Features

Net escape

National

Issue: "Nuclear threat in Korea," Aug. 16, 2003

As the Internet grows, so does the Sneakernet. That's the realm of portable storage, where users physically pass files from computer to computer and from home to office. Now flash memory is taking the place of floppy disks as the electronic filing cabinet of choice.

Keychain drives, which are little more than a memory chip with a USB connector attached, hold as much information as a crate of floppies and with more durability than a CD-Rom. They can pack up to 2 gigabytes into a gadget about the size of a cigarette lighter. They can also travel easily with the owner on a key ring, in his pocket, or even around his neck. Models range from the Sony Micro Vault to the Lexar JumpDrive to IBM's "Memory Key."

Prices have dropped considerably in the last year, making them more than just a cool toy for techies. A 256-megabyte drive can be had for under $100, (2 gig runs about $450.) Even the cheapest, holding 8 or 16 megs, can store numerous Word documents, text files, and e-mails. Some more expensive keychains add security features, so users can encrypt or password-protect their files.

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One sure benefit is that users can pass files around without an Internet connection (hence the buzzword Sneakernet). They don't need an extra power source or a special carrying case. A lot of convenience can now fit into something the size of a ketchup packet.

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