Ending Soon! Save 33% on All Access

USB Drives That Pack a Punch Keep all your essential data in the palm of your hand with today's breed of flash sticks and teeny, tiny hard drives.

By Mike Hogan

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I don't care what anybody says--I'm not thatdemanding. I just want what I want, where I want it, the way I wantit. C'mon, don't you?

For example, wouldn't you like to have all your files andfavorite programs with you all the time so you could work anywhere?That's been a near-universal ambition of computer users sincePCs were born. (Last millennium, I paid $1,795 to achieve it.Unfortunately, my DOS-based Osborne portable weighed 25 pounds andheld only 91KB of data per floppy--not exactly the ultimatework-anywhere solution.)

Over the years, we've tried lighter portables,higher-capacity media, cable transfers, remote-control programs andwebsites. They get the job done, yet we can still forget oraccidentally overwrite files when moving between desktops. But aconsortium of flash storage and software companies has come up withan approach that might finally make moving your workspace a realno-brainer.

U3 is a Windows software layer/environment that turnstiny-but-spacious USB flash sticks into "smart" drivescapable of holding programs and data. Instead of hauling a portablearound or having to think when syncing, you store all yourmost-used files and programs on one of these key chain hangers-on.That includes the latest versions of macros, bookmarks, e-mail andother changing elements of your desktop.

"You don't need to take a computer with you becausethere are computers with USB ports everywhere you go now,"reasons Ed Cuellar, director of marketing for SanDisk.

His company and fellow flash manufacturer M-Systems put the U3Alliance together 18 months ago. In October, U3 Alliance membersbegan shipping smart versions of their 256MB to 2GB flash drives(see "Stick of the Litter" on page 70). So far, 512MBdrives sell best--primarily because most are under $50, explainsCuellar.

Expect 1GB versions to take over that price point early nextyear, says Allen Gharapetian, vice president of marketing atMemorex. At the same time, you'll also find U3 versions ofexternal hard drives using those teeny, tiny platters. In additionto its U3 flash drives, Memorex will launch a U3 version of itsMega TravelDrive next quarter, a 4GB hard drive the size of a thickmatch-book. Says Gharapetian, "We plan to convert everythingwe can to U3."

Why Not DIY?
I know what you're thinking: Why not just copy your PC programsto a USB flash or hard drive?

Because it's illegal. Adobe, Microsoft and other members ofthe Business Software Alliance get medieval on any business theyfind without a separate license for every program on disk.

The U3 environment puts you on the right side of licensing anddigital rights agreements, and many smart drives are alreadypopulated with U3-compliant programs like Mozilla Firefox andThunderbird, Skype and Trillian communications programs, or filemanagers like PowerHouse Technologies' Migo . This tiny utilityeasily synchronizes your workspace between a smart drive and a hostPC, a popular theme among U3 programs. For example, BeInSync Pro willsynchronize several PCs over the internet, and for backup, Kadena Systems'PocketCache+ takes a snapshot of a drive's contents with amouse click.

U3 is still just getting off the ground, though, and noticeablyabsent from its program directory is Microsoft. Several programslike ImagineLAN's P.I. Protector try to fill that vacuum by making iteasy to use Microsoft Outlook components with U3 drives, since anyWindows application on a PC host is able to access files on a smartdrive.

The really important piece on all U3 drives is a Windows StartMenu-like environment called Launchpad. It's very slick andvery quick. Launchpad requires only 6MB of space, and not one morebrain synapse than Windows does. It lets you use the resources of ahost PC without changing them; when you unplug your smart drive,you take all traces of yourself--settings, cookies, bookmarks--withyou.

Speaking of Security
That characteristic suggests smart drives might also be a solutionto our growing security problems--which mobility only complicates.Portables get lost and stolen at an alarming rate, and we'refast approaching the day when software-only security solutionswon't be enough, even for office desktops.

Smart drives let you maintain your own super-secure space insidewhatever PC or network you join. They are just the kind of hardwaretokens increasingly required for access to banks, networks andother protected systems. It's not U3-compatible, but FingerGear's BioComputer-on-a-Stick, with its fingerprint scanner and AES dataencryption, might be the biometric role model of the future.

Smart drives may not be the ultimate answer, but they get uscloser to it than we've ever been. They're cheap, easy touse, and make great stocking stuffers, too.

Stick of the Litter
All smart drives include the U3 Launchpad; some include additionalprograms. Drives and software are found on the U3 website.

Mike Hogan is Entrepreneur'stechnology editor.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Science & Technology

3 Major Mistakes Companies Are Making With AI That Is Limiting Their ROI

With so many competing narratives around the future of AI, it's no wonder companies are misaligned on the best approach for integrating it into their organizations.


How a $10,000 Investment in AI Transformed My Career and Business Strategy

A bold $10,000 investment in AI and machine learning education fundamentally transformed my career and business strategy. Here's how adaption in the ever-evolving realm of AI — with the right investment in education, personal growth and business innovation — can transform your business.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.

Starting a Business

How to Find the Right Programmers: A Brief Guideline for Startup Founders

For startup founders under a plethora of challenges like timing, investors and changing market demand, it is extremely hard to hire programmers who can deliver.

Business News

He Picked Up a Lucky Penny In a Parking Lot. Moments Later, He Won $1 Million in the Lottery.

Tim Clougherty was in for a surprise when he scratched off his $10,000-a-month winning lottery ticket.

Business News

A University Awarded a Student $10,000 for His AI Tool — Then Suspended Him for Using It, According to a New Lawsuit

Emory University awarded the AI study aid the $10,000 grand prize in an entrepreneurial pitch competition last year.