invest in a faster (and probably more expensive) drive than the rest to ensure smooth performance.

So what are you waiting for? Get installing and write to us about your Mojo experience!  

Team DigitTeam Digit

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