Some of you are running into unnecessary software included with many USB flash drives. The U3 Launchpad probably seemed like a good idea but I’m not aware of anyone who uses it, and I know a lot of people who find it irritating.

Sandisk Cruzer - U3 The U3 software is included with many popular models of USB thumb drive, including the SanDisk Cruzer series, some Kingston models, and a host of others. It is occasionally advertised as a feature (the “Kingston U3 DataTraveler”); other times it turns up unannounced.

When a USB drive with U3 is plugged in, the software autoplays and adds an icon by the clock to start the U3 Launchpad, which theoretically allows programs to be run from the USB drive without making any permanent changes to the computer. A U3 device shows up twice in the computer even if the U3 software is not run, identified once as a USB drive and separately as a CD drive for reasons that must make sense to somebody smarter than me.

Theoretically there are some advantages to the U3 features – data can be secured in interesting ways, programs can be run that already know all your favorite settings, and you can use your favorite software without the bother of installing it on strange computers.

Except you can’t. Programs won’t run on U3 devices unless they’ve been specially written for that purpose, and the selection is none too compelling. A special version of Firefox will run and there’s a U3 version of Roboform, one of the most popular programs for keeping track of passwords and the content of web forms. Actually, there’s a good case to be made for carrying the Roboform information with you in a secure way that’s easy to access, so Roboform users might want to consider getting the U3 system to work. There’s nothing compelling for the rest of us.

There are a handful of reports of problems. Well, more than a handful.

  • The extra drive letter is annoying!
  • The platform is proprietary, the programs designed for it cost too much, and it hasn’t generated enough interest to attract developers.
  • Some computers lock up, freeze, or crash to a blue screen (!) when the U3 software is run. The U3 support page helpfully lists six or eight programs you might want to uninstall if your computer explodes when you run U3.
  • If you don’t have local administrator privileges on the computer, you’ll have nothing but trouble and might not be able to properly close programs before pulling out the drive.
  • Many people report that the U3 software makes the drive slower, affecting the data transfer speeds. The company denies it and claims to feel just terrible that people are so unfair.

There are lots more criticisms listed here.

The U3 software (and the extra partition on the USB drive) are almost impossible to delete manually. If you just want a USB drive without any of this stuff in your way, you’ll have to use the uninstallation tool from U3 (or this specialized removal tool for Sandisk drives.)

Be careful – you’ll lose any data on the USB drive when the U3 software is uninstalled and there’s no way to reinstall the U3 software later.

You know what? I don’t think you’ll miss it.