By default, Windows XP will not allow you to use anything but the FAT and FAT32 file systems to format your USB drives. With a little fiddling you can also enable the NTFS file system on your removable devices though. As for whether you would want to, there are pros and cons.
On the positive side, enabling NTFS allows you to encrypt your documents with Windows XP’s built in file encryption (though you should only do this in a Windows 2000 or 2003 domain network). It also allows the use of file compression to stretch the capacity of your disk. You can also use NTFS to allow and deny permissions for individual files and folders within XP, something you can’t do with FAT file systems. You can also set disk quotas. In short, enabling NTFS on flash drives might have several benefits for IT departments that use or issue these devices as standard.
One potential negative of using NTFS on your flash drive is the additional data writes that are necessary. NTFS is a journaling file system, which means that disk transactions are logged separately on the disk as they occur. This adds up to a considerable amount of extra disk activity, which could mean wearing out your USB drive faster in the long run. As the life span of intensively used flash memory is still measured in years, this is unlikely to be much of an issue. Also, Windows 98/ME systems, and most Linux systems cannot read NTFS partitions.
As we mentioned, using the EFS file encryption is not really recommended unless your home or office uses a Windows domain with centralized user accounts. The reason for this is that the encryption depends on the user account to unlock it. Even if your user account on your other computer has the same name, it has a different ID as far as the encryption is concerned.
The upshot of this is that you will not be able to open your documents when you get home, as your ‘home’ user account does not possess the right credentials. While it is possible to get around this with ‘recovery agent’ certificates, the procedure is time-consuming and complicated. You’d be better off using a third-party program to encrypt your files, like the one we detail below.
To enable NTFS on your drive, right click ‘my computer’ and select ‘manage’ then open ‘device manager.’ Find your USB drive under the ‘disk drives’ heading. It should be listed as ‘generic storage device USB device’ or something similar.
Right click it and select ‘properties’ then go to the ‘policies’ tab. Select the ‘optimize for performance’ option. Click ‘ok.’
Now open ‘my computer,’ right click on the removable drive and select ‘format.’ You will have the option to format to NTFS in the ‘file system’ dropdown box.