A new platform that lets applications be run off portable USB drives has got the backing of several vendors.

Currently, it is not possible to run an application directly from a portable USB drive, but the U3 platform, from start-up U3, plans to change that. "It can be considered to be a portable virtual desktop on its own," said a spokeswoman. All the data remains on the USB drive and none is transferred to the PC.

U3 will allow software developers and hardware manufacturers to create mobile applications around one platform, the company claims. It has already been licensed to a number of flash disk manufacturers, including SanDisk, Kingston, M-Systems and Verbatim, who will introduce U3-compliant disks later this year.

Each U3-compliant flash disk will include an application called U3 Launchpad from which the software applications can be launched. Twenty-four vendors have now announced U3-compliant software.

Siber Systems will offer Pass2Go, a 2MB security application to store website passwords, contacts and banking and credit card information, plus automatic log-in to online accounts, access to contacts, bookmarks, and encrypted text notes.

Skype meanwhile has announced a version of its VoIP product compatible with the U3 platform. The software will let users to carry their Skype account information on U3 drives, so they can make Internet calls from around the world directly off the drive. Mozilla is also creating a version of Firefox to run on the drives.

Other U3-compatible products have been announced by McAfee, RealNetworks and Trend Micro.

U3 was founded by SanDisk and M-Systems.