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U2 can get on
the U3 Stick!
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
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.