Flash drive invokes awe, admiration

What if you could pick up your home and take it along with you wherever you went so that once you got there, everything felt just as familiar as if you'd never left? All right, suppose you didn't need a trailer to do that? That's the new rage among flash drives such as SanDisk Corp.'s Cruzer Micro and its U3 technology.

U3 lets you load applications and synchronize files and provides a transportable computing environment. In and of itself, the drive's capabilities are probably amazing and worthy of awe and admiration. After all, it jams all of this stuff that typically resides on your giant computer into a relatively tiny space. In the case of the Cruzer Micro, that's no exaggeration. It's 2GB of storage is packed into dimensions measuring no larger than 7.94mm deep by 20.6mm wide by 57.15mm long -- or just about the size of the average adult pinky finger.

Best news of all? There's no fragile end cap covering the USB connector, so there's nothing that can crack or get lost. Instead, the connector retracts into the body of the drive and slides out again at the push of your thumb on a slider on the side of Cruzer Micro's body. Unfortunately, that design does leave a nice open slot at the end of the drive and, knowing what can accumulate in pockets and purses, makes for a great place in which detritus can accumulate. Building the better mousetrap often puts you face to face with the better mouse.

Initially, when you plug in the Cruzer Micro, it plants an icon in the task bar. That's where you'll find the options needed to configure your environment, synchronize folders, and install or launch software. Once that's been done, functionally, all of the U3 magic is transparent. You plug the drive into a handy USB 2.0 port on the computer you want to use, and depending on how you've set up the software, it will razzle-dazzle you by replacing the existing desktop of the computer you're using with your own, and so on. There is, however, a small catch.

While there is an option in the Cruzer Micro task bar icon that reads, "Install from my computer," it doesn't really mean that, mostly. U3 is looking for its own installation file types. Not the average, run-of-the-mill applications you may have downloaded or own. To be fair, getting ".u3p" files isn't very difficult -- they're available from the SanDisk or U3 download sites. For example, U3 versions of Skype, Mozilla's Firefox and Thunderbird, Trillian, Open Office, and quite a few other free and pay-to-use applications are available. If you're an Internet Explorer fan or use task specific applications for graphics or video or even gaming, don't necessarily expect to find them available. After all, software conversion to U3 compatibility is ongoing, and you should check back often for new arrivals.

On the other hand, once you have set things up and have them operating, everything runs seamless when you're wandering among other computers. You really will think you've gone home again. The only real downside is that the Cruzer Micro feels a little slow when compared with your average hard drive, but it's nothing intolerable, just a bit edgy. And, of course, you can always use it simply as another flash drive if the U3 novelty wears off. With the 2GB version selling for under $50 in many places, it's almost a tech impulse buy.