Keys That Remember And a Lot More

DQI Bureau
New Update

I keep a red and silver fob on my key ring. It’s a bit longer and skinnier

than the remote-entry clicker for my car, holds 32

megabytes of data, and can exchange information with just about any computer.
More than once, I’ve been saved from a tight spot because I had a copy of a

critical file, such as a PowerPoint presentation, on the fob in my pocket. These

USB keys, so called because they plug into a computer’s universal serial bus

port, have been around for a while. But prices have fallen by half in the past

year, and the devices are learning tricks that could take them well beyond their

current role as replacement for the floppy disk.


32 MB key comes for less than $20, while a 2 GB version can be had

for $500

Basic memory keys, available in a variety of shapes and styles, are

essentially commodity products. You can buy a 32-MB key for less than $20, or

spend more than $500 for a 2-GB version. As a cheaper alternative, there’s the

bulkier Digitalway MPIO HS100, which uses a teensy hard-disk drive instead of

flash-memory chips, and offers 1.5 GB for $200. When you slide the key into any

Macintosh or a PC running Windows XP, 2000, or Me, it will show up after a

minute or so on the desktop or in My Computer. (Windows 98 requires the

installation of software first; Windows NT doesn’t

support USB.)

The only important difference among the basic storage keys is whether they

use the original USB technology or the newer and slightly more expensive USB 2.0

version, which permits much faster data transfer. The 2.0 designs will work in

older ports at the original speed. However, they draw more power and may not

work in some extension ports, such as those often found on keyboards.


The latest batch of memory keys does a lot more than store data passively.

The best of them automatically run certain applications as soon as you plug them

into a Windows PC. A good example is the Migo from Forward Solutions

(, starting at about $115 for a 128-MB version. Say that you want

the PC you use at home to look and function as much as possible like your

computer in the office. You plug a Migo into your office PC, and a program in

the device automatically starts to copy Outlook folders that you have selected,

such as mail, contacts, and calendar. It can also store settings such as your

desktop wallpaper and Internet Explorer favorites.

Now plug the Migo into your home PC and log on. As long as you have Outlook

and the other desired programs running on both the PCs, the little device will

quickly create a semblance of your office machine, including the mail that was

in your office in-box. I found that it worked well with standard Internet mail

accounts. But corporate mail using Microsoft Exchange required some fiddling

with settings to get Outlook to work. And think twice before using it on the PC

of a friend or colleague: Their original settings won’t necessarily be

restored when you pull the Migo out.

Other keys make enhanced security a sales point. Most manufacturers offer

versions that password-protect your data. But I especially liked the EasyTrust

from M-Systems, whose products are usually sold under such brands as Iomega and

Hewlett-Packard. It offers encrypted data and a lot of convenience: When you

plug it into a computer you have designated as ‘trusted,’ you don’t have

to enter a password.

In future, these data-storage devices may acquire additional uses. One that I

would like to see is a password-protected and encrypted key that would store

user name and password information for all the networks, mail accounts, and

websites that I log in to. When plugged into a computer, it would intercept the

login requests and supply the correct information. Another would be a key that

could actually boot a computer to make a borrowed PC really look and act like

your own machine. This is technically possible on Macs and the newest PCs,

though the size of today’s operating systems and licensing restrictions make

it impractical. But even without such advanced features, these memory keys are

so handy that just about everyone should have one.

By Stephen H Wildstrom in BusinessWeek. Copyright

2004 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc