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USB Flash Drives Move Beyond Storage

USB Flash drives are set to become more than just simple storage devices. The new U3 platform announced at the CES by M-Systems and SanDisk promises to standardize Flash devices for application delivery.

The U3 vendors claim that the new standard will allow for multi-vendor interoperability and compatibility across U3-compliant USB Flash drives for U3-compliant applications. With U3-compliant hardware and applications, the standard promises to provide enhanced data mobile storage and retrieval features that will allow for application launching on any computer.

The Launch Pad desktop interface that will be part of the U3 drives will allow users to manage, view, launch and download applications that are stored on the drives.

"U3 creates a new, open, standard platform that will take USB Flash drives from the simple storage devices they are today to portable devices that are empowered by rich applications, harnessing the creative energy of a multitude of independent developers," said Eli Harari, SanDisk's president and CEO, in a statement. "This platform will dramatically increase the value of USB drives to consumers and developers alike. SanDisk and M-Systems intend to strongly support and promote the U3 platform, creating what we hope will become the U3 economy."

APIs for software developers, as well as it being a hardware specification, are part of the U3 standards platform. Another part of the U3 plan is to establish a dedicated organization that helps to maintain the specification, as well as the APIs and software development toolkits to help grow the developer ecosystem and platform.

As part of the launch, U3 also announced that at least five significant application vendors have already endorsed its efforts. These include AOL's ICQ division, Check Points, Zone Labs division, McAfee, Corel, the non-profit Medic Alert Foundation and the open source Mozilla Foundation

"We are pleased to have the opportunity to include support for an open standard USB development platform," Chris Hofmann, director of engineering at the Mozilla Foundation, said in a statement. "We believe our users will value the portability and flexibility this will provide them in being able to use Firefox and Thunderbird on any PC wherever they are."

U3 devices are expected to be available at the beginning in the summer. According to analyst estimates cited by U3, 70 million USB Flash drives are expected to be sold in 2005.