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USB flash drives, also known as "pen drives" or "thumb drives," can store up to 4 GB of data on a small, solid-state device. They've quickly become a replacement for floppy disks and, in some cases, recordable CDs. Plug a USB drive into a USB port, and you can copy files to or from the drive at high speed.

There is a down side: Flash drives only have a finite amount of space and they are still somewhat costly. If you use flash drives to take lots of different kinds of data with you, you're often stuck copying one set of data out and another set of data in by hand.

Now you don't have to do that, thanks to the USB Flash Drive Manager (.NET Framework 1.1 required), a free Microsoft-authored utility for backing up the contents of USB flash drives to or from your computer.

Take advantage of the free utility for documents, music playlists (if you have a flash-based MP3 player that doubles as a USB drive) or anything else of the sort. The program works by allowing you to back up the contents of specific USB drives to "libraries" (stored in your My Documents folder), which can be explored like regular folders. To copy out one library and copy another back in, simply point and click.

In addition, use the Flash Drive Manager to synchronize movements of files from one computer to another. Install it on a desktop and a laptop, and they can copy sets of files to and from a USB drive used to shuttle information back and forth.

The program also supports adding runtimes to a flash drive (about 22 MB of files) so that Windows systems that do not support AutoRun can automatically mount the drive when it's plugged in. (Most people will never need this option, so feel free to disable it immediately.)

Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter. Check it out for the latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators -- and please share your thoughts as well!

This was first published in May 2005

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