Want to take your computer with you, but don’t want to carry a laptop? Laptops are getting faster and smaller, but they are not losing any weight. The average “portable” size seems to be about five pounds. That’s hefty slung over your shoulder, and a laptop is still bulky. What if you don’t want to haul one along?

You could just bring your files with you on a flash drive, but if you do that, you risk leaving behind footprints and information on whatever computer you use. You also risk picking up whatever viruses the computer may have. That is not an attractive scenario, especially for attorneys with confidential information.

Fortunately, there is a really good alternative. Thanks to the flexibility of Linux and Qemu virtualization software, you can run your very own virtual computer inside any Windows or Linux computer! That’s right, run Linux within Windows! And it’s a piece of cake.

Best of all, you leave no trace on the host computer, and you don’t risk catching anything nasty from it, either.

Both Damn Small Linux (50MB) and Puppy Linux (~80MB) are very small Linux distros. Small enough to fit on a flash drive, CD, or any portable USB drive. They are not as pretty as using Windows or a full Linux distro, but they are a full operating system with a full suite of applications to manage and edit your documents, check e-mail, browse the web, and whatever else you need to do.

If you want to use Damn Small Linux (DSL), look around. I am going to briefly talk about Puppy Linux, because it is a more full-featured distro with greater flexibility. First, download the “QEMU-Puppy” folder from here. Unpack the compressed file you downloaded, and copy the files onto the drive you want to use. On any Windows computer, plug in the drive, find the file called “puppy.exe” and click on it. That’s it! Watch Puppy Linux boot up in a virtual machine, and then you are using a safe computer within the host computer.

It will take some playing to figure out how to configure everything just the way you want. You can install a number of other software packages. If you prefer OpenOffice.org to AbiWord, for example, you can install OOo. Play around!

This is a great trick for traveling, since you don’t have to worry about using polluted internet cafe computers. However, you should still encrypt your sensitive files in case you lose your drive.