Lucas Mearian, Computerworld August 26, 06
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USB flash drives have evolved from their initial use as marketing tchotchkes to devices capable of addressing corporate needs ranging from mobile computing platforms to files stores with encryption and biometrics protection.
Microsoft's Vista also addresses what's perhaps the biggest concern of IT managers related to USB memory sticks — their potential to make it easy to walk away with proprietary corporate data. Vista adds new system policies for controlling USB flash drive access to computers. An IT manager could set a policy that would prevent a flash memory device from working with the USB ports on a computer, while still allowing the USB port to be used with other devices.
It's also easier to secure data stored on USB drives. SanDisk Corp. makes a biometric thumb drive, which stores up to 10 fingerprints and comes with a guarantee that no one besides the owner will be able to access any data on the drive. U3 flash drives come with programs such as Secret Zip, PCLock, and Data Synchronizer. USB flash drives today come in a variety of form factors -- from whacky to techy sleek -- and with the capability to store entire desktops for mobile computing, including security features such as encryption and biometrics. There are models that display available capacity and even water-proof drives for SCUBA divers to carry personal medical information.
Over the past two years, the thumb drive has outpaced by one and a half times other hardware devices in terms of storage capacity growth.
According to Gartner, more than 110 million USB thumb drives will ship worldwide this year, accounting for more than $3 billion in sales. By 2008, the number of flash drives shipped will have increased to 155 million a year. (These drives can be fun as well as practical. See The lighter side of USB thumb storage.)
And USB drive capacity is outpacing Moore's Law by doubling every year instead of every 18 months. Capacity of those drives is expected to leap from 16GB for most manufactures by the end of this year to 32GB in 2008.
Kanguru Solutions in Millis, Mass, has jumped ahead of the pack with its Kanguru Flash Drive Max, which comes in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB versions. The only catch is that capacity comes at a price: $800 for 16GB, $1,500 for 32GB and $2,800 for 64GB. (For more information, see Kanguru offers 64GB flash drive.)
Program and data portability
Some USB drives have recently developed the capability to run sophisticated applications, replicate e-mail and transfer desktop and laptop settings, directly from the USB stick in conjunction with any Windows PC.
Last fall, SanDisk and M-Systems Flash Disk Pioneers Ltd. launched a thumb drive with an intelligent U3 chip that lets you to store and launch applications, such as Skype for VoIP, Trillian for instant messaging and Mozilla's Firefox Internet browser. (In late July, SanDisk announced that it was buying its former competitor, M-Systems, for $1.6 billion).
The U3 chip, manufactured by U3 LLC. in Redwood City, Calif., comes in thumb drives with capacities up to 4GB that are able to store an entire Windows desktop. The drive can store user preferences, profiles and settings. You can plug the thumb drive into another person's PC or laptop and use it as if it were your own. Your e-mail program and browser, for example, can run from the USB stick on any Windows PC with all your messages and bookmarks and settings intact. It will appear as if the programs were installed on the local PC, when they're actually on the USB drive.
U3 technology comes with sophisticated security features, including conventional passwords and 128-bit AES encryption. It also allows users to choose from a series of photos, which authorize access if a user clicks them in the right order. Lexar's top of the line is fast and offers advanced power features.
Also last fall, Lexar began shipping its competing software, PowerToGo, which is available on all of its JumpDrive USB Flash drives. PowerToGo lets you store and access programs by installing and running many standard Windows applications directly from a USB flash drive. One feature Lexar says is popular, and unique to its PowerToGo-equipped JumpDrive, is that all cached data is stored on the USB drive, leaving no evidence of its use on the host computer. The use of U3 drives may leave behind empty folders on the host computer.
PowerToGo offers compatibility with more than 100 pre-approved applications, including Windows 2000 or XP, Skype and Firefox. Another advantage to PowerToGo is that it is Windows Vista compatible; SanDisk's U3 technology does not currently support Vista.
PowerToGo also offers some application flexibility. When users want to install a Windows application that doesn't appear on Lexar's list of pre-approved PowerToGo applications, they can pay $29.94 to purchase a platform add-on called InstallAnything, which will enable installation of many standard Windows applications in JumpDrive products.
JumpDrive Lightning owners can install the PowerToGo software free of charge from Lexar's Web site.
Lexar's premium JumpDrive Lightning thumb drive offers the fastest data-transfer rates(18MB/sec write and 24MB/sec read). The JumpDrive Lightning is available in 1GB and 2GB capacities at retail prices starting at $79.99. We tested the Lightning drive and we were able to download a 150MB file with high-resolution digital photographs in about 12 seconds.
Pushing into new areas
Steffen Frank Hellmold, general manager for Lexar's USB flash drive business unit, says that because the thumb drive industry is basically devoid of standards, other than the USB-port connection, "there's room for tremendous creativity."
ATP Electronics Inc., in Sunnyvale, Calif., built its waterproof Petito drive to store the personal information of scuba divers and its ToughDrive USB flash drive to withstand a three-meter dive onto concrete.
SanDisk touts a drive that's over the top in the rugged department. Its Cruzer Titanium was built to withstand the crushing force of a Volkswagen Beetle (2,000 lbs.) Computerworld tested that claim by repeatedly driving an employee's car over the ruggedized thumb drive. While the drive's body came away with a few scratches, there were no dents, and we didn't lose a single file. Drive a car over it and it keeps working. How's that for mission critical?
Gartner's Unsworth says the thumb drive has become an almost ubiquitous data storage platform that spans all industries. Car stereo makers, such as Blaupunkt, Alpine, Kenwood, JVC and Clarion, are introducing models with USB ports and adapters this year. Blaupunkt has released two stereos with USB ports that have music and image capability.
Samsung Corp. and Toshiba Corp. are selling televisions with USB ports that enable shows to be recorded to thumb drives and other USB-enabled storage devices.
Yet another popular model of thumb drives doubles as an MP3/MP4 player. iPromo LLC., a reseller in Morton Grovw, Ill., offers 8GB thumb drives that have MP3/MP4 capability and can store several hour-long movies and hours of music. iPromo also sells thumb drives with electronic displays that show the owner's personal ID and the drive's remaining capacity.
Charles King , an analyst at Pund-IT Research in Hayward, Calif., says thumb drives may quickly outpace a user's ability to manage all the data stored on it. "When you've got your MP3 player with 5,000 songs on it, God only knows what you do with all of those. I can barely think of 50 songs that I want to hear on a regular basis," he said. "It's like having a garage that you just keep piling boxes of [junk] into."
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Lucas Mearian, Computerworld August 25, 06
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As the replacement for the venerable floppy disk, USB flash memory drives are one of the few areas of IT that have a pronounced sense of humour.
Thumb drives have dressed in the guise of rubber duckies, plates of spaghetti, tiki idols and sushi, as well as pulling double duty as executive pens, laser pointers, wrist watches and spy cameras.
Apparently, USB flash drives as comic relief isn't a passing fad, either.
Northbrook, Illinois-based iPromo LLC sells thumbs drives that are housed in Swiss Army knives and others that come in waterproof, leather and aluminum cases. There's even an iPromo model embedded with genuine Austrian Swarovski crystal that's designed to be worn as a necklace.
Thumb drives are priced from low-end 128MB models selling for $9 all the way up to $200 for an 8GB consumer model. The best-sellers, according to vendors, are the 1GB and 2GB models. On average, a 4GB drive will go for about $100 this holiday season.
When it comes to small storage, the flash drive is king.
"Today, you really can carry your laptop around with you on your key chain," King says. "So why not make it fun?"
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Promotional swag is supposed to be an easy way for businesses to build recognition and goodwill among their customers. Companies sank more than $18.8 billion into branded freebies in 2006, according to the Promotional Products Association International, an industry trade group. But many businesses fail to bring creative thinking or design savvy to these most tangible of marketing efforts, with the result that most swag ends up in the garbage. Giving out a throwaway item won't necessarily harm your company's image, of course, but it does represent a waste of precious promotional dollars.
To devise a good freebie, you must "think like a poet," says Denis McFarlane, who runs Infinitive, a consulting firm in McLean, Virginia, and gives away $10,000 in swag annually. Look for items that are attractive and that convey a positive message about your product or services. You don't have to spend a fortune, but don't give away anything that cheapens your brand. "We don't want anything that's flimsy or would break easily because that's not the metaphor we want to show our clients," McFarlane says.
You'll want to put your logo on most items, but avoid the temptation of making it too big, especially on clothing. If you want to catch someone's eye, go for a smaller logo set against a brightly colored backdrop. Turn to museum stores or design shows on TV for cues on contemporary color palettes.
Look for items that are functional. Steer clear of cute but useless toys or gizmos that beg the question "What is that?"
Think small. Choose freebies that can be slipped easily into carryon luggage and that won't set off airport metal detectors. And consider your typical customer carefully. "Some people get caught in the 'I like this, let's buy it' trap without considering the end user," says Josh Frey, CEO of On Sale Promos, a Washington, D.C., company that distributes swag. A marketing manager who is female, for example, might choose a tote bag that she would personally use but that might not appeal to a primarily male customer base.
Be smart about packaging. If you use a velvet box or a snakeskin case to present a cheap-looking pen, expect eye-rolling. And with today's focus on sustainable business, look for items made from recycled materials. Environmentally friendly products ranging from fleece jackets to coffee mugs to notepads are available.
Here's a look at products ranging in price from $1 to $131. Call it swag with swagger, and trust that customers on the receiving end will be appreciative.
USB drive, $10
Even if people don't need a drive, they'll often pass it along to a colleague or family member. Some companies load a marketing presentation onto their giveaway drives. If you go this route, we strongly advise that you keep it brief. ipromo.com
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