It’s unusual for me to focus on hardware, but I’ve found a relatively inexpensive device – the SmartDisk Firefly, an external hard drive – that I think is a productivity booster for work on the road and for back ups. 

PCs typically no longer come with floppy drives. A common way to move files among machines now is with a “USB memory stick.” These are key-chain size devices that plug into a USB drive and typically hold 128meg or 256 meg of data. They work on almost any reasonably current and standard PC. The Firefly, in contrast, is about the size of a deck of cards and weighs only a few ounces. But it holds 20 gigabytes of data and also plugs into a USB port. It does not require a separate power supply.

I bought one about four weeks ago and find that is is very helpful for two reasons. First, I just returned from vacation. I was able to travel with all of my data files. This meant I could access any file I needed from any computer with a USB port. I found this handy, especially since I traveled with a friend who was carrying a computer that I could use. Also, when I checked e-mail at an Internet cafe, I could download files and then review on my friend’s computer at leisure. Second, when at home, I will back-up to the Firefly. I’m already a bit of a nut about making back-ups. I use a web service for nightly back-ups and periodically burn files to CD (and rotate a CD to off-site storage). With the Firefly, I will probably burn CDs less frequently, which saves time since copying to it is much faster than burning a CD.

For lawyers at large firms, I suspect the benefits are not that great. Most firms offer good remote access so the need to travel with large quantities of data is not great. Also, most large firms store files in a document management system, which means they are backed-up centrally. But a lawyer who does not want to carry a notebook and who s travels to a location with a computer but limited net connectivity might use a Firefly to have large quantities of files available.

Of course, the advent of inexpensive devices like this will have an impact on e-discovery. Litigators will need to consider yet one more place to seek out files in discovery.

Separately, if anyone can recommend good synchronization software, please comment.