The lowdown on USB flash drives

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In a flash

What's happened to portable storage? It's gotten small. The USB flash drive, called a UFD by its promoters, seems ready to dominate the industry. With capacities from 16M to 2G, they range in size from the easy-to-give-away to the hang-on-for-dear-life.

Why is the UFD so cool? It's small enough to clip into a shirt pocket or hang on a lanyard around your neck. But it also holds a lot of data, and it's solid-state; there are no moving parts to hiccup and mess things up.

Is it secure? Some models have write-protect locks on them; others have encryption software. Some manufacturers are including biometric authentication as well. And since they are small and light, some people are using them to store system passwords and make any available computer on a network their temporary workstation.

Must-know info? Some older computers may not support them, but most machines with USB 1.1 or USB 2.x ports will happily accept the devices. So, too, will Microsoft Windows XP and 2000; for Windows 98, you'll need to find and download driver software, although many makers include it with their drives. On the Mac side, there are no compatibility problems with OS X, while many UFDs also work with OS 8.6 and higher.

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