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USB Flash Storage Sparking More Interest

A handful of flash memory drive makers Monday announced an alliance to educate the public on the benefits of using USB flash drives, which are tiny devices capable of storing files such as digital photos or music files.

Founding members Samsung Semiconductor, Genesys Logic, Kingston Technology, Lexar Media and PNY Technologies have formed the core of the USB Flash Drive Alliance (UFDA). The San Jose, Calif.-based consortium will promote the tiny devices to help themselves gain traction in what they believe is a growing market.

A USB flash drive (UFD) is a portable flash memory hard drive -- about the size of a pack of chewing gum -- that lets users store and transport computer data and video clips. They are often used to transport digital photos or for taking a project from home to the office.

It makes the transportation of files from one computer to another device that stores data possible. This used to be done with a floppy disk, but when devices such as MP3 players and digital cameras were born it became imperative for storage devices manufacturers to come up with something small enough to transfer files from PCs to these smaller gadgets. That's where the UFDA said flash memory and USB flash drives came into play.

Today, if a user wants to transfer data from one machine to another (say, work to home) it has to be e-mailed or burned to a CD. But people often may feel using a whole CD to transfer a file is a waste. A USB flash drive was designed to do just those types of tasks.

The devices are based on the Universal Serial Bus -- USB -- standard and interoperate with most modern operating systems on all PCs and devices so long as they are equipped with a USB port. They are strictly plug-and-play and many of them support up to 2 gigabytes of storage.

Market research firm Gartner measures USB flash drives as removable storage, a market consisting of portable storage devices that use nonvolatile memory and do not contain moving parts.

Joseph Unsworth, analyst for Gartner's semiconductor group, said the announcement will help put USB flash drives on the radar for consumers that are not aware of them yet.

"The announcement of the UFDA is an important step for the proliferation of UFD," Unsworth told internetnews.com. "The UFDA will be instrumental in bringing together a consortium of companies to market the drives. The UFDA hopes to continue and expand the momentum already established by a few companies that utilize UFDs that are helping to spread awareness."

Unsworth said the UFD market is led by M-Systems, which had the largest share in 2002 and holds key intellectual property. His latest estimate for shipments of UFDs for 2003 is around 15 million. Experts expect the USB flash drive market to grow congruently with the proliferation of multimedia devices that use files, including digital cameras, handheld computers and smartphones.

Steffen Hellmold, president of the UFDA, said all types of technology companies are signing on for the UFDA, which is supported by associate members such as Microsoft, Crucial Technology, SimpleTech and Viking Interworks.

"USB Flash Drives are efficient, convenient and remarkably easy to use," Hellmold said in a public statement. "While they have already enjoyed outstanding success we believe there is significant growth ahead."

UFDA will launch participate in events throughout the year to spur the USB flash drive movement.