Over the last couple of years, I've been given several USB keys. In all cases, a software company used it to provide a collection of press releases and other marketing material. In the past, this job was done by diskettes and CDs. The 1.44MB diskettes could be erased and reused; the CDs were throwaways.
At first, I didn't find the USB keys (aka thumbdrives) useful. I did use them in limited fashion as backup devices. For instance, when I go on a trip, I copy my most important files onto a thumbdrive, in case the house burns down while I am away. Another instance: one USB key is in my bank's safety deposit box, containing home photos for insurance purposes. (CDs are too big to fit the width of the deposit box.)
Last month, I finally found the USB drive praiseworthy. It operates as a replacement for networking.
It's well known in technical circles that Microsoft has poorly implemented networking in Windows. Release after release, the problems just don't get fixed. (If you've ever had a computer searching for your local network for hours on end, then you've experienced Microsoft's self-styled innovation. There is no need for this inefficiency, but as we well know, Microsoft would rather concentrate on creating Teletubby-style user interfaces.)
We have six computers here, three on wired network, three on wireless. Wireless is by nature slow and unpredictable. I have found it's more reliable to use my 512KB USB key to copy files between computers. For really big jobs, we use the 20GB InnoPlus PhotoTainer, which can operate as a USB2 portable external drive.
Admittedly, there is a slow component, because files are copied twice: once to the USB key, and then to the destination computer. But overall that's no slower than wireless, and more reliable. No more instances of one computer complaining in mid-transfer, "Source folder not found," because the wireless network failed somewhere.
Another story: I was asked to produce video and images for our church's Christmas Eve service. I produced them at home on my 64-bit notebook computer, but then wondered how I would get the files onto the church's computer that controlled the dual-projector setup in the 1,500-seat sanctuary. I couldn't connect to the church's wireless network. USB key to the rescue.
Notebook computer to the rescue, too. The event's producer wanted me to modify certain elements of the videos, and I was able to do that on the spot: take a few minutes to make the changes on my notebook computer, and then copy the new movie files to the church computer via the USB key. In all, very satisfying.
A third use is storing utilities on the USB key, such as the latest anti-virus update. I plug the thumbdrive into each computer, and run the update directly off the USB key. When my dad comes over with his non-wireless notebook computer, again it's simpler to plug in the USB key than it is to get him onto my network.