Bill Gates and other big names at Microsoft have often emphasized their ideal of data portability, whereby a user would be able to access his data and settings from any machine he logs onto. The concept would ideally rely on remote servers on the Web in order to be as transparent to the end user as possible, but according to ZDNet, Microsoft is cooking up a more short-term alternative that's based on physical hardware.
This alternative is known as StartKey, and it's essentially a USB flash drive that can store a user's settings "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." StartKey isn't an entirely new concept: ZDNet says it actually stems from an agreement Microsoft reached with SanDisk last year, as part of which the software giant said it would replace SanDisk's U3 Smart technology with unspecified software. U3 Smart provides a way for users to store their commonly used applications and settings on flash drives so they can run them from any system.
Microsoft's StartKey initiative will reportedly be "seamlessly integrated with Windows-based PCs and Windows Live services," and it's coming by the end of this year. The tool should naturally be useful to anyone who regularly uses multiple PCs, but ZDNet adds that Microsoft is also targeting developing markets, where users often lack a personal PC and use machines at Internet cafes or kiosks.