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The slow take-up of U3

USB drives are a security menace. The U3 standard gives something back.

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Several months on from launch, and it looks as if the U3 drive standard will take time to catch on.

In case you don’t know, U3 drives are physically identical to conventional USB storage drives, but come with one added benefit – they can run specially-written versions of conventional software applications.

In effect, you get a drive on which to store data and a means of carrying around basic versions of useful software apps. Leave the laptop at home and just carry a U3 drive instead, as the sales pitch would have it. The added cost of a drive is around 50 twenty to percent over the asking price for a conventional USB stick of the same capacity.

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As it happens, security is one of the most useful applications of the technology. Imagine being able to carry around your chosen anti-virus application to check out a third-party PC (in a hotel for instance) before using it, and do so without leaving any software trace behind you.

Unfortunately, no well-known security programs have appeared for the U3 standard, although McAfee is to make available a version of its anti-virus software at an unspecified point in 2006. In fact, precious few established programs have yet appeared for U3 in any category.

This will start to improve in the next year – Mozilla’s Thunderbird email client is another program in the offing - because U3 is a technology that offers benefits worth having.

Will Microsoft ever embrace U3? With the exception of its browser and the basic version of its email client, it’s hard to see that it is in the company’s interests to bother in the short run. They make too much money from selling mainstream applications.

They might come round, longer term though, and if they do it will be the security applications of U3 – not to mention demand from customers - that tips the scales in its favour.

USB drives have come to be seen as little monsters because they are hard to regulate. Perhaps the security benefits of U3 will revive their image.


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