One of the biggest headaches about Microsoft's new Vista OS is that the several different versions (among them: Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, Ultimate, and Enterprise) have such variable features. For example, the BitLocker Drive Encryption feature that's so perfect for protecting sensitive files on your work PC (or, indeed, all of your data and software) doesn't come with the Business Edition that many companies will use. But even if you can't use BitLocker on your new Vista system (or, indeed, your it-aint-broke-so-don’t-fix-it XP system), there are tricks that enable you to take advantage of some of its coolest features.
My favorite of these turns a specific USB device into a key that must be plugged in to allow your OS to boot up. (Hackszine has the intricate details.) Think of it like a car key for your computer, and a thumb drive is certainly portable enough to be carried in much the same way. (As it happens, a concept Mazda already needs a USB drive to start, as you can see in this CNET video.) There are a few software downloads that allow you to do this for your current system, with our without the proper Vista upgrade. The one that has gotten the best reviews is Double Password, which creates an encrypted file on a flash drive of your choosing. (You can download it here for $30.) Just remember to make a spare key—You don’t want to get locked out!