Office to go: U3 puts the desktop on a USB stick
By Sven Appel May 28, 2006, 15:04 GMT
Eschborn, Germany - Everyone wants an office that they can pack up and take with them in a snap. Witness the meteoric rise in popularity of laptops or PDAs, for example. Yet in terms of simplicity or space savings, neither of those can compete with the new U3 standard. Any U3-ready thumb drive can store a user's personal desktop environment and frequently used programs, for easy use on any available PC.
'U3 is both a software and hardware standard,' explains Michael Best from Dexxon, a company that distributes U3 products in Germany. The technology is based on the idea that the personal desktop environment should be able to be transported and used anywhere.
U3 is to some extent a logical progression from USB 1.1 and USB 2.0, says Hans-Christoph Kaiser from storage media maker Verbatim. 'People talk about it as the third generation,' he says. The path leads from pure storage media to software-controlled tools.
The idea of putting a working environment onto a mobile storage unit is not new.
'The big difference is that once the USB stick is removed, no data is left behind on the computer,' explains Daniel Lueders from the Hanover-based computer magazine c't. All related data is deleted once the session is finished and the stick removed from the USB port.
To achieve these benefits, the programs must correspond to the U3 standard. The software either comes delivered with the sticks or can be downloaded, in many cases at no charge, from the Website of the U3 consortium at World Wide Web.u3.com.
'There are currently around 100 applications,' Kaiser says. These includes photo software, a backup program, and email clients, not to mention U3 versions of familiar PC programs like Firefox for Web browsing and Skype for Internet telephony.
'The selection of U3 programs is manageable but good,' says Daniel Lueders of c't.
Dexxon, Intuix, and Verbatim are only a few of the various manufacturers offering U3 sticks. U3 thumb drives tend to cost 10 to 15 per cent more than traditional USB storage media, Kaiser notes. The hardware is also compatible with other operating systems like Mac OS and Linux, but the U3 software and hence the U3 functionality currently only run on Windows 2000 with Service Pack 4 and Windows XP. Software for other operating system is planned, however.
A small application must be used to set up a U3 stick for the first time. Thereafter, a so-called launchpad is used to then call up the files and programs stored on the U3 stick. This program is integrated into the stick and resembles the Start menu on Windows.
By contrast, programs not written in the U3 format must be opened using Windows Explorer.
USB sticks with U3 technology have another important use: they are encrypted data storage media. The storage consists of at least two partitions. One of these contains the launchpad. It is handled by the computer as a CD-ROM drive, meaning that it is easily accessible.
The second partition is laid out like a hard drive and can be encrypted to hold all user data. If a password is set on the data, then it must be provided before data can be accessed again. Lueders judges the 256 AES encryption to be 'sufficient.'
U3 are not perfect, though. One problem is the lack of an absolute write protection on the disks.
'They could in principle pick up a virus from a PC,' Lueders says. Nor is U3 without competition: The program 'Carry it easy' can be used on any removable storage media recognized by Windows. It offers 128 bit encryption on the AES standard and is primarily useful for the reconciliation of files and folders, as well as untraceable surfing of the internet.
It can be downloaded for 19.95 dollars from the homepage of its developer, World Wide Web.cososys.com. 'Carry it easy' cannot be started directly from the removable storage medium, however.
A program called Ceedo may be another long-term alternative. Like U3, it uses a USB start menu and can be used on storage cards. One catch: it's not available everywhere just yet.© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur