Making USB Flash Drives Smart

Have you ever thought what it would be like to sit down in front of any computer, boot it up and have your favorite applications and files immediately at your fingertips? The reality of this dream up to this point has been mostly unrealized ? you can perhaps piecemeal using someone else?s Microsoft Office and your Excel and Word files, for example, but that flies in the face of true on-the-go personalization.

Enter U3. A company formed by USB flash drive makers M-Systems and SanDisk. The two companies, independent minded U3 and a vast consortium of other USB flash drive companies and software developers are betting that consumers will be interested in turning a standard flash drive into a ?personal workspace?. They gathered recently in San Jose, California for a first ever developer?s summit to discuss their ideas and learn from U3 the ins and outs of developing for this new hardware platform.

In the old model of USB flash drives, they were mainly used as simple storage devices by which we could backup files via drag and drop (a few more sophisticated ways exist as well) and carry them between computers as needed. USB flash drives look to sell in the tens of millions in 2005, according to analysts. U3?s idea to get into this growing market: what if we could build upon the interest consumers have in this type of device and create a ?USB smart drive? that people could use to launch applications on a PC wherever they go?

USB flash drives designed to U3 specifications, according to the company?s press kit, should not only be able to carry data, but also have a person?s favorite applications, personal preferences, passwords and settings stored on them. Software vendors accomplish this by designing special versions of their programs which are installed directly on the flash drive. When a person plugs the drive into a USB port on a Windows 2000 or Windows XP machine, the programs can be launched directly onto that computer through a user-friendly interface called the U3 Launchpad. System files are only loaded when the applications are run and there is no mess left behind when the drive is removed.

U3 envisions multiple scenarios under which consumers might get use out of USB smart drives. They see a busy professional taking his email, personal settings, bookmarks and favorites, folders and documents, with him between work and home offices without needing a laptop. Another scenario depicts consumers using their favorite photo viewing and editing software at their own or someone else?s computer since the program would always be loaded on the flash drive.

One particular interesting scenario U3 also envisioned was how family members equipped with U3 smart drives might share a home computer. Each member would use their own drive to ensure a more personal experience with their favorite programs, data, settings and bookmarks. This would keep the computer less cluttered and eliminate the need for multiple logins.

Among the many software developers which have signed on to create special U3 compatible applications, a sampling includes:

  • ICQ: instant messaging application
  • Powerhouse Technologies: personal information management application
  • Preclick: photo management application
  • Skype: VOIP telephony application
  • Trend Micro: antivirus and security application
  • Ulead Systems: digital image to DVD slideshows, digital video to DVD video and data backup applications
  • Zone Labs: antivirus and security application
  • BelnSync: remote access application
  • Mnemonic Security: data encryption application
  • Metapass: password management application
  • Poco Systems: email application

USB flash drive makers which have signed on the U3 platform include SanDisk, Kingston, Memorex and Verbatim here in the United States. In Europe, the list includes Clever-Stuff disgo, Dexxon Data Media, Data Storage Advisors AG and Verbatim.

U3 expects the first USB smart drives to be in retail store shelves this fall.

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