We all have private information, but not all of us have a private PC. If you can't keep your computer under lock and key, but would rather not let office coworkers wander through customer records or family members peruse your home office financial files, Kanguru Solutions has a clever solution: The $50 Kanguru Wizard looks like, and is, one of those handy USB flash-memory drives or floppy-disk replacements. But its included software carves out part of your PC's hard disk into one or more new drives as many as eight, totaling as much as 16GB of storage for you alone. When you unplug the Wizard, your drives disappear.
In a particularly nifty feature, you can not only store documents but install and run software applications on a "virtual drive" (actually one big, encrypted file in a hidden directory on your C: drive or other hard disk). Pull the pack-of-gum-sized gadget from the USB port, and the programs vanish from Windows' Start menu even from Control Panel's Add/Remove Programs list. Not only can't your kids knock your Tetris high scores off the board, they won't even know the game's on the PC.
The Kanguru Wizard has a few rough edges, and at heart it isn't really so much a hardware device as a software utility that checks for the presence of the USB drive (and can work without it, as we'll explain in a second). As such, it strikes us as a little pricey, but an ingenious option for security-conscious PC sharers.
The Wizard comes with a mini-CD of software and help-file documentation for the whole Kanguru product line its own software is duplicated in a folder on the flash drive itself and a USB extension cable for cases where plugging the device directly into a port is inconvenient. Happily, its cap has a pen-like clip for your shirt pocket; unhappily, the cap doesn't fit onto the device's south end while in use, increasing the odds you'll lose it.
Like all USB flash drives, the Wizard works with no special software drivers in Windows Me, 2000, and XP, requiring a driver for Windows 98; Win XP users can plug and unplug it whenever its LED access light isn't flashing, though other versions are happier if you click the system-tray "Unplug or Eject Hardware" icon before removal.
The actual Kanguru Wizard software installs two utility programs. The first creates virtual disks, prompting you to specify the private drive's location and size, from 1MB to 2GB (actually 2,000MB, so purists will note the maximum total of eight drives is 15.6GB instead of 16GB), and assign or accept a suggested volume name and drive letter such as M: or N:.
One pull-down menu offers a cryptic choice of creation methods, "Mixed" or "Advanced," the sum total of the help file's explanation on this point being, "The latter is slightly more complicated, and takes more time." We didn't notice any difference in creating or using drives.
Oops, Forgot My Key
After a few seconds to format the private drive during which you're warned not to remove the Wizard it's ready to use, though Windows Explorer and other programs take a few seconds to refresh or recognize the new drive letter (which appears as a hard-disk icon with a key); we noticed that both our Win XP and Win 2000 desktops noisily checked the empty floppy drive several times whenever we plugged or unplugged the gizmo.
The new secure storage worked without a hitch, both for stashing documents or data files and for installing several applications all of which, as promised, became invisible when we moved the Wizard from USB port to pocket.
Obvious question: What if you misplace the gadget, or leave it at home when you want to access a private drive at the office? Kanguru has thought of that: Part of the setup process involves entering a 4- to 10-character emergency password and up to 60-character hint or reminder of same. To access a private drive without the Wizard, you can launch the second software utility and enter the password to mount the drive. The password works up to 20 times the count reset to zero as soon as you find the wayward Wizard and plug it into the PC once more after which the drive becomes read-only.
The utility also lets you manage your private drive or drives, mounting or unmounting drive letters if you're paranoid enough to have created more than eight (the maximum number active at once); deleting virtual drives you're finished with; or taking advantage of backup and restore functions.
You can also reassign drive letters, with the obvious warning that it'll mess up any software installations you might have performed. And we were impressed that the software let us resize a drive from 1GB to 512MB, shrinking it to free up more normal (public) space, without losing the couple of hundred megabytes of files we'd put there.
It Would Be Nice To Have Just One Device
The Wizard's less-than-perfect points start with a poor translation into English. There are numerous typos in the software screens, and the help file/manual not only skimps on explaining several functions but is full of lines like, "Simply unplug the MicroDrive, and your precious information would never have to stand the fear of getting stolen ... When to insert MicroDrive [These Data all restore] not bear any influence ... When magic wand is get, Please don't add any Virtual Disk, then Shown below."
Since anyone who's tried one knows how indispensable a USB flash module soon becomes, it'd also be more useful if the Wizard had more storage capacity of its own, so you wouldn't need to carry a second keychain drive. The reason we hesitate at its $50 sticker is that it comes with only 16MB of memory (11.3MB free) and transfers data at the slower USB 1.1 speed. Last week we bought a 128MB USB 2.0 flash drive for $40.
But while almost all USB drives (including Kanguru's own USB 2.0 models) come with software to encrypt or password-protect files, we like the idea of going the extra mile and making whole drives (OK, drive letters) and applications invisible to casual inspection (OK, as long as the inspectors don't notice the Wizard utility in the Programs menu). If you're seeking a little stealth computing, check it out.
Adapted from HardwareCentral.com.