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Gigabytes to Go
by Tania Hershman

2:00 a.m. Nov. 11, 2000 PST

New diminutive storage devices prove that you can, in fact, take it with you.

Four portable offerings that fit in the palm of your hand and can be used to share large files between computers will be on display at Comdex next week.

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M-Systems' DiskOnKey is the size of a pen, plugs into a USB port, and requires no additional software. The devices are available in 8 MB, 16 MB and 32 MB configurations and are compatible with Windows, Mac or Linux computers.

"Our DiskOnKey is a true plug-and-play. You plug it into any USB port and it becomes your new drive within less than a second," said Dov Moran, CEO of M-Systems.

The pen shape of the DiskOnKey will entice frequent travelers, business types who want to deliver presentations, and tech-savvy school kids to carry them everywhere, Moran said.

The devices, which are password-protected and have unique IDs, could in the future be used as "personal keys" that include an individual's credit cards, Moran added.

The second gadget, ThumbDrive from Trek 2000 International, eschews the pen design for an even smaller footprint -- or fingerprint. The ThumbDrive weighs in at just 18 grams and is roughly the size of the human digit for which it was named. It plugs into the USB port, and has a capacity of up to 256 MB.

Yet, in contrast to the DiskOnKey, ThumbDrive requires a driver to be installed on Windows PCs (it is not yet Mac- or Linux-compatible). The company recommends that drivers be downloaded from the Internet for those who want to use the ThumbDrive on more than one computer.

Trek 2000 president Marcus Chung said his company would be launching several new models of the ThumbDrive at Comdex, but declined to give specifics.

For people who want to be able to back up an entire PC -- or several for that matter -- to a portable storage device, the USB Flipdisk from Amacom Technologies offers 20 GB of storage, or 40 GB when the data is compressed. This gadget incorporates a Toshiba 2.5-inch hard drive and is also available in PC card and parallel-port versions.

A fourth portable USB storage device, called Q, is made by Ei and is small enough to be put on a keychain. The Q is available in three sizes (16 MB, 32 MB and 64 MB) and several colors.

Analyst Jerel Whittingham, of the UK-based research firm Durlacher Corporation discussed the pros and cons of these new devices, saying that "mass storage is the third, neglected, key to digital functionality, along with bandwidth and processing power."

"It's key in the sense that it will enable new services and business models in both the mobile and portable domain," he said. "Obviously, mobile storage technology is more constrained for a variety of reasons as compared to devices in the home. The easy click and insertion and removal of (these kinds of) devices is attractive."

Portable storage media like floppy disks, however, can be easily stolen or swapped into a variety of environments that could increase the likelihood of their becoming infected.

ThumbDrive’s website warns that the virus threat is a real one. "ThumbDrive has been designed to become a mass storage device. Therefore, it will behave like one," the site reads, suggesting that antivirus software be used on each system.

"The same sort of security when you load a file from the Internet or from a floppy should be adhered to here," said M-Systems' Moran.

Tania Hershman is Associate Editor for

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