Microsoft has some big plans for the small-sized storage devices.
Microsoft is working on turning USB-based flash drives into a “Windows companion” — a new product known as “StartKey” — that will allow users to carry their Windows and Windows Live settings with them.
StartKey isn’t just for USB sticks; it also will work on other flash-storage devices, like SD memory cards. Microsoft is looking to turn these intelligent storage devices portable “computing companions” for users in both developed and emerging markets, with availability (at least in beta form) likely before the end of this year, according to sources who asked not to be named.
Microsoft’s goal is to build an end-to-end StartKey environment — comprised of everything from system software on the flash devices, a software development kit to enable third-party developers to create products that can leverage StartKey, and accompany Microsoft applications and services, sources said.
StartKey has its roots in an agreement Microsoft forged with SanDisk in May 2007. Microsoft announced it would be providing unspecified software to replace the U3 Smart Technology that was included on SanDisk flash devices. U3’s technology enabled users to store files, applications and related settings on their USB sticks.
StartKey will make these flash devices more Windows-centric. StartKey devices will be customized to plug into Windows machines. They will allow users to bring everything from their desktop wallpaper, to their desktop icons, contact lists and data with them so that they can turn any PC or kiosk into their own, personalized workspaces.
Customers in developing nations are going to be a prime target for Microsoft with StartKey, my sources say. In these markets, StartKey becomes a way for Microsoft to reach billions of users in developing countries who might not have their own Windows PC at home, but who can get access to one at school or can log on via a shared Internet kiosk.
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