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Left to Their Own Devices

Employees have built work styles around transporting data on their own personal media. The question for employers, of course, is whether the benefits outweigh the risks.

Of course, at $129 a pop, it’s unlikely employers are going to outfit a lot of workers with Shuffles, let alone Nanos, which are almost twice as expensive. But they may not have to. As cheap storage goes, thumb drives are hard to beat. Moreover, a recently released standard called U3 is fueling a new generation of sophisticated flash-memory drives that can actually run software. One popular program, PowerHouse Technologies’s Migo, allows users to transfer files, Web settings, and E-mail from their desktops to their thumb drives and then use any computer as if it were their own.

The question for employers, of course: Do the benefits of these new storage devices outweigh the risks? Accenture’s LeVine says yes. “If you succeed in stopping this usage, are you slowing the workflow here?” he asks. “What’s it going to cost you if Joe can’t walk down the hall and show someone his work?”

Elaine Appleton Grant writes frequently about business technology.

Small Wonders
Seagate Pocket Hard Drive, 5GB, $99
Skinny: Bigger than thumb drive, but still quite portable…. Cord wraps around device; nifty touch…. Lots of storage for the price.
Kingston Data Traveler II Plus Migo Edition, 2GB, $80
Skinny: 2 gigs very capacious for something this small…. Lanyard included…. Comes with handy Migo software for easy synchronization.
Swissbit Victorinox Retro Alox, 1GB, $144
Skinny: Alox may be the mother of all gimmicks: 1-gigabyte thumb drive is also a working Swiss Army knife.
Verbatim Store ‘N’ Go USB Flash Drive, 128MB, $25
Skinny: One of the older thumb drives, but cheap…. 128 megs not enough to hold an entire photo album, but will hold plenty of Word or Excel files.
Apple iPod Shuffle, 1GB, $129
Skinny: Known as a music-storing device, snazzy iPod Shuffle can also store files. Works with Mac or PC…. Automatically charges while synching.
Apple iPod Nano (Color LCD), 4GB, $249
Skinny: Less than half the size of mini iPod…. Only question: Nano is so small, how durable is it? Consider buying a case.

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