They go by different names: thumb-drives, thumb-sticks, flash drives or USB drives. But regardless of what you call them, they're one of the handiest inventions for computer users.
These tiny devices are ideal for those who want to transport documents, spreadsheets, presentations, photos or music from one PC to another. About the size of an iPod Nano, the thumb-length flash drives consist of a minuscule printed circuit board inside a metal casing. Simply plug one into a computer's USB (Universal Serial Bus) port and a new drive letter appears on your computer's menu, such as F: or G:. No software is necessary to begin dragging and dropping files onto the removable memory.
"My USB flash drive is like the automobile to my business," explains Joel Brodie, the San Francisco-based founder and editor of the Gamezebo (www.gamezebo.com (http://www.gamezebo.com) ) online magazine. "It gives me the personal freedom to transfer and backup files everywhere --- from my laptop in the coffee shop or my desktop at the home office to the print shop where I get my presentations and brochures professionally created."
For entrepreneurs on the go, these portable flash drives have a number of advantages over other removable storage devices, such as the CD or floppy disk. Here's what it means for your business:
- Faster copying. Copying files to the USB drive is much faster than it takes to burn a CD or copy files onto a floppy disk. This is especially true with the newer USB drives that work with a computer's USB 2.0 port, offering roughly 40 times faster speeds than USB 1.1.
- Platform versatility. USB drives work with both Windows and Mac PCs.
- They're cheap and hold more data. A 2-Gigabyte (2GB) drive can be found for under $30.
- Did we say portable? Fast-moving entrepreneurs can keep a USB drive on their keychain, on a lanyard around their neck or stuffed into their jeans' pocket and will always have their important files with them wherever they go. See something you want on a client's PC? Pull out a USB drive and copy the program or files in seconds.
- Easy to back up data. Working on a laptop? In case something happens to the computer - such as a power surge, theft, nasty virus, fire or if accidentally dropped - a USB drive can be used to quickly and easily back up data. Back in the office, just plug that USB stick into a desktop PC and copy the contents over to a new computer to continue working.
Let's recap: USB drives are fast, inexpensive and tiny. They work with virtually any PC with a USB port and require no software to be recognized.
What's not to love?
According to Semico Research (www.semico.com), 174.6 million USB drives are expected to ship worldwide in 2006, netting an estimated $5.5 billion dollars in revenue. By 2008, that number is predicted to grow to 220 million units sold, yielding nearly $9.1 billion dollars.
What more, USB drives come in all shapes and sizes for the entrepreneur who wants to express their individuality.
Cool (and wacky) USB devices
* The SanDisk (www.sandisk.com) Cruzer Micro USB flash drives also include preloaded software such as the CruzerLock 2, a data encryption solution that password-protects selected files and folders. The SanDisk Cruzer Titanium USB flash drive includes Skype software to make calls over the Net.
* Similarly, the Vonage V-Phone (www.vonage.com) is a 256MB USB flash drive and phone in one; Vonage customers simply plug the orange drive into a computer's USB port and, with the aid of a little earpiece microphone (included), can use the PC to place (or receive) calls.
* Some USB flash drives also double as MP3 players. Creative's MuVo TX FM is a flash drive that also lets you plug in headphones (included) to hear your favorite digital audio or FM radio. A small battery pack snaps onto the unit in order to play the music.
* And now for something completely different: from Tokyo comes the Sushi Disk (www.dynamism.com), flash memory drives hand-crafted to look like pieces of sushi. Take your pick between Ebi (shrimp), Maguro (tuna), Uni (Sea Urchin) and more. A delicious idea!