The USB Dongle That May Change the World

It's a handy tool for toting data now, but Forward Solutions' Migo could change the way users interact with their devices.

A number of unfortunate surprises can happen to you when you travel with a notebook computer but use a desktop computer for everyday work. Often, your stuff is where you arent. You can use sync products such as Laplink, but they require you to actually remember to synchronize your system before you leave.

A special annoyance: When it happens to me, I find it nearly impossible to find someone else to blame.

Enter Forward Solutions Inc. with a unique solution to this problem: the Migo, a USB dongle with software that lets you carry your stuff with you even if you leave your laptop behind.

The Migo lets you specify the things you want moved; your desktop look and feel, your files, and your browser favorites are all naturals. Then, you use the USB key fob, which is the core of the device, like a key to your PC. Whatever machine you plug the fob into has your stuff.

As it stands, the device has limitations. It only works with Windows; it doesnt move the applications (and doesnt yet work with Office 2003); it requires Office 2000 or XP for full functionality (so that it will automatically set up your e-mail client); and it doesnt yet move your browser cookies or history.

However, if you are near a compliant piece of hardware, the experience is close to seamless. When you plug in the device, it takes over the PC you are visiting, turning it into something that looks almost identical to your own machine. And since it doesnt actually put any of your personal information on that machine, when you pull out the fob, all your information goes with you. Its password-protected and backed up on your primary PC so that, if you lose it, you are at substantially less risk than if you lose your laptop.

This got me thinking. One of the biggest problems the PC industry has right now is the time-and-effort cost of moving from an old PC to a new one. In surveys Ive conducted, this hurdle turned up as one of the primary reasons why people didnt buy new PCs. With the capacity of flash memory growing and prices dropping, you can quickly draw a line to a future when all of your personalized information could be put on a device like this. (Actually, if you leave the files out, you can put virtually all of the data that personalizes a PC on a device like this now. Those files arent particularly large, and my Migo holds 256MB).

But it is the potential future of a device like this that fascinates me.

If the device had a unique key, perhaps Microsoft and other software application providers would allow this key to confirm legitimate use. You could use the Internet to provide all of your applications (or simply enable dormant applications that are already on the overcapacity drive) at some future date. With enough bandwidth, capacity and vendor support, a future PC user could move from PC to PC as easily as he now moves from car to car. More easily, actually: In a new or borrowed car, you still have to move the mirrors and seats to the positions you want.

In fact, two automobile companies are looking at using a dongle like this instead of a key for similar reasons, so a "what if" could be a single device that would be your key to everything: house, car, PC … Take away the password and put in a biometric function, and you have a level of security several times greater than todays options for both virtual and physical access.

The Migo has the potential (in concept at least) to affect the technology landscape more profoundly than most products from large vendors. In its ultimate form, it could bring opportunity, and security, to a needy world.

Editors note: This column has been updated to correct an error introduced during copy editing: The Migo holds 256MB of data.

Rob Enderle is the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a company specializing in emerging personal technology.