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New-style USB drive kicks off confab

Demofall HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif.--At 8:49 a.m. on Tuesday morning, U3 of Redwood City, Calif., took the stage at Demofall 2005. The company was the first of 65 presenters, each of which gets no more than six minutes to show off their new product or service at this annual conference focusing on emerging technologies and new products.

U3's offering, a new-style USB drive, could well revolutionize the market for flash devices as it renders the notion of device-centric information moot.

Until now, USB drives have been a great answer for small-format storage, allowing users to carry large amounts of data in their pockets. But that data was just that, data that depended on the applications in which they're used. U3's device, by comparison, lets users leave individual computers behind, and instead, turn to any computer to pick up where they left off.

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Like the multiple user accounts that can be set up on a PC, the U3 device makes accounts portable. It takes applications, including Web browsers, e-mail clients, photo programs and more and lets users bring up their workspace on any computer. By plugging the device into a new computer, users can instantly access their workspace just as they left it on their last machine.

Further, U3's software obviates the need for remembering multiple passwords, the company said. Rather, it centralizes passwords under a single sign-on when used in conjunction with the device.

For road warriors, the U3 device is an interesting proposition. Of course, it's hard to imagine heavy computer users leaving their laptops behind when they travel and depending on finding a new machine at their destination, so it's not entirely clear how users would incorporate this device in their daily lives.

However, as U3's presenter pointed out, the device makes it possible for people to take their workspace with them from their office to their homes without having to lug a computer. Whether that ends up being the company's audience remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, U3 got Demofall off to a working start. Its presenter finished up and walked off-stage exactly six minutes after she began, requiring no security personnel to get her offstage.