General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionTechnology & Practice Guide

American Bar Association
General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division

The Compleat Lawyer, Fall 1996, Vol. 13, No. 4

technology.law
Windows 2000: What Lies Ahead?

J. Michael Jimmerson is a technology consultant and founder of Legal Counsel & Computing. He is the co-author of A Survival Guide for Road Warriors, a best-selling book on mobile computing for lawyers, published by the American Bar Association. His next book is Windows for Lawyers, to be released in Fall 1997. He can be reached by phone (773/506-9870), e-mail (jimmer@legalcounsel.com) or the Web (www.legalcounsel.com).

Try to imagine the general practitioner in the year 2000. Will computers have been reduced to small hand-held devices or neural implants? Will we interact with them using voice commands? What software companies will survive into the next millennium? If after reading the article by Kimberly Sanchez on technology trends, you have a good snapshot of the present and near future. We must continue to educate ourselves and our staff so that we can make future transitions smoothly.

As we reflect on the turn of the millennium, we should also celebrate the birthday of Windows, the operating environment from Microsoft that made Intel-based PCs accessible to the masses. By the time you read this, Windows 95 will have passed its first birthday. Few of us recognize that Windows 95 was actually released on the tenth anniversary of MS Windows 1.0. (Actually, MS Windows 1.0 was released in March 1985, but close enough.)

The first iteration of Windows was Microsoft's answer to Apple Macintosh, the first GUI (graphical user interface) for the masses. (The first GUI was created by Xerox but did not see general use because it was so far ahead of its time. Of course, it was slow, had few applications, and did not achieve critical acceptance.) All that changed, however, with MS Windows 3.0, and later, version 3.1. Law firms slowly migrated to Windows but most remained loyal to the DOS environment. Indeed, a significant number of lawyers and firms continue to use DOS applications, most notably, WordPerfect 5.1. Lawyers were once proud to proclaim that "we don't do Windows." But the times they are a'changing.

Windows 95 has become a household word, thanks to the unprecedented marketing effort launched by "big Bill." Lawyers are realizing that they must bow to the majority and embrace Windows. As they say, you can swim upstream or downstream. In many cases, solos and small firms will jump right over Windows 3.x and move directly from DOS to Windows 95. Some might even be smug at their forethought in avoiding the interim upgrade. Unfortunately, in most offices, the hardware in place is simply insufficient to run Windows 95. Let's face it, despite everything out of Redmond, Windows 95 will not run on a 386 with 4 MB of RAM. The good news is that powerful PCs have gotten dirt cheap and RAM is plentiful and inexpensive. So the time is ripe to upgrade that old hardware and move to this next generation operating system.

Switching will involve many tough decisions, particularly when upgrading your applications. Not so long ago, one word processor, WordPerfect, was the only choice in law offices. The folks in Orem probably owned over 90 percent of the market. But that was before their neighbors in Provo--Novell--bought WordPerfect for a premium. But this hasty marriage ended abruptly and this word processing mainstay is now owned by a Canadian company, Corel. This uncertainty over the last few months has caused many to step back and reevaluate their choices.

The release of Windows 95 and its first major apps, Office 95, was very tempting for many law offices. WordPerfect was slow to come to market with a Windows 95 version and has lost considerable ground. And although WordPerfect 95 is now available, the second generation of the Microsoft suite for Windows 95--Office97--will be released later this year. By all accounts, this new version is squarely aimed at legal users, reminiscent of the upgrade to Wordperfect 4.2. Choosing the best upgrade path will involve several factors including costs, features, compatibility, and platform considerations.

Upgrade costs for either are approximately equal. In most instances, if you own an older version of Word or WordPerfect, you can upgrade to the newest version, or a competing version, for a fraction of the full retail cost. Comparing features between these two suites can be a gargantuan job with all the bells and whistles in each. The best approach is to consider the features that you will use the most and compare their implementation in either package.

Compatibility with other programs was once a bigger issue than today. Law firms standardized on WordPerfect because everyone else was using WordPerfect. This made exchanging documents with other law offices, clients, and courts easy. However, the Windows environment has eliminated this barrier and you can freely exchange documents with Word or WordPerfect users. Document conversion is handled automatically for an extensive list of programs and versions. Also, you can save documents in any format you choose.

Another factor that users should consider is the platform they prefer. This involves two independent issues. First, how well do the applications within a suite or product line work together? Application integration is an important consideration and can greatly enhance productivity. Second, will the product line endure and improve in the future? Some users may prefer Microsoft and their applications because they see this as a stable company with few surprises in the near future.

Admittedly, this is an intangible but nonetheless important consideration. WordPerfect suffered loss of market share because users were not comfortable with the long term future of the product line and instead switched to the Microsoft line. Whether Corel will be able to stem the tide is still uncertain. Corel is well known for having a wide product line at competitive prices. The question is, will users continue to get the level of support that they expect from WordPerfect (and lost with Novell)?

Whichever you choose, do some research and make an informed decision. The transition to Windows 95 is a big leap forward, particularly for DOS holdouts. Take advantage of this opportunity and build an office system that will carry you forward into the next millennium.

Copyright (c) 1996 American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.

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