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U2 can get on the U3 Stick!
By Shepard Gorman

 By now, USB memory sticks are ubiquitous, but the idea of storing not just data but whole programs and an operating system on that same stick is a fairly new idea.  The technology is called U3. While there are multiple manufacturers for these USB “thumbdrives”, not all of these flash memory devices run as quickly or as well. Since only one manufacturer permits you to add an operating system to a empty thumbdrive, choosing the right manufacturer is important, One of the most reliable brand names is, and has been for some time, Kensington Technology.  One of their newest devices, the U3 Data Traveler holds 2GB of memory including the operating system and multiple programs.

The advantages of this system for the traveling academic are many. First, it is really tiny, weighing about 1 ounce (Therefore getting lost in a shirt pocket?)  It can plug into virtually any recent computer system.

Second, it has great capacity since it is likely that a whole semester’s worth of lectures can be loaded onto a single DataTraveler. Third, there is virtually no installation procedure needed for this hardware.  It’s a real “no-brainer”. Simply plug it into a USB port, and Windows XP will recognize the your Smart Drive. You will see as two devices with two drive letters that pop-up near the toolbar like the illustration below:

Notice that the first drive letter, containing the operating system, is protected and will appear to be a CD drive, while the second will be the active data partition.  A scant few seconds after the drive is inserted, the CD drive partition will automatically start an application called Launch Pad.  That is the “My Computer”-like starting point for U3 programs.  From that panel, you can launch applications that are stored entirely on the Smart Drive, add new programs to the drive or simply drag and drop files to the data partition as you would with an ordinary USB drive. 

 Fourth, familiarity is an obvious advantage. When you are walking into class with your lecture notes  lecture notes, digital images and programs in hand, having them appear in your own, familiar, consistent “desktop” is,  like the advertisement says, "priceless ".  The fifth, and last, advantage is not obvious. With both programs and data on this one piece of hardware, you are leaving no real trace of your work behind. How kind to our colleagues and IT people to leave systems with virtually no traces that it was ever there. 

 The  review copy of the Data Traveler had  only three applications on as it was packaged  They were a password manager, which will be quite useful for interacting  with many secure systems; a limited edition of the ACDSee photo management software that had all the basic tools for managing digital images with ease. Finally it had a digital reader that allowed access to several textbooks and magazines in a proprietary format. All of these programs have either time limitations before they cease to function or are somewhat limited in their capabilities. While this is disappointing, it is not entirely unexpected in a device that retails for less than $60 dollars. The unlocked or upgraded versions of the software are, of course, available for additional fees.

The good news is that adding new and useful programs is fast, easy and frequently free.  They can be added right from the Launch Pad. The capacity of this drive is sufficient to add a full-featured office suite that works with Microsoft files. Above you can see the Launchpad has Open Office icon while the figure below, has the interface familiar to all Microsoft Office users but belonging to OpenOffice. The U3 version of this suite probably has as many features as anyone needs.  Open Office’s price, like many other good programs out there on the Net is my favorite, zero!

Other currently available programs for this operating system are file viewers, media players, spreadsheets, web browsers and lots more.  For a list of applications that can be installed on U3 devices, you can search through Google or the search engine of your choice.  The list grows very rapidly. Some emulators for Palm and Windows CE PDA devices have recently appeared,  but their full functionality remains untested at press time. Sites that can are very useful include: home.yourbrainz.com, www.portableapps.com as well as the site for the U3 standard, www.u3.com.

This is not a device that replaces every computer, but it is one that utilizes virtually any system already in place to maximum advantage.  Just make sure that you find a good neck strap or storage container for the Smart Drive. Without that, you can be a co-discoverer of the amazing ability of these really small devices to develop critical event detection.  This occurs when they suddenly animate in order to hide from human contact at the very time they are mostly desperately sought.  While this can happen anytime, in most often seems to happen in moments between entering a lecture hall, and beginning any meaningful discourse. Although demonical intervention has been posited as an alternate explanation the author remains skeptical.


Last Update:06/26/2007


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