More Mini Mac Apps for Your Pocket USB Thumb Drive


After a recent post I did on miniature Mac applications small enough to store on a USB thumb drive, I got a lot of suggestions for alternatives. I’ve tried several of them and found them useful. In this post I’ll round up more small-footprint applications that are very practical to keep with you on your pocket USB thumb drive (I keep my little drive on a keychain).

An FTP application is ideal to keep on a pocket USB drive, because then you can move files too large for e-mail—even long video files—to colleagues or a remote machine with ease. Cyberduck (see above) is a free, open-source application that can do either FTP or SFTP (SSH Secure File Transfer) transfers. Unlike a lot of FTP programs, it integrates with a number of Mac OS X’s built-in features. For example, there is a Spotlight importer for bookmark files, and synchronizing remote directories with local ones will feel familiar to any regular Mac user.

I also like a quick-and-easy text editor on my pocket thumb drive—nothing fancy, just enough to let me write on the go. Someone responding to my previous post suggested TextWrangler. It’s a free download, and after working with it I’m impressed with it. It’s especially good at opening remote FTP files. Note though, that this one isn’t a miniature application. It has a 22MB footprint.

Instant messaging is often an ideal on-the-go way to communicate with colleagues, and a good thumb drive application to have for chatting from any Mac system is Portable iChat. It’s basically a little script that will open a local copy of iChat, and include your usual buddies and preferences.

If you like to have all your browser preferences set up as usual on any Mac system you find yourself using, get Portable Safari on your USB thumb drive. It’s a script that sets up your preferences and bookmarks on a local copy of Safari when you open it.

When you’re on the go with a pocket USB thumb drive, the ability to quickly get something from your remote Mac system can be a lifesaver. For a free application with a tiny footprint (only 852K), get WakeOnLan. You can even schedule it to turn on your remote computer and do scheduled backups.

Do you know of any essential portable Mac apps?


matt burnham

I actually do sync things up on a flash drive all the time. What I do (in tiger) is to create a user, designate that user’s home directory to be the U:/ drive, then make multiple user accounts on different machines the same way. That way I can fast user switch onto my flash account whenever it’s plugged in, and the files are always there along with address book and ical, no sync needed!


Nothing like security of using thumb drive applications, and the ability to take your desktop anywhere with you

Brandon Zylstra

backing up to a thumb drive seems dangerous. *syncing* your most important data between a thumb drive and a laptop or desktop machine, on the other hand, is a good idea. If you ‘backup’ to a thumb drive, then you use it somewhere else, how are you going to remember that you last used the version of file xyz on the thumb drive rather than on your main machine? Or remember to even check?

Backups should be done with software designed for backing up, and you should backup a lot more than will fit on a thumb drive.

Some recommendations are Carbon Copy Cloner (if you’re too cheap to pay for SuperDuper, which is fabulous) to have a bootable copy of your system drive and all your data on that drive; of course Time Machine for super simple backup that does everything you’re likely to need except move it offsite; and CrashPlan for automatic offsite backup.

If you use Crash Plan and SuperDuper, there’s very little reason to use TimeMachine, other than maybe the cool graphical experience of restoring a file.


Eric — I do as well. Quite useful on my keychain. Backing up my files there has actually saved my tooshy a time or two. I don’t go anywhere without it now.

Thanks for these Mac mini-app posts! They’re VERY helpful.

Judi Sohn

Eric, I do. If I’m on someone else’s computer and I need data, do I really want to bet on the fact that they have Internet access? Or that they don’t have some sort of block/filter that would prevent me from getting to the site I need to get my data?

I don’t really run apps off of thumb drives, but I do use them to move data around. More reliable.

Eric Boehnisch-Volkmann

Do you really still use thumb drives? I have a couple of them here in my drawer but haven’t used them for years. When I need to take stuff with me, I but them onto my iDisk or our FTP server, or, no kidding, onto my mobile phone’s SD card. So I don’t carry around a whole bunch of little things but only: my mobile, my bank card, and my keys.

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