June 04, 2004

Smart Flash Drives: Tiny Personal Servers

I've seen a lot of hyped gadgets come and go, but this one sounds promising, especially for corporate laptop users who don't want to mix or leave their personal information on the company laptop or vice versa with home PCs:

Engadget alerts us to the next generation of "smart" USB flash or thumb drives, such as the M-System's Xkey 2.0, which will feature an embedded 32-bit processor. The processor lets you run programs directly from it, including the ability to run it as a personal server for Microsoft Exchange server. That's right -- all directly from the tiny USB flash drive. The Register offers a fuller account of the Xkey 2.0, and M-Systems has already issued a press release.

Per The Register, another cool feature "removes all traces associated with a Web browser, such as cookies, history and temporary files. Furthermore, Xkey encrypts all information on the device." Now those are some handy features, although I'd first want to see proof that it also deletes the associated Windows index.dat files and registry entries. The index.dat files are notoriously difficult to clean in Windows NT/2000/XP because they are perpetually kept open and in use by Windows (in comparison, Win9x/ME users can easily boot to DOS and delete them that way).

Because these are smart drives, the idea is that you could use one when you've left behind or lost your laptop. Just plug it into another PC (say at a hotel or cafe public kiosk), and it will run your programs and access your data separately from the PC. It does so "without leaving any valuable information, including temporary files, on the host PC. Where the host system requires files to exist physically on the PC, "shortcut" pointers or stubs are employed that point to files held on the USB stick."

Since the data is encrypted, presumably we could breathe a bit easier when having lost or left it behind in a public place. While the Xkey claims to block key loggers, I'd feel better scanning any public host PCs, just to make sure they aren't running any key loggers or other malware that could compromise my passwords and confidential data. Better safe than sorry.

As with all gadget hype, I'm only cautiously optimistic regarding these claims. However, if it delivers as promised, it would truly redefine the notion of what constitutes a "personal computer" and "server", and challenge our preconceptions of size.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
Posted by Jeff Beard