MojoPac: Making Your Personal PC Portable

By Joseph Moran | Posted November 06, 2006

When is a Windows PC not really a Windows PC? When it's MojoPac from RingCube Technologies, Inc. With MojoPac and a USB-based storage device, you can carry both data and applications around with you and access them on any Windows XP system, without using the "host" system's hard drive or leaving any user information behind. Perhaps the best way to describe MojoPac is as an "external user profile" that's portable and exists outside the confines of a specific computer.

Features and Requirements
The MojoPac software will run only under Windows XP, and it should work with any USB-based storage device that can appear as a drive letter to the operating system. The most obvious candidates for MojoPac installation are portable hard drives or flash memory drives, but you can install it on an iPod or other music player or even on a mobile phone that has sufficient storage.

What is exactly sufficient storage, you ask? Well, that largely depends on how many applications and how much data you want your MojoPac to contain. The minimum requirement is a 512MB Flash drive, but unless you'll only need basic tasks like browsing or instant messaging, you'll be better off using a device with a storage capacity measured in gigabytes. For example, if you have a 1GB Outlook .PST file, you need to consider that (as well as the amount of space consumed by Microsoft Outlook or Office) when choosing a storage device for use with MojoPac. (In testing, we used MojoPac with an ultra-portable 4 GB Imation Microdrive.)

Setup
After copying the MojoPac executable to your storage device and running it, the first step is to create a user account and password for device access. This password protection is the extent of the security built into MojoPac, so if privacy is a major concern, the company recommends using a storage device with built-in encryption (or biometric authentication) or using a third-party utility to safeguard personal data.

The next step is to specify which data and settings you want to copy over from the Host PC. You can include the contents of the My Documents folder (or any of its various sub-folders — Pictures, Music, Video, etc.) and specify additional folders or individual files to copy. (You can also migrate bookmarks, history, and settings for both Internet Explorer and Firefox.) You're helpfully shown how much of your device's capacity will be used as you select and deselect data.

The MojoPac transfer process only copies data — not applications. Therefore, you'll need to have your application installation files handy so that once you log in to your device you can install needed software into the MojoPac environment. Although MojoPac will let you use removable media drives (e.g. Flash memory or optical) on the host PC, you can't access any of the system's hard drives (including those connected via USB). As a result, any application you have that's not on CD/DVD must be copied to the MojoPac device via Windows Explorer. (If you look at the contents of your MojoPac storage device after installing the software, you'll see a standard Windows folder structure — Program Files, Documents and Settings, etc.)

Using MojoPac
If the host system is configured for AutoPlay, simply inserting your MojoPac device will bring up the login screen, otherwise you can launch start.exe on the device. After you log in, you're presented with what is essentially an independent Windows XP environment that acts and looks just like conventional Windows (except that the MojoPac device becomes your C drive).

Before you can do much with MojoPac, you need to install your apps. In theory, any program that runs on Windows should also run on MojoPac, but there may be some that get tripped up by the MojoPac environment. RingCube's MojoPac Web site offers a list of applications that have been specifically tested with the software, and while the list isn't huge, it does cover the most popular applications in many categories.

We were able to use a host of applications successfully, including Mozilla Firefox, Mozilla Thunderbird, OpenOffice, Trillian (IM), Skype, and Copernic Desktop Search. We also found that the data and settings we had specified for transfer to MojoPac were in fact replicated without any problems. The only hitch we encountered was that although Firefox settings and even browser extensions present on the test PC were preserved intact, we did have to re-install plug-ins.

MojoPac's Windows environment runs full screen and can't be made to run in a window, but we like the fact that MojoPac can make use of whatever display hardware the host system happens to have. (So for example, when we ran it on a system with two monitors, both of them were usable.) The MojoPac environment uses a product logo as desktop wallpaper, and though you can replace it with your own, leaving the default wallpaper in place serves as a visual cue to help you remember whether you're using Windows on MojoPac or on the host system.

The MojoPac environment is designed to have a high degree of independence from the host PC, but it's not entirely autonomous. For example, since Internet access is provided via the host's network subsystem, when an application within MojoPac attempts to go out to the Net the app may be flagged by a firewall running on the host (this generally won't occur if the application in question is also installed on the host, however).

Fortunately you'll know when this kind of thing happens, because a tray icon within MojoPac's Windows desktop will notify you when a window pops up on the host that may require input (a firewall alert dialog is a good example). If you need to switch back to the host PC while running MojoPac, you can easily do that by clicking a button provided on a toolbar that resides on top of the desktop.

In spite of MojoPac's dependence on the system it's running on for computing resources, it doesn't use the host to store files or cache any user data. After spending some time browsing and creating/editing files on the MojoPac, we couldn't find any trace of residual data on the host's hard drive.

Performance and Security

External storage devices are almost always significantly slower than internal drives, so a MojoPac's Windows environment won't perform with the same alacrity as native Windows running directly off the PC. Still, it was very usable and we didn't notice any significant performance issues while using it with the previously mentioned general-purpose applications. That said, the faster your storage device, the better your performance within MojoPac should be.

Whatever device you choose, you can speed MojoPac up somewhat by using the Windows XP settings to optimize the removable storage device for performance (which enables write caching) rather than for safe removal. The catch is that this requires you to use the Windows safe hardware removal tray icon before ejecting your device, lest you risk data corruption or loss. We inadvertently did this a few times and luckily all was well after running a chkdsk on the device, which MojoPac prompts you to do when necessary.

As mentioned above, the MojoPac environment can be password protected, which should prevent an unauthorized user from logging into your device. This password feature doesn't afford any real security though, since all the files on the MojoPac device are stored unencrypted. In other words, you can traverse the file structure and open files on the device without any obstacles, whether you're logged in or not. Therefore, it bears repeating: If you plan to carry data that's even remotely sensitive, an encrypting device or utility is a must (though this will likely put a crimp in the convenience factor.)

Adapted from winplanet.com.

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