Have data, will travel

Review: DiskOnKey has security option available for sensitive files

Looking for a handy way to move data between desktop and laptop computers, and between different operating systems?

Common flash memory devices such as memory sticks are not compatible with desktop computers or most notebooks. Floppy disks tend to be slow and offer only 1.44M of storage space. Most office desktops and notebooks are not equipped with CD-RW drives, so their scope for business use is currently limited. PC Card memory is another option for notebooks, but it tends to drain battery power.

This is where DiskOnKey, manufactured by M-Systems Flash Disk Pioneers Ltd., comes in. The device, which looks like a large fishing lure on a key chain, can be clipped to a shirt pocket. When you're ready to use it, you simply plug it into a USB port on your computer, giving you access to 128M of storage.

USB memory devices have been around for a while, but DiskOnKey Version 2.5 is different. Each unit has a miniature CPU, so you can run programs even if the necessary software isn't loaded onto the computer. For example, you could run a Microsoft Corp. PowerPoint presentation using DiskOnKey even if the computer does not have PowerPoint. Unfortunately, this trick won't work if the application, as many do, requires files to be installed in the operating system in order to run.

It's easy to imagine the convenience of having files and presentations at your fingertips, ready to run from any computer with a USB port. What's more, DiskOnKey is interoperable with Microsoft Corp. Windows, Apple Computer Inc. Macintosh and Linux. In other words, you can save files to it from any one of these operating systems and then attach it to any other and seamlessly retrieve the files. This makes DiskOnKey an excellent tool for transferring files from one type of machine to another.

Another feature that comes with Version 2.5 is the company's new software package, KeySafe. It enables you to create and access a password-protected secure area, called a privacy zone, on the DiskOnKey device.

DiskOnKey is as convenient as it is useful. It requires no power source or batteries, and its power consumption is low, so it won't drain notebook batteries. It also does not require setup or installation with most operating systems. The exception is Windows 98 Second Edition, which does not support the full USB standard and requires drivers that can be downloaded for free at www.diskonkey.com.

DiskOnKey is also compatible with Windows 2000, Windows Me, Macintosh OS 8.6 and higher, and Linux 2.4.0 and higher. Take note, however, that for now, the KeySafe software is only compatible with Windows 98 Second Edition, 2000 and XP.

Using the product is simple. Simply insert it into an available USB port and it's ready to go. In Windows, the device appears within the My Computer menu as a removable drive, and on an Apple it appears as an untitled drive. The software interface works the same way as that of any other drive on the computer. You can save and retrieve files just as you would on a floppy disk or the hard drive.

The first time you run KeySafe, you must supply a password and a hint to use if the password is forgotten. The next step is to create a privacy zone, which is a secure area on the device that can only be accessed with the password.

Users choose the size of the privacy zone, which can fill up to 90 percent of the DiskOnKey (10 percent is reserved for upgrades and future applications). Both the password and the size of the privacy zone can be changed at any time, but either change requires the entire device to be reformatted, so any existing data on the DiskOnKey will be lost. Of course, you can temporarily save the files somewhere else and then move them back to the DiskOnKey afterward.

The KeySafe program toggles on and off: Double click the executable file to turn it on and access the files in the Privacy Zone, then double click it again to close and return to the public access area, where the private files are hidden from view.

For the most part, KeySafe worked smoothly, but we did encounter a few snags. For starters, we could not get the program to run at all on our first test computer, nor were we able to discover what prevented it from working.

Also, on a few occasions when we tried to toggle the program on or off, we got an error message saying that KeySafe was already running. To remedy this, we had to call the Windows Task Manager and quit the program, which was listed as not responding.

Because this is the first release of KeySafe, we're hoping these issues will be smoothed out in future versions.

We recommend DiskOnKey to anyone who travels for business, needs extra data storage or needs to transfer files from one machine or operating system to another. The KeySafe software is a nice feature that adds security, and we look forward to future versions that have worked out the bugs and offer broader compatibilities.

***

DiskOnKey compatibility

* Microsoft Corp. Windows 98 Second Edition

* Windows 2000

* Windows Me*

* Windows XP

* Linux 2.4.0 and higher*

* Apple Computer Inc.

Macintosh OS 8.6 and higher*

*The KeySafe software is only compatible with Windows 98 SE, 2000 and XP, but the company is working on compatibility for Windows Me, Macintosh and Linux.

DiskOnKey pricing

8M storage space $30

16M storage space $50

32M storage space $80

64M storage space $100

128M storage space $150

REPORT CARD

DiskOnKey

Score: B+

M-Systems Flash Disk Pioneers Ltd.

(866) 347-5665

www.diskonkey.com

DiskOnKey is available on the open market for prices ranging from $30 to $150, depending on the storage capacity. Visit www. diskonkey.com and click on "Where to Buy" for a list of distributors in your area. The company hopes to add DiskOnKey to the General Services Administration schedule this month.

DiskOnKey introduces a revolutionary form of portable storage. It's fast, flexible and convenient, and comes in various sizes to meet different needs. The bundled new KeySafe software is a nice security enhancement, but it needs polish.

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