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Apple granted new patent for elusive "Home on iPod" feature

A patent issued to Apple Inc. this week may breath new life into the firm's once touted "Home on iPod" feature, which prior to being tabled several years ago promised Mac OS X users the ability to tote their home directories and account information around on their iPods.

The 11-page filing titled "Method and apparatus rendering user accounts portable" details several approaches for enabling user accounts to be accessed across various multi-user computer systems. It's reported to be a derivative of a similarly titled patent request that was granted to the Cupertino-based Mac maker last October.

Essentially, the outlined software technique calls for an enhancement to Apple's Mac OS X operating system that would be capable of both reading and writing account information to and from external storage devices such as iPods and iPhones, thereby allowing users to carry their home directories and personal Mac OS X settings in their pocket.

"Hence, by coupling the external, portable data store to another multi-user computer, a user is able to login to any supporting multi-user computer and be presented with their user configuration and user directory," Apple explains in the filing. "Since the data store that stores the user account is not only external but also portable, a user can simply tote the data store to the location of different multi-user computers."

A nearly identical software technology, once dubbed by Apple as "Home on iPod," was originally destined for the company's Mac OS X 10.3 Panther operating system. However, the feature was abruptly yanked from pre-release builds of the software back in October of 2003, and all references to the technology removed from Apple's website.

"Ever thought you could carry your home in the palm of your hands or in your pocket? You can. Panther's Home on iPod feature lets you store your home directory - files, folders, apps - on your iPod (or any FireWire hard drive) and take it with you wherever you go," read the original description.

Home on iPod

"When you find yourself near a Panther-equipped Mac, just plug in the iPod, log in, and you're 'home,' no matter where you happen to be," the description continued. "And when you return to your home computer, you can synchronize any changes you've made to your files by using File Sync, which automatically updates offline changes to your home directory."

Apple has never offered an explanation for the feature retraction, and popular speculation was that it would eventually resurface in a later iteration of Mac OS X.

The firm's continued attempts to patent the software technique through multiple filings may indicate that we haven't heard the last of "Home on iPod," and possibly "Home on iPhone."