Windows XP SP2 can now use a USB flash drive to automate wireless network set-up, potentially saving hours of tedious parameter setting.

Wireless devices - PCs, routers, access points, printers, etc, which are Microsoft Connect Now-compliant can automatically used wireless network parameters stored in the flash drive to automate their own connection to the wireless network.

A user sets up a wireless network in one Windows XP SP2 system, using its Wireless Network Setup Wizard.The wireless network parameter data can be saved, by the wizard, to a USB flash drive. This drive is then plugged into the various Connect Now-compliant devices and their wireless network configuration is carried out automatically, using the settings stored in the flash drive.

Delkin and D-Link wireless routers are compatible. So too are Lexar and M-Systems (DiskOnKey) flash drives, I-O Data's wireless access point, HP's Deskjet 6840 printer and Servcomm broadband router and print server. Also Buffalo Technology's wireless-connected TeraStation NAS should also be connnectable this way shortly as Buffalo has a Connect Now license from Microsoft.

Blaine Phelps, an M-Systems marketing director, put his finger on the main benefit: "Users can eliminate the need to manually network each device separately." This saves time and removes the risk of keying in wrong parameters.

Kevin Unangst, Windows XP marketing director, said: "Flash drives nicely complement our technology and offers the user a high-performance device to effectively transfer networking information to each device." A Microsoft white paper describing Connect Now can be found here.

It is envisaged that it will be used by smaller businesses and also home users to set up wireless networks. Connect Now will be a feature of the new version of Windows, Longhorn.