There are some products you find that you simply shake your head about the coolness of it all.
Apple's iMac was like that. So was the Zip drive and Nintendo 64.
Now I bring you "DiskOnKey." A product so cool and revolutionary that I can't imagine why I didn't think of it first.
The DiskOnKey is a small device the size of my little finger made of unbreakable Lexan plastic. You pull off the cap and stick one end into the USB port on any recent computer (PC or Mac). Ten seconds later, you now have 8, 16 or 32 megs of portable hard disk space.
You save your files to the little gizmo, yank it out and take it to any other computer with a USB port. Stick it in. Seconds later, you are transferring files. No power cord, no drivers, no adapters, no nothing.
It is simply incredible in its simplicity and practicality. I can't think of how many times I have had to transfer a Powerpoint presentation from one computer to another. Usually that meant burning the PPT file to a CD-R, a time-consuming and relatively costly venture. Today I can copy the 30-meg file to this plastic stick and toss it on my keychain.
And they are cheap. Despite being sold by the likes of Dell, Compaq and IBM, the devices are less than $50 for the smallest unit and under $100 for the 32 meg version. (Versions of up to 512 megs are due in a few months.)
How did they pull this off? The DiskOnKey people, a company called M-Systems, placed a small CPU inside the Lexan housing and then loaded the rest of the space with flash-storage chips, which can be erased and reused. So it's not actually a disk, like the Zip or a hard disk, but rather a series of memory chips that can be erased when needed.
The M-Systems version of the USB disk is not the only one out there (others include JMTek's USBDrive and Agate's Q USB). But this is the only one that includes the onboard CPU, eliminating the need for drivers if you use Windows 2000, Me or Mac OS 9 or Linux. Drivers for Windows 98 are available on the company Web site www.diskonkey.com.
The only issue I noted in testing the unit on nine machines is if you leave the drive connected and reboot, the computer might "hang." I noticed this more on Windows 98 machines than any other. To me this is the same as leaving a floppy in Drive A and rebooting; the computer also will hang. The solution is simple enough; don't boot your PC with the device plugged in.
Simply put, no geek will be without one of these soon. If you have a nerd on your holiday list, this is the one item they will really love.
(That, and an Xbox.)
WEEKLY WEB WONDER: Donate your unused PC time to cure cancer. Head to www.ud.com and download the "Volunteer your PC" screensaver and let's lick cancer together.
James Derk is new media editor for The Evansville Courier & Press. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.