Vista to go: Sandisk improves U3 flash drives with Microsoft’s help

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

Milpitas (CA) – U3 sticks, flash based memory devices that allow users to carry launch ready applications on chewing-gum sized portable storage, have been around for a while, but never really conquered the market. Sandisk now has convinced Microsoft to help market the next version of U3 sticks in the hope to attract more eyeballs and wallets.

In its core, the new generation of U3 sticks will follow the philosophy of products sold today. Users will not only be able to bring along data, but also launch applications stored on the device on any PC, independent from the software that is installed on the host system. However, the partnership with Microsoft allows Sandisk to upgrade U3, a technology that was developed by U3, a joint venture of Sandisk and its subsidiary M-systems, with a more familiar and Vista like interface.

Instead of the generic U3 “launchpad” the new generation interface will borrow design elements from Microsoft’s operating systems and create a Windows XP or Windows Vista on-the-go experience.  The second noteworthy change is the addition of TrustedFlash technology, basically an embedded DRM technology that enables users to  store protected digital content on these drives and make the content accessible on multiple playback devices, while making sure that content isn’t pirated. Sandisk, however, argues that TrustedFlash goes beyond DRM and also ensures that content on these drives is kept “safer” from malware.

According to Sandisk, the software will be available for both flash memory cards and Cruzer USB flash drives and is expected to be commercially available starting in the second half of 2008.

It is the first time that Microsoft actually gets actively involved in the flash market – which is quite surprising, since the company introduced several flash-dependent technologies with its Vista operating system (such as ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive.) Industry sources have speculated for some time now that Microsoft in fact may be offering Microsoft-branded flash drives for Vista or even bundle the operating system with such devices. Through the collaboration with Sandisk, Microsoft said that it will create a new “entity” that will focus on licensing hardware designs that are compatible with the Sandisk/Microsoft U3 platform. Revenues generated from licensing TrustedFlash and other intellectual property from both Microsoft and Sandisk will be shared among the two companies.