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The price of flash memory is so low that USB memory sticks have long since replaced CDs as the portable storage medium of choice. Thanks to rapidly increasing capacities, you can store the equivalent of multiple DVDs on a slim plastic stick attached to your keychain. In addition to an entire movie or music library, enterprising geeks have taken to storing entire computing environments on flash memory drives.

Free portable application launcher by LiberKey for Windows PC

LiberKey doesn't go quite so far as to run an entire operating system off your flash drive. Instead, it's a Windows package that includes a set of free portable applications - programs that don't require a hard disk install to operate - and an easy-to-use application launcher so you don't have to dig into directories to find the right executable file to run. Popular open source programs like Firefox are included, and the available applications run the gamut from media players to DVD burners to password managers.

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So far, LiberKey is just a nice shell on top of a bunch of freely available portable programs. But in addition to taking the hassle out of collecting and installing a suite of programs for your USB stick, LiberKey can also handle the tedious process of keeping your applications up to date-sign up for a free LiberKey account and you'll be able to update your applications automatically over the internet.

LiberKey comes in three flavours. All are free, and differ only in the range and number of programs available. Any one of the suites would make a great companion for a high-capacity flash drive.

Free Web search refinement add-on by Surf Canyon for Windows/Mac/Linux

Thanks to competitors like Yahoo and Microsoft's new Bing search engine, Google has more competition than ever. And search engines are definitely not built alike; , for example, invites you to search for a term and compare the blind results from the three sites. The differences in what each one brings up can be surprising. But no matter the service, there are always times when you might dig twenty or thirty pages into the results to find what you want.

Surf Canyon is an add-on for Firefox and Internet Explorer that takes advantage of your browsing history and extra user input to rapidly refine and narrow search results to your intended targets. The most obvious way that Surf Canyon affects your search experience is when you simply click on a search result-the add-on takes this as an example of the content you want to see, and will update the original search results with more sites like the one you just visited.

The add-on also offers recommended keywords based on the sites you visit, allowing you to further refine your search parameters. Surf Canyon's associated site, , also allows you to define sites for which you want to see more or fewer recommendations - great for when you want to weed out online stores when looking for product reviews, for example. Surf Canyon works on Google, Yahoo and Bing, so no matter your personal taste in search engines, refined search results are but an extension install away.

Encrypted text editor by Steganos for Windows PC

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Though there are many ways to keep track of tidbits of information you need to remember like account numbers, passwords, reminders and more, one of the most enduring is also one of the simplest: keeping a text file on your desktop where you write everything down. There is at least one major downside to text files, though: anyone can read one and copy it to a flash drive with just a few clicks of the mouse.

LockNote is a simple text editor that looks and feels very much like the Notepad application that comes with Windows. The difference is that LockNote stores your notes not as a text file, but as an encrypted file that requires a password to unlock. Using a fairly robust off-the-shelf encryption scheme to keep your files safe, LockNote ensures a reasonably high degree of security.

Another advantage to saving your notes in text files is they're extremely portable; you can use any computer to read and edit one, as well as a bewildering array of other devices. LockNote isn't quite as portable, but the software requires no installation, and every LockNote document file actually contains a copy of the program itself. You can take the files to any other Windows computer of modern vintage and be confident that it will allow you to view or edit your notes.

LockNote is a no-nonsense text editor that protects your data from prying eyes without fuss or spectacle. If you have sensitive text files lying around, converting them to LockNote files is an easy and relatively painless way to protect your privacy.

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