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Can You Run Outlook directly from a USB Flash Drive?

Before answering that question, we'll answer this question:-

Why would you want to run Outlook directly from a USB flash drive?

The answer is if you have to use a  "foreign" computer, say while travelling, and you want convenient access to all your email data.

With an Arrowmail account, we allow for just such occasions by providing webmail access to your mailbox, but we're the first to admit that the webmail "experience" isn't as nice as real Outlook. Searching for something is harder and slower, especially if you have a large mailbox.

It doesn't take long to setup an Outlook Anywhere connection on any PC, directly with the Arrowmail Exchange server but, if this is a PC you're only going to be using for a short time, there are several reasons why this may not be feasible or desirable:-

The owner of the PC doesn't want you to setup your own Outlook Profile or Outlook isn't installed on the PC.

If you have a large mailbox it can take hours for your local cached copy to synchronise with your mailbox on the server.

You don't want to leave any data or configuration settings behind after you've finished.

In such situations you could just use your own laptop which already has Outlook setup properly and the locally-cached mailbox is likely to only be a day on so behind in synchronization, but:-

Not all airport lounges, Internet Cafes and hotel business centres permit you to connect your own laptop to their network.

If the information in your mailbox is highly confidential, an encrypted flash drive may be less of a target for thieves than a laptop and therefore pose less of a security risk for your company's data.

If you didn't already have a fully-synchronised Arrowmail Exchange account, a flash drive would be a way of carrying your Outlook data around with you, between PCs, but this would be a poor substitute, mainly because your Outlook data is then only in one place, the flash drive, which could easily suffer some mishap.

If you have an Arrowmail Exchange account the occasions will be fairly rare when running Outlook from a flash drive is the best way to access your email data but, nonetheless, given the correct circumstances the flash drive method could prove a useful solution.

What do we mean by "Run Outlook directly from a USB Flash Drive"

We mean that, as well as your Outlook data, in the form of a PST or OST file, the flash drive also holds all the program and configuration files necessary to run the Outlook program itself and no reference is needed to files on the host PC or its Registry.
The host PC doesn't boot from the flash drive so it's still the normal operating system on the PC that runs the Outlook program directly from the flash drive.

So, back to the main question:-

Can You Run Outlook directly from a USB Flash Drive?

Sandisk has developed a standard to allow a program to be run directly from a flash drive.
It's called U3 and, if you buy a U3 flash drive, there are many programs that you can already run directly from it. You'll find a comprehensive list of them here.
There are 100s of them, like Firefox, Skype, OpenOffice, antivirus programs but nothing from Microsoft.

There are programs that can synchronise with Exchange servers but which are not, I fear, an acceptable substitute for Outlook.

Microsoft has entered into an agreement with Sandisk whereby Sandisk will develop a new enhanced U3 standard while Microsoft will develop Office for Flash Drives which will use this new standard.
We may see the fruits of this agreement sometime in 2008, after which time the answer to the question posed repeatedly by this webpage will then, hopefully, be Yes!

What's the Difference between a U3 Flash Drive and a Normal Flash Drive?

Not much.
The drive occupies 2 drive letters, one of which pretends to be a CD drive so that, even if "auto-play" has been turned off for flash drives, the CD auto-play function will still the run the U3 Launchpad program when you insert the drive.
Launchpad is a menu which shows all the programs installed on a U3 flash drive.
Here's what it looks like:-

Launchpad - the menu that launches when a U3 flash drive is inserted  

Quick Facts about U3 Flash Drives

Programs running from a U3 flash drive do use hard disk space on the host PC but they must "clean up" before exiting and, if you don't eject the drive in an orderly fashion, there's likely to be some debris left behind.

You can get a Launchpad uninstaller if you try a U3 drive, don't like it and just want it to behave as a regular flash drive. There's also a re-installer if you change your mind again.

Launchpad only works with Windows 2000 Service Pack 4 and later Microsoft operating systems. To Linux and Mac OS they appear as a regular flash drive.

Software can be downloaded and installed onto a U3 drive without needing
administrator-level rights to the host PC.

While U3 Flash Drives, with their ability to store both data, applications and configuration settings, may be of use to some people, it doesn't seem to be quite there yet as an elegant, universal solution to computing on the move.
No wonder Microsoft are waiting for the next generation before giving us Outlook-on-a-stick.

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