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USB-based micro Flash drive to ship 20 May

ThumbDrive looks like a Sony Memory Stick but plugs into any USB port. Smart, huh?

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Japanese peripherals company Shin-Nichi Electronics (SNE) will ship an unusual take on Sony's Memory Stick solid-state floppy concept next month with a Stick-sized Flash card that plugs into any USB port. SNE's ThumbDrive isn't based on Memory Stick per se, but the influence clearly shows. Memory Stick is a slim, almost flat unit, whereas ThumbDrive as fatter, to accommodate the USB connector, which makes it more widely applicable than Sony's product, which uses its own, proprietary connector. The use USB here is rather canny, since it allows almost all modern PCs to use them, with drivers loading automatically through Plug'n'Play, along with any USB-equipped peripheral - just slide one into the side of your keyboard, for instance. Up to four ThumbDrives can be used simultaneously, using a standard USB hub. Each ThumbDrive can be write-protected and, in a nod towards the digital music market, encryption and other security features will be added later, SNE says. ThumbDrive will ship on 20 May in 16, 32, 64 and 128MB versions, and will be available direct from SNE's Web site. Pricing will be Y5980 ($57), Y9980 ($95), Y16,800 ($159) and Y32,800 ($310), respectively. That's not cheap, but expect prices to fall as SNE ramps up sales. Expect higher capacities too - SNE said it is preparing 256MB and 512MB ThumbDrives for release later this year, and a 1GB drive in 2001. SNE said ThumbDrive will only support Windows 98 at launch, but promised MacOS drivers around July. PalmOS and Linux software is set to ship later this year and early next, respectively. ®

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