Apple's missing "Home on iPod" feature resurfaces in filing

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Apple Computer has been granted a patent for a pretermitted feature of Mac OS X that would have allowed users to sync their home directories to an iPod and then use the data stored on the player to securely log into any supported Mac.

Dubbed "Home on iPod," the technology was once destined for Apple's Mac OS X 10.3 Panther, before it was abruptly yanked from pre-release builds of the operating system back in Oct. of 2003.

"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," Apple had written in a blurb on its Panther preview website that was eventually removed.

"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 never offered an explanation for the feature retraction and popular speculation was that it would eventually resurface in a later iteration of the Mac OS X operating system. It never did.

Unfortunately, the patent filing granted to Apple this week offers no new clues about the fate of "Home on iPod," as it was filed Nov. 25, 2002, nearly a full year before the feature was pulled from pre-release Panther builds.

"A user account created at a multi-user computer can be stored to an external, portable data store, and thus the user account becomes portable," reads the description of the feature in the filing with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. "The multi-user computer system, through its operating system, locates user accounts on not only in local storage of the multi-user computer system, but also in any removable data storage attached to the multi-user computer system."

It continues: "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. 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."

The "Home on iPod" concept is credited to Apple employees Robert Bowers of Cupertino, Calif. and Steve Ko of San Franscisco, Calif.