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U3 launches USB drive-hosted app 'standard'

The Microsoft of Mass Storage?

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CES 2005 A US-based start-up said today it wants to unify attempts to evolve USB Flash drives from storage devices into application delivery products.

U3, founded by Flash memory and Flash-based device firms SanDisk and M-Systems, will develop and licence "mobility and security" APIs, hardware specifications and underlying intellectual property to ensure compatibility between such devices, irrespective of who made them.

The idea for U3 is to provide a common framework for applications to be delivered on USB Flash drives, enabling their use on multiple machines while ensuring the data they work on and create remain on the Flash drive.

Ultimately, it could provide the basis for keeping your entire Home folder and associated apps on a removable storage device. You get to work on any compatible computer as efficiently as if you were sitting in front of your own machine. Apple has often been said to be considering adding such a feature to the iPod and Mac OS X.

There's an element here of a business creating a problem in order to sell the solution, of course. Software developers who need this kind of application mobility can incorporate it already, and are doing so already. Almost all of them working on the kind of software - vertical applications, for example - that can support the cost of the necessary development. Given their specialised, proprietary nature, is questionable whether they need a so-called open platform

That's what U3 is offering, it says. Openly available it may be, but there's still lock-in. With software developers looking for U3-compatible hardware, drive makers will be forced to licence the company's technology. Pretty soon they're all tied into the U3 way of doing things, and paying the company licence fees and royalties for the privilege. U3 did not disclose the financial terms it will impose upon companies wanting to build U3-compliant Flash drives, or what it will charge software developers.

With the platform formally launched, U3 now has to deliver the goods. It made no specific release timetable available today, but it expects the first U3-complaint devices to ship this summer. It also plans to launch a software developers' forum shortly. ®

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