Writer On a Stick

I’ve had one of those thumb drives, USB sticks, flash drives, memory dongles to plug into my computer for awhile now.  More and more I’ve discovered how convenient they are.

They are used quite a bit at my work to move Powerpoint presentations around, save drafts of letters to work on elsewhere, bring material to meetings, etc.

I can take work home with me, if I have to, or transfer notes that came to mind in an idle moment in the midst of the work day or photos taken on the job that I like.

But instead of all that transferring, why not put the stick in the USB port and run programs off it.  Jot down notes or try some freewriting wherever I am… at work (break times or after hours, of course), travelling, internet cafe, friend’s house, wherever.  There are a lot of programs out there now that work well off the stick.  A larger USB drive is better of course, and the prices continue to drop.  The one I’m using is 512 megs.

Programs on the USB stick have to be able to function independently of your computer… no writing to files in off-stick directories, no dependence on registry entries, and of course be small enough to fit comfortably on the USB drive.

Here’s a few I’ve been playing with to see how they work…  There are probably lots of others that can do much the same thing. (These are all free, by the way.)


I’ve been playing around with a few interesting notebook applications. One is ShirusuPad, very streamlined and almost not there.  You can import and export notes from it, take text from the clipboard, and set up reminders for meetings and appointments.

Another is Yadabyte Notes: ‘a stuff management system’.  You can keep a perpetual note file in html that you just add to, and search for items with keywords as you will.  The file can be opened in any browser or word processor.  It even includes a spell checker.

If you want to get a little more complicated with a notebook/database concept, there’s NeoMem.  It has an interface similar to Windows Explorer, but instead of looking for files on a hard disk, you’re looking for objects in a file. You can also link between objects.

Speaking of linking, the ultimate sort of hypertext application is that Web concept, the wiki.  One that’s useful for personal use and works on a stick is Wikidpad.  The point of it is that you can crosslink everything.  Here’s some good introductory information on how to use Wikidpad.  (The help file has an entry where it shows how to install this program on a USB drive.)


Okay, we’ve got enough notes already.  Maybe we would actually like to do some writing.

A word processor expressly for USB drives is AbiWord. It’s very similar to MS Word.

Another is Tomahawk PDF+, which allows documents to be produced in a number of formats including rich text (rtf), exported as html, or converted to PDF.  You can even e-mail direct from the program screen.

The novel writing word processor yWriter will work fine on a thumb drive. (For some discussion on this interesting freeware program see here and here.)

Dictionary and Thesaurus

The Sage is a comprehensive combined dictionary and thesaurus with a lot of features and it’s quite at home on a memory stick. All displayed words are clickable, initiating a new look-up; it allows wildcard and anagram search; and it has a tabbed interface.

USB Stick Resources

Here are a few places where you can hunt down your own USB applications:




(One interesting note for those working with digital photos is that you can get a portable version of the GIMP image editor, the open source image editor similar to Photoshop.)


Explore posts in the same categories: Internet, Writing

7 Comments on “Writer On a Stick”

  1. Eliza D Says:

    Hi, got your link via WordPress’s tag surfer and just wanted to say thank you for the useful links and tips on USB writing progs.

  2. fencer Says:

    Hi Eliza,

    Thanks… you’re welcome!

  3. qazse Says:

    fencer, being such a techneanderthal, most of this post went over my head. However, it seems well researched referenced and linked as usual. That much I could tell. By the way, nice header.

  4. bloglily Says:

    yes, nice header! (And that is one very fine avatar.)

    One thing that really got my attention was your reference to the gimp photo editor. That’s something I’m going to check out. My own photo software is just apple’s iphoto and it doesn’t do much. I’d like to find something a bit more sophisticated, and naturally I do not want to pay for it.

  5. fencer Says:

    Hi qasze,

    Unfortunately, I really like chasing around after new gadgets and software, and playing around with them to the detriment of more productive work.

    I hope you notice in that header the teeny tiny little kayaker in the lower left…

    That is a recent shot from a sunset in White Rock, BC, south of Vancouver, which is a popular day trip destination for the Lower Mainland. One of those places with a commercial strip along the water with lots of little shops and restaurants, beaches, walkway, a big pier out into the ocean, and a big white rock.

    Hi Lily,

    I thought you were supposed to be resting… Hope all went well.

    You know, I wish my avatar could be shown larger so people could properly appreciate its poise and insouciance!

    The portable GIMP is only Windows, but the big main program has a Mac version, as you may have already found out. Apparently it’s quite powerful as an image editor, but the flip side is that it takes some effort to get to grips with it.


  6. killaken2000 Says:

    thanks for the links. I’ve been looking for a page like this.

  7. fencer Says:

    You’re welcome!


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