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Microsoft confirms Startkey effort

Software maker to offer more details on the product, which will enable users to carry Windows applications and data on a flash drive or memory card.

LAS VEGAS--I was intrigued to read that Microsoft was moving ahead with a project that will enable users to carry around all of their Windows information with them on a flash drive.

I pressed Microsoft on the subject and was able to get confirmation of the Startkey project as well as a few details.

"Microsoft is introducing software (code-named Startkey) that will make it easy for users to securely replicate their current Windows PC environment, including applications, music, photos, videos, personal settings and passwords on a flash-based portable storage device," the company said in a statement. "This environment will then be accessible on Windows-based computers--effectively turning any PC into their own PC."

This effort dates back to an agreement Microsoft made in May with SanDisk in which the two companies agreed to work together on a hardware-software combo that would replace SanDisk's U3 Smart Technology. As expected, Microsoft is working on the software end, while SanDisk is working on hardware and security aspects.

Microsoft said on Thursday that it believes the product will be of use to users worldwide, which I take to mean Microsoft sees both rich-world and developing market uses.

When it made the announcement last year, Microsoft and SanDisk said the joint products were expected in the second half of 2008 and that the two companies would look to license their efforts to other hardware makers.

Microsoft said Startkey will take the form of either a USB flash drive or Secure Digital card, but did not offer further technical details or confirm the current time frame for the product. However, more details are expected in short order, it said.

Although Microsoft has been working with Asus and other PC makers to enable Windows to boot from a flash device, a Microsoft representative confirmed that Startkey does not put the operating system itself on the flash drive.

"The new offering is companion software and only works when connected to a host computer with Windows," the representative said. "It does not put Windows on a USB Flash Device."