General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

A service of the ABA General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

Technology eReport

American Bar Association - Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice

mARCH 2010

Vol. 9, No. 1



Cold and Dead, From My Hands

As far as non-techno-geeks go, I am an early adopter of new technologies. It’s hard to avoid, having come of age in Microsoft Country (Seattle), then married a rocket scientist. However, when I find something I like, I hang onto it until its dying breath. I am mourning the impending passing of my last in a long line of Palm PDAs, a T|X, as it goes gently into that good night. I know in my heart of hearts that it is time to let go. Since I recently switched to a laptop with a 64-bit operating system, I have had to give up my once-glorious Palm desktop graphical user interface in favor of a third-party programmer’s shadowy approximation. My full-sized folding keyboard no longer works. I am faced with the daunting task of finding another PDA that will perform the functions I have come to know and love over the past 12 years, and onto which I can migrate my hundreds of contacts, countless memos, and thousands of calendar entries. I will have to print out a hard copy of everything to make sure no data slip through the cracks. I hate Microsoft Outlook, but I fear I must embrace it after many years of keeping it at arm’s length.

I got my first PalmPilot in early 1997 (U.S. Robotics was still the manufacturer), back in the days when the larger law firms still had separate word processing departments and partners rarely had their own desktop computers. The Internet had just been unleashed on the public. Laptops weighed upward of 15 pounds and were prohibitively expensive for the likes of me, a lowly associate barely making the payments on my student loans. I would show up in courts all around Southern California for various law and motion matters and whip out my nimble PalmPilot when the time came for the judge to schedule our next rendezvous. I would deftly enter the information into my electronic calendar using the Palm’s unique “Graffiti” handwriting recognition system while opposing counsel hurriedly flipped through the pages of a paper calendar or, worse, admitted that he or she had not brought a calendar and would have to call back to the office.

As I would turn to leave, attorneys waiting for their turn at bat would invariably ask, in hushed wonderment, “What is that?” I would take them out to the hallway and demonstrate the amazing acrobatics this device could perform. I am sure I was responsible for many PalmPilot sales at the time. Now, after several generations of the Palm operating system and several changes of company ownership, as well as years of market-flooding by hollow imitations, when I whip out my two-year-old Palm T|X, I get a disdainful “What is that?” accompanied by pejorative descriptors such as dinosaur or ancient.

When the PalmPilot first hit the market, nothing of the kind had been seen anywhere. The touch screen and the Graffiti were awe-inspiring. It was so small but could do so much. No more unwieldy DayTimers! No more messy writing, erasing, and rewriting addresses and phone numbers by hand as colleagues changed firms or friends moved around! As an information management tool, the PalmPilot was indispensable. My first one was built so well, it lasted five years before it finally gave up the ghost. By that time, the technology and user interface had advanced quite a bit, the folding keyboards were available, and there was a second version of the Graffiti handwriting to learn. Competitors such as iPAQ, Axim, and BlackBerry had emerged, but their operating systems didn’t hold a candle to the Palm OS.

As I progressed through successive iterations of the Palm, BlackBerry went viral, and the iPhone came on the scene. Companies continued to develop apps for the Palm, and the Palm’s memory and capabilities kept expanding. With the folding keyboard, I could be away from the office, on the phone with a client or colleague, typing notes directly into my Palm. I didn’t have to bring a laptop with me—everything fit neatly into my small handbag. I could take notes on my Palm during a deposition or while sitting in MCLE classes. With the wireless connection that came available later, I could check my email and surf the Internet with a beautiful, high-resolution screen display. I could carry my photo album with me.

Then Palm started developing smartphone models and moving away from the Palm OS, embracing the Microsoft Windows Mobile OS with its Trēo (although it held onto the Palm OS for awhile with the Centro). The end was in sight, but I held on, hoping against hope that the diehards like me would create enough market share for Palm to justify continued expenditure of R&D dollars on the Palm OS. Then, a few months ago, poof! Palm stopped offering its traditional PDAs. The Palm OS was unceremoniously killed off. Now Palm offers two models, the Prē and Pixi smartphones, which operate with Palm’s new webOS. The Pixi has an integrated BlackBerry-style thumb keyboard. You can only use the Palm smartphones if you are a Sprint or Verizon customer (as of this writing, Sprint is still offering the Trēo Pro). It is Palm’s last attempt to rage against the dying of the light.

Yes, I know the writing has been on the wall for quite some time. I can no longer find a PDA that doesn’t have a phone attached. I actually liked that feature, because I could be on my cell phone and type notes at the same time. I don’t think anybody makes a PDA with a full-sized portable keyboard now. That means I’ll have to start lugging my laptop everywhere. My current laptop is billed as “ultraportable,” but it is not nearly as ultraportable as my Palm T|X with the folding keyboard. I guess I’ll have to get a bigger handbag. As I finish this, a tear slides down my cheek. So long, old friend. You’ve served me well.

Samantha Blake has been admitted to practice in California since 1993. She is a Director of EXTTI, Incorporated, which provides consulting services in the employment area, including expert testimony, training on the avoidance of harassment and discrimination to managers and employees, workplace investigations, assistance with disability accommodations and the interactive process, and executive coaching.

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