Who's Walking Around With Your Files?

By Brian Livingston

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At this very moment, one of your employees may be walking out of your building with a complete set of word-processing documents, e-mail messages, even Windows desktop settings.

This could actually be good. It probably means that your employees have the benefit of new, little devices you've given them, called keychain drives, that allow them to work away from the office without having to carry a laptop computer.

The Keychain of the Future

Storage devices that fit on a keyring or belt — and fit into a USB slot on any desktop or notebook PC — aren't all that new. But these little external drives are now being programmed to support roaming workers in ways that add a whole new dimension to portable computing.

Examples of the new breed of roaming devices are:

Optimal Desktop. This product is software that you install on removable media. The ultra-portable device stores all your browser favorites, desktop settings, and files you commonly work with, so you can access them at a different computer. In addition to working with USB keychain drives of any capacity, Optimal Desktop can be used with Zip or Jaz disks or the Flash memory contained in handhelds.

Migo. A new entry into the market, Migo stores the same kinds of information as the Optimal Desktop, but goes farther by also handling Microsoft Outlook e-mail files. You can copy any or all messages and e-mail folders to a Migo from one machine and then reply to the messages from another. Migo synchronizes everything when the device is once again plugged into the primary PC. The product is software that's integrated into a specially "hardened," secure USB drive.

Optimal Desktop has been shipping for about the past 12 months, but the Migo device became available only about eight weeks ago. Both offerings go far beyond the ordinary cut-and-paste usage of plain USB keychain drives, in terms of empowering office workers to be productive outside of headquarters.

A Whole Office in Your Pocket

Optimal Desktop comes in a Standard edition, which is downloadable free; a Professional edition, which is $39.95 for one user; and a Mobile edition, which is $49.95. In a telephone interview, Karan Bavandi, the president and CEO of software maker Optimal Access Inc., said corporate orders for 1,000 or more copies of Optimal Desktop Mobile would receive a 50 percent to 60 percent discount from these prices.

Bavandi says any removable device that has Optimal Desktop Mobile installed can be password-protected to prevent access if the device is lost or stolen. In addition, the software can maintain a list of passwords needed to log onto various Web sites, and that password application can itself be password-protected.

A Secure Enterprise E-Mail Gizmo

By contrast to Optimal Desktop, Migo is somewhat more oriented toward enterprises that have a substantial investment in Microsoft Outlook and Exchange Server for centrally managed e-mail. Once employees have been set up with Migo devices, any important files and any selected quantity of their e-mails can go anywhere with them on their keychains. Any computer at home or in an Internet café can become a workstation, displaying each user's familiar shortcuts and mail folders.

This type of roaming requires that the "guest" computer the employee is using have both Microsoft Windows (98 SE or higher) and Microsoft Outlook (2000 or XP, with Outlook 2003 support coming soon). Because Migo devices don't ordinarily store entire application suites, the outside PC also needs Microsoft Office if Word and Excel documents are to be edited remotely.

Migo lists for $150 with a 128 MB USB drive or $200 for 256 MB. Josh Feller, president of Forward Solutions Inc., the manufacturer of Migo, says the price of the larger unit would drop to "the $140 to $150 range" for orders of 1,000.

The Corporate Interest in Roaming

Isn't it dangerous for employees to take all that data outside of the company itself? Not really. The people who work with this data probably have many ways to save it or print it out if they ever wished to. If your files are so sensitive that this concerns you, you should have adminstrator-level alerts in place to prevent users from attempting to download an entire file, whether to a USB drive or a removable hard disk.

Optimal Desktop and Migo are ideal for cases in which employees are trusted to handle their day-to-day documents responsibly but can't always be sitting in front of the same desktop computer. Using intelligent keychain drives, your company can stock a set of standard laptop computers, which are then "brought to life" by employees who simply plug their traveling gizmo into a USB port. If one laptop fails, the USB device can be switched to any other machine that has the same suite of software, and the work can continue.

Forward Solutions' Feller says the Migo is specially designed to give confidence to enterprise IT leaders. The firmware of the device itself protects the passwords, making it extremely secure against attacks on the data if a device falls into the wrong hands.


Most enterprises have a need for some employees to work on documents while traveling or during their off-hours at home. Software such as Optimal Desktop Mobile and hardware such as Migo now makes it exceptionally easy for users to do this without lugging with them a laptop computer and all the usual transformers and cables.

To research the possibilities of these products for your company, see the descriptions at OptimalAccess.com and 4Migo.com.