Ease of using an external hard drive
I've used external hard drives for a while, and they're a great way to add extra storage without 'opening the box'. I originally bought my enclosure because it contained an HDD that was cheaper (!) in the enclosure than it was by itself. Since then, the price of drives have come way down, but having one in an external enclosure sure makes things easy.
About your first question: It really is as simple as plugging in the external power supply, powering up the drive, then the USB cable into an available port. This can be done when the machine is already booted up and running, but you lose some functions. I've noticed that if I 'hot-swap' the drive (PC already running), I can't 'cut' a file from the drive, only copy. Also, your disk utilities will be disabled, like defragmenting and such. If you plan on doing any maintainence to your external hard drive, make sure it is plugged in and powered up before you boot your machine.
As to your second question: A virus can and will most likely spread to ALL drives on your machine, unless you have a very sophisticated program that strictly limits access to that drive. Your best bet is to use a highly recommended anti-virus program, as well as a firewall that is not set to the bare minimums. Your anti-virus must be updated DAILY to make sure that you're getting the best protection. Also, as you've read on other posts, having more than one program is a great idea, as one program may not have all the latest virus definitions. It's like having a second and third opinion.
The answer to your third question is 'yes'. This may be the #2 reason why external hard drives are so popular (#1 being ease of installation). You can transfer any number of files from one PC to the next, from laptop to PC, and just about any imagineable scenario, except from Mac to PC, or PC to Mac. If you find that you are working on computers with different operating systems (OS), you're going to need some special software and a little expertise.
Just remember, you can 'hot-swap' your external drive, but you will lose some functionality. To have complete access to the drive, make sure it is powered up and plugged in before you boot.
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