RealTime IT News

Tougher Thumb Drives Get More Features

Those tiny, key chain-ready storage devices are getting a makeover in capability and design.

Known as thumb drives or jump drives, among other monikers, the handy USB-compatible drives have been growing not only in storage capacity but with new capabilities to launch and augment applications. At the Consumer Electronics Show this week in Las Vegas, several companies in this sector made announcements.

U3 LLC unveiled a major addition to its portfolio of downloadable applications for U3 smart drives. San Mateo, Calif.-based U3 acts as a kind of clearinghouse for thumb drive applications and was formed with the backing of several thumb drive manufacturers.

The latest addition to U3's Software Central download area is OpenOffice.org's suite of office productivity software. With OpenOffice on their U3 smart drive, the company says, users can edit and view their Office documents, presentations and charts on any computer, whether or not Microsoft Office is installed.

This latest version, OpenOffice 2.0, uses the Open Document format, an XML-based file format for office applications. With the OpenOffice software, U3 users have a suite of applications including word processor, spreadsheet, database and presentation manager, that can be carried in a pocket or clipped to a key chain.

OpenOffice is the third open source software title U3 has made available, along with the Mozilla Firefox 1.5 Web browser and the Thunderbird e-mail client. U3 also announced that it plans to release a framework for open source development on the U3 platform.

Kingston Technology, Memorex, SanDisk and Verbatim are among the companies supplying U3 drives, which are available in a variety of storage capacities up to at least a gigabyte.

SanDisk is showing its latest U3 Smart USB Flash Drives at CES. Both the drives and a new Sansa 200 MP3 player feature extra protection via an alloy made by Liquidmetal Technologies. SanDisk says the alloy improves durability as well as resistance to scratches and wear.

The latest thumb drives from Royal Consumer Information Products make it easier to know what's stored on the device. Royal's EZVue Vista includes a scrollable, two-line display window of the stored file names, which can be viewed even without a computer connection. Files are viewed within their respective directories or subdirectories. Scrolling to the right will reveal longer file names with file extensions, along with the size of the files and the date they were created.

Additionally, the drives include Allway Sync Pro software from Usov Lab that enables one-touch or automatic synchronization between folders and files stored on an EZVue Vista Drive and the PC.

But with thumb drives becoming so inexpensive, their popularity poses a potential security threat to enterprise networks.

"The portability of USB devices makes it easy to accidentally infect an enterprise network with contagions carried in from a home computer," said Jim Watson, CEO of Reflex Security. The security firm says contamination frequently starts with tainted media files downloaded from peer networks such as BitTorrent that are copied onto the portable drives. Even the act of installing P2P programs can sometimes introduce spyware and adware to a host.

Reflex has developed an inline network intrusion prevention system it says will prevent such intrusions. The company advises IT managers to be aware of the "Christmas Effect," with many workers returning from the holidays bearing thumb drives and MP3 music storage devices they received as gifts.