December 24, 2003

Happy Holidays!

Among other things, the holidays are naturally an opportunity for reflection and spending more time with family and friends. It's also a time to be thankful for what one has, and wishing others well.

In this context, I'm truly thankful to be a member of the blawging community. Through the generosity of others, I've received many great ideas in putting this blog together. While there are too many to list individually, I'm particularly indebted to Dennis Kennedy, Jerry Lawson, and Larry Bodine for their endless supply of ideas and patience in being solid sounding boards.

I've also greatly appreciated numerous blawgers participating in and supporting this blog by their comments, trackbacks, links, and other recognition (you know who you are ;^). In the professional and competitive world, the blogosphere is conversely a most generous and rewarding place to be. I think most blawgers will say that they've gotten more out of it than they put into it. That certainly has been my experience. Considering the vast amount of time required to design and keep a blog constantly updated, this is truly saying something.

I'm also thankful for having a family which has supported this substantial time investment in blogging and in being a legal technology consultant. Nearly ten years ago, I made the decision to evolve my career from praticing law into helping lawyers understand and use technology smartly so they in turn could better serve their clients.

There wasn't a lot of attorneys doing this, so at first the idea seemed a little crazy, especially in a city the size of Milwaukee (it wasn't exactly NY or L.A.). But I had the fortune to meet up with a good mentor, Ross Kodner at MicroLaw. He helped the transition go a lot easier, and encouraged me to get involved in great organizations like the ABA Law Practice Management section. Thanks Ross.

Along the way, I've worked with great folks on the ABA Techshow, Glasser LegalWorks, and LegalTech planning boards, numerous legal publications, and met up with many legal technology pioneers and luminaries. Again, I was pleasantly surprised at the high level of congeniality and collaboration among this incredible group of people. It's been a rewarding ride and I look forward to the rest of the journey. How many attorneys can truly say that on a personal level?

What I'm trying to say is that I have a lot to be thankful for, and I'm not referring to material things. It has been these many individuals who have made the difference.

So while I'm busy spending time with family and friends this week, I just wanted to take the time to thank the many people who have helped me along the way, and to wish everyone a safe and happy holiday. God Bless.

Topic(s):   Other Musings
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December 22, 2003

PalmSource Legal Expert Guide for Palm OS Devices

PalmSource has done a smart thing. They've gotten their users to prepare "expert guides" to show people that there's a lot more use you can get out of your Palm-powered PDA. Naturally, there's a Legal Expert Guide as well, written by an attorney, Susan E. Wilson.

It starts with the author's personal experience with PDAs, acknowledges that there's no particular PDA "legal killer app", and goes on to list quite a number of Palm programs that lawyers would find useful. It includes many that I've advocated for years, such as date book replacements, outliners, office suites, case managers, remote time entry, eBook readers, web browsers, and more. Lastly, it includes a list of legal eBooks, a number of which cover California code and various Federal Rules.

Seeing many legal PDA resources listed in one place makes me miss the days when was active. tried to be such a portal for a while, but I haven't seen fresh articles in a long, long time. So if you happen to get a new Palm-based PDA for the holidays, or just want more out of your device, here's another resource worth checking out to see what you can really do with it in your practice.

I also recommend following the links from the Expert Guides page for the various "What's your Task?" categories. These are some of the most extensive collections of Palm calendaring, web browser, messaging, word processor, time tracking, and dictionary/thesaurus apps that I've seen in quite some time, short of a visit to

One caution from yours truly: Some of the programs listed may only run on the PDA, and not have a Windows counterpart. It's not been often, but I've had Palm-only databases slowly corrupt on me and the Palm and BackupBuddy backups weren't any good either due to the slow corruption. If you're going to put client- and case-related information on your PDA, I highly recommend purchasing a program that runs on your PC and/or server as well and synchronizes the data. That way you have a better chance of being able to access the data in multiple places and have more backups in case something goes awry.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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December 18, 2003

Palm & Blackberry Joined Forces

In the "If you can't beat 'em, partner with them" category:

PalmInfocenter reports that "PalmSource and Research In Motion (RIM) have formalized their development relationship and have begun efforts to jointly develop a software client that enables BlackBerry connectivity to Palm OS."

The idea is to develop a solution for Palm OS devices to enable them to connect to a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) "using the same secure push-based wireless architecture and infrastructure that currently supports thousands of companies and government organizations. The BlackBerry Connect solution for Palm OS will also support BlackBerry Web Client, a wireless Internet email service for individuals and small business that does not require server software."

[Update: Here are the official press releases from PalmSource and RIM that are dated today, Dec. 18th.]

Overall, I see this as very good news for several reasons:

1) From an IT perspective, supporting and integrating these different proprietary devices can become quite burdensome. Having one server solution is key, and many large firms already have at least one BES server in place to support their existing BlackBerries.

2) I can't tell you how many attorneys I've worked with who loved BlackBerries for the wireless e-mail support, but hated its PDA functions compared to Palms. I also know quite a few that carry both a BlackBerry and a Palm for this very reason, or have purchased Treos to try to get the best of both worlds.

Although it will be interesting to see how the newly blurred lines between Palm and BlackBerries will affect the market, we'll have to wait awhile before it's even released. The news blurb stated that it won't be created until the second half of 2004. I think this will let PalmOne (the Palm hardware company) compete against RIM in the handheld device market, while letting RIM retain its BES server market.

It also occurs to me that PalmOne will need to wisely choose and include the necessary wireless capabilities into their new devices. This could be a continuation of the higher-end Palms' built-in Wi-Fi circuitry to correspond with BlackBerry's 2004 venture into Wi-Fi support. Other choices include building in Cingular's Mobitext or Motient-compatible data network radios, or perhaps just going digital cellular (GSM, TDMA, and/or CDMA). Wi-Fi is the most carrier-agnostic choice, but it's not nearly as widespread as cellular coverage (e.g., across urban and rural areas alike), at least not yet. Also, will PalmOne gear their introduction of the BlackBerry features into the Treo smartphone line, or on their wireless "business class" organizers, such as the Tungsten C, or both? Obviously, we'll find out more as they progress.

If the Palm OS programs work well with BES, this may finally present PalmOne (hardware) and PalmSource (software) with a way into its most coveted market -- the enterprise -- which they have otherwise bungled numerous times. In any event, the Palm camp has an interesting and challenging year ahead of them. While the Treo 600 is still hot now, it's mostly driven by end-consumer purchases, not corporate IT orders. If Palm (collectively) and RIM can present a compelling Palm/BlackBerry device in late 2004, then perhaps 2005 might finally see firms standardizing around a device incorporating the best of both worlds.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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New and Redesigned Legal Technology Blogs

First, Ron Friedmann has recently redesigned his web site, Prism Legal Consulting, and integrated his blog, Strategic Legal Technology. Ron has consistently authored some of the most insightful and topical posts I've read on the strategic issues facing firms today. With the redesign, he added an RSS news feed so you can add it to your favorite news aggregator. Well worth the visit in my humble opinion.

Next, Mike Arkfeld has added not one, but two blogs which correspond to the books he's written: Digital Practice of Law is his "daily digest of cases, comments and practical references for applying technology to the practice of law." Electronic Discovery and Evidence covers "cases, comments and other matters relating to electronic discovery and evidence." Both blogs also have an RSS feed.

A little over a month ago, I ran into both Ron and Mike at the Chicago LegalTech conference -- two of the nicest and most intelligent guys I know in the legal technology corner. It was my first opportunity to meet Ron who I chanced to sit next to during the keynote. As you may have guessed, with blogging in common the introductions were seamless. In fact, the main reason I recognized Ron was that I had seen his web site photo which I found via his blog -- so web sites and blogs do work. During my conversation with Mike, I mentioned to him that he might want to consider starting a blog to tie in his books. I had just launched this blog back in September, and was simply amazed at the traffic it generated compared to a conventional web site. Plus, anyone who knows Mike also knows how much useful information he can contribute. However, I can't claim any originality on the book blog, as I was inspired by Rick Klau when he marketed the second edition of "The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet".

In any event, if you should have the opportunity to see either Ron or Mike present on legal technology and/or strategic planning issues, my advice is take advantage of it. In the meantime, there's gold in them thar blogs. ;^)

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Electronic Discovery
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December 15, 2003

Grokker2 Released Today

The Mercury News reports that Grokker2 is to be released by Groxis today: "Sausalito start-up Groxis is expected to release today a new search tool that categorizes search results in a more visually friendly way and could find fans among frustrated librarians, research junkies, students and others looking for hard-to-find information."

While Google and other search engines can be very effective, I agree on the limitation alluded to in the above article: Typically, web search engines' results are lumped in together and ranked not by category, but by popularity. While that works for a number of purposes, wouldn't it be nice to categorize the search results by sub-topics? That's what Grokker2 purports to do.

It's an installable program for your PC that creates a visual "results map" organized into categories, and includes three plugins: The Web,, and My Files. "The Web" plugin searches six search engines at once (AltaVista, MSN, WiseNut, Fast, Yahoo, and Teoma), and apparently an agreement with Google is due within a couple of weeks. Presumably the second plugin searches, and the "My Files" plugin allows you to search your network or hard drive. There are also color and post-filters for additional help, with some pics on Grokker2's product page.

Here's the catch: From its specs, Grokker2 is only available for Windows 2000 and XP systems, with only a 1.0 "preview release" counterpart for Mac OS X. It's also not free, at $49.95, but there is a free, fully functional, 30-day downloadable trial version.

There is a lot of hype here, but it just might be worth a try. While I haven't tried any of Grokker's incarnations, I've experimented with several online "visualization" search engines. I've concluded they are cool-looking and fun to play with, but unless I had a special purpose in mind I still found more relevant information with Google via a properly-crafted search string (and that's where the art and skill of knowing how to compose effective search strings is invaluable). Perhaps that's one reason why these visualization maps haven't caught on yet. However, the subcategorization feature sounds useful, and it will be interesting to see how well Grokker2 lives up to the hype.

(Thanks to MarketingWonk for the news link.)

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
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December 11, 2003

Bluetooth Stowaway Keyboards Coming Soon reports and comments on an announcement from Think Outside (makers of the very useful Stowaway keyboards for PDAs and combo devices), in which they referenced the "Stowaway Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard, a new Bluetooth-enabled Stowaway keyboard for use with compatible smartphones and PDAs."

Great news for new Bluetooth-enabled PDA owners. I've got one of the original Stowaways, and have yet to find any other keyboard that rivals it. The new keyboard will most likely be similar to their latest keyboard, which utilizes an ultra slim design. BargainPDA estimates the initial price for the Bluetooth keyboard to be around $150. A bit steep for a keyboard if true, but then again, these are the premier PDA keyboards. The official release date is March 2004, but they could arrive sooner.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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Blackberries to support Wi-Fi in 2004

CNET News reports that RIM "has been testing built-in Wi-Fi connectivity in its BlackBerry devices, the company confirmed Monday. The capability should be available sometime after spring of 2004."

This portion summed up the "whys" and trade-offs between cellular and Wi-Fi data access:
"Blackberry devices wirelessly send and receive data and voice calls over wide-area cellular networks. Supporting wireless transmissions over Wi-Fi would echo recent interest in the communications and networking worlds to combine cellular and Wi-Fi technologies. Data and voice can be exchanged more cheaply over Wi-Fi networks than cellular networks. Wi-Fi networks also allow for higher throughput speeds but have a shorter range than cellular networks."

Between RIM and its third-party developers, I've seen a huge push in the past several months to compete head-on with Palms and Pocket PCs in terms of richer features. It also doesn't hurt that Blackberries are Java-based (J2ME), which opens the doors to more developers and partnering opportunities. I'll still take a Palm-based PDA any day for sheer versatility, but professionals who primarily need a mobile e-mail solution with some fringe PDA features are still well-served by a Blackberry.

It will be interesting to see how RIM incorporates Wi-Fi security features, if any. On one hand, they have to make it drop-dead easy for their customers to hop on any accessible Wi-Fi network. On the other, there could be many sensitive e-mails, contacts, and documents being transmitted over Wi-Fi. I'm still very cognizant of this disturbing and publicized result from an end-user executive's lack of education regarding how these devices work -- and how it negatively impacted his former company, Morgan Stanley.

Without the necessary encryption, I could easily see someone camping out in a highly-traveled Wi-Fi cloud (think major airports and Starbucks in key locations) with some packet sniffing tools to pick up useful intelligence. A war-driver could park in front of a cyber café and broadcast his/her own Wi-Fi network with a stronger signal to drown out the legitimate network and have the patrons send all of their data through the rogue network instead. Scary, isn't it? This isn't a jab at the new Blackberry Wi-Fi feature, but at any mobile Wi-Fi device that doesn't have sufficient security features enabled by default.

Regarding cell phone convergence, I can't see many people using Blackberries as their primary cell phone. In the e-mail/PDA/cell phone combo arena, I still say the PalmOne Treo 600 is king. While I haven't researched it, I wouldn't be surprised if there was a Wi-Fi SD card under consideration for it. Although with the GSM/GPRS Treo version, the bandwidth speed should be pretty decent, but it still can't hold a candle to broadband over Wi-Fi.

Expect to see lower-power 802.11b chips released for mobile devices like PDAs and combo devices, since right now Wi-Fi chipsets put a substantial load on the battery, resulting in shorter use between charging. That's why we're initially seeing more Bluetooth-enabled small devices, which is much easier on battery life. However, that erroneously implies that Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are comparable. Bluetooth is better seen as a short-range hard-wired cable replacement, whereas Wi-Fi is better seen as a more robust wireless networking solution. In any event, we're going to see more devices capable of transmitting information over multiple types of wireless networks, particularly cellular and Wi-Fi.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets  |  Privacy & Security
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December 10, 2003

Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain

My youngest son was home sick from school, so along with getting Jello and chicken noodle soup, I went to Blockbuster and rented him some movies to help take his mind off it. We were watching the "special features" portion of the "Cats & Dogs" DVD, including a couple of specials on how they integrated the live animal shots with Henson puppets and some computer graphics (CG) special effects to make the movie.

While I found the craftsmanship of the animal trainers, puppeteers, and the CG teams to be quite fascinating, part of me always regrets watching these "making of..." specials. Why? For the simple reason that they take some of the magic out of the experience. During the movie, we're catapulted into another world, where amazing things happen and we don't really care how they did it as long as it looks real, cool, funny, or whatever. Then I watch "the making of..." and it's a little like showing me, without a doubt, that Santa Claus isn't real, but an incredibly cool CG effect. Bummer.

And then it hit me. When working with legal professionals and technological solutions, I'm often asked to "make it work" for them. Naturally this often results in some behind-the-scenes setup for them, as well as some personal training so they learn how to do certain tasks. It's gratifying to see their "aha" moment, when the light bulb turns on and I see that twinkle in their eyes that tells me they got it.

However, I'm also reminded of the times where I or someone else was explaining a more technical aspect of a program, and unfortunately saw their eyes glaze over. Probably, they didn't want to know quite that much about it, or perhaps it exceeded their personal jargon threshold for the day, and/or they didn't want to waste time hearing about details.

But now I wonder if just some small part of it was because it took some of the magic or coolness out of it for them. After all, part of working with and enjoying technology is the magic when something just works incredibly well, particularly on the first try. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to be a bit more "Oz-like" once in a while. If nothing else, it should be a lot more fun.

Topic(s):   Other Musings
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December 09, 2003

Google Bombing Blasts Bush Bio

Try this: Search Google for "miserable failure" and click on the "I'm feeling lucky" button (or simply note the first-ranked result). This result is from direct search engine manipulation, also called "Google bombing". The Sydney Morning Herald has a nice explanation of how it works, and why it catches on like webfire. The New York Times also picked it up.

With blogs all the rage, it doesn't take many to make it work. Google's response was simply, "We just reflect the opinion on the Web, for better or worse."

Let the games begin...

(Thanks to the Stark County Law Library Blawg for the links.)

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
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December 07, 2003

KM: Ideas for Persuading Individuals to Share Best Practices has an engaging article exploring how businesses have tackled one of the thorniest KM challenges: getting their employees to actually use a Knowledge Management system.

It begins with same problem I've seen firsthand in law firms: "Even in the best of times, it's a battle to convince employees to participate in knowledge management programs. But in tough times, the tendency is for employees to horde what they know."

I've seen senior partners horde their forms in an attempt to retain their edge against other partners and upcoming tech-savvy associates. I'll even unequivocally state that in my humble opinion, there are many law firms which will fail horribly if they try to implement a formal KM program. Perhaps that's why I particularly like the linked sidebar, "What Not to Do". Number One on the list: "Don't call it knowledge management. Employees don't get it, don't care about it and would rather ignore the whole thing."

Does this mean most firms should not attempt it? An emphatic "No" is my answer. In my opinion, there are many subtle ways a firm can implement and ease KM-like activities and features into their existing culture, programs, and daily routines. There is much low-hanging fruit that is ripe for the picking. However, one of the first obstacles is the human factor. People naturally ask themselves, "What's in it for me?"

One of the article's best tips: Show Personal ROI. "Very simply, the effort of sharing knowledge has to be less than the value of participating." Further down, it offers a related idea: "Make it a no-brainer. Most people are already so stretched these days that they cannot contemplate adding another layer onto their daily routine. Therefore, you must bake knowledge collection and dissemination into people's everyday jobs."

There are a number of other creative ideas covered, and they are what I found so intriguing in this article.

Topic(s):   Law Practice Management
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December 06, 2003

Legal Uses for Tablet PCs

I was pondering where Tablet PCs might fit in well with legal practice needs, and recalled Marc Lauritsen's recent ABA LPM Magazine article, "Smart Pads on the Wireless Web". He did a nice job itemizing a number of things one might be able to do on a Tablet PC, particularly considering the pen (or stylus) interface, namely:

  • Client interviews
  • Depositions
  • Due diligence work (intelligent checklists)
  • Trials
  • Negotiations and closings

With Marc's extensive expertise in document assembly systems, he insightfully picked up on the opportunities that an automated and pre-populated practice system would bring. He also notes that web-enabled knowledge tools and Wi-Fi accessibility further enhance its capabilities.

However, he aptly observes that we're not quite "there" yet:

"[...] legal technology vendors have yet to adjust their software for optimal performance in tablet modes. Handwriting recognition, like voice recognition, still makes too many mistakes. [...] We need more Wi-Fi hot spots—and unquestioned data integrity.

Finally, interactive checklists and intelligent templates can be expensive to build and maintain. We’ll want some ready knowledge tools to outfit our new devices. An open marketplace of prefabricated applications, starter kits and componentry is my personal dream."

I agree with Marc that tablet PCs won't truly be "enabled" for legal professionals until there are legal-specific tablet-based systems and tools available. Palm-based PDA usage soared as the needed applications (including Windows-based data synchronization programs) entered the marketplace. Will software developers rush out and create them for the legal tablet market? I believe the answer to that question is ultimately dependent upon how deeply tablet PCs penetrate the legal market. Right now, very few attorneys use them. As with regular PC-based document assembly, many forms and other documents are jurisdiction-specific, further limiting their marketability.

Thus we may eventually see several developer niches for tablets. However, I think that is still a ways off, again, because there is not a substantial market to which they can currently sell. It's partially a chicken-and-the-egg conundrum: Developers need legal professionals to buy and use more tablet PCs, in order to grow the potential market to where it is viable for developers to jump in. However, many attorneys may not buy a tablet PC until they know there are legal-specific tablet applications to justify the investment. This reluctance will most likely continue while tablet PCs command a substantial price premium over traditional, higher performance notebooks. When tablets equalize with notebook prices, we should logically see wider adoption.

Another factor could contribute to faster adoption: Current PC-based software developers might be able to add tablet-based features, and therefore extend their existing programs, with only a marginal cost required. This leveraging or adaptation of existing applications could break the status quo stalemate and give the market the necessary boost.

For the near-term, however, I believe that if attorneys want to be have such a well-enabled tablet-based practice system, they will more likely have to develop them in-house or with the direct assistance of a qualified consultant or vendor. Of course, some developer may come along and prove me wrong, but that's my best educated guess for now. The convergence of PDA and laptop features into the tablet format is definitely intriguing. I'm still waiting for the evolutionary break to make them compelling to more than just the early adopters in the legal market.

Topic(s):   Legal Technology  |  Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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December 04, 2003

Smartphones May Someday Threaten Laptops?

Well, at least Duncan Martell (via Reuters) thinks so. While snazzy combo devices like the Treo 600 keep raising the bar, I still think we're a long ways off from ditching laptops for a single handheld device for all our mobile needs.

Yes, laptops keep getting smaller and thinner, and convergent PDA's cram even faster chips and more features inside. Some high-end PDA's are sporting at least 400 MHz processor chips under the hood, with faster ones on the way.

However, as much as I use my PDA and encourage its use for mobile professionals, the interface and size factor doesn't cut it for higher end computing tasks. The clamshell PDA, the closest thing to a laptop replacement, has been tried over a number of times. There is even a lot one can do on a Treo 600, and the technolust sets in quickly, but it still can't run fat client programs.

Even as the market has been shifting to web-based apps, most PDA's still can't provide a comparable browsing experience. They're getting better, but active content and screen size and resolution are still limiting factors. As another example, try giving a full PowerPoint presentation from a PDA, including full PowerPoint features such as transitions, animations, and other embedded and active content, and having full editing capability. Sure, there are a number of solutions that let one project static slides from PDA's, and a few even boast some editing features. I even own one such device, the Presenter-to-Go from Margi Systems. It's not bad, and it's worked well for canned presentations prepared well in advance. But I'll take a laptop anytime for my mission critical presentations, working at client sites, and having a fuller range of tools at my disposal when necessary.

One market research analyst quoted in the above article thinks that we're only 18 months away from the point where road warriors can leave their laptops at home. I could've sworn I read that at least 18 months ago. In my opinion, the analysts conveniently forget the human part of the equation and instead focus on the purely technical accomplishments.

Yes, high-end PDA's are definitely closing the gap on low and mid-range laptop tasks, and are "usable" in place of laptops for less demanding applications, and for short durations like quick trips. However, as a proficient touch-typist, I am much more productive when typing on a laptop-sized keyboard, and my eyes welcome those nice crisp 14- and 15-inch laptop displays. Perhaps someday, PDA/cell phone combos with a redesigned interface just might replace laptops. I just don't think it's going to be anywhere as soon as the pundits are forecasting. As my esteemed friend and colleague Dennis Kennedy once pointed out to me, PDA's are best considered to be extensions of our PCs for the time being. To which I'll add that data synchronization is a very powerful tool when used properly.

Lest my readers think I've been replaced by the "pod people" (no, not iPods ;^) in this piece, rest assured that I'm still a heavy PDA user. That experience has taught me exactly where PDA's have helped to enable me, and exactly where they still need vast improvement to be an exclusive mobile tech and data solution.

[Update: Here's an interesting piece on I found just after posting the above: "'Connected' PDAs Will Outnumber 'Traditional' PDAs by the Year 2006 - Smartphones May be Left in the Dust". Both the article and the readers' comments are worth reading to see where the market will most likely be headed. I think smartphones will still be limited to the "elite" professionals for the foreseeable future, while the masses will continue migrating to other wireless technologies in their PDAs and laptops.]

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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First Blackberry Word Processor Released

I knew it had to come sooner or later. While Blackberries are great for e-mail, they've often lagged behind in third-party application support compared to Palms and Pocket PCs. Brighthand reports that DynoPlex has released eWord, a word processor for the Blackberry platform.

eWord is available separately for $59.95 or as part of the eOffice Business Productivity suite from Dynoplex. The suite also includes eCell, a Blackberry spreadsheet program that's compatible with MS Excel. eWord enables Blackberry users to create and edit Microsoft Word documents, including documents received via e-mail attachments. It also includes the ability to create formatted email messages and send them from within eWord.

Blackberry users interested in enhanced integration with their document management systems, such as iManage, as well as financial systems and time reporting applications should check out solutions from Onset Technology and InfoClarus. I've seen their presentations in which they've demonstrated performing remote iManage document queries from a Blackberry device. As one can imagine, it's not comparable to a remote laptop experience, and one certainly won't want to review a 100-page commercial lease on a tiny screen. However, for accessing and reviewing smaller documents on a Blackberry, it's doable.

Performing remote time entry on a Blackberry is also a great way to record time on-the-fly and recapture otherwise forgotten billable time, like mobile cell calls. The cool thing is that it doesn't take much recaptured billables to actually make money using a Blackberry, so it pays for itself when leveraged properly.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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December 02, 2003

Wi-Fi Hacker Arrest Raises Security & Liability Concerns

Per a recent CNET News story, an unusual arrest of a war-driver in Toronto is raising a lot of Wi-Fi security and liability questions. As CNET sums it up, "Toronto police said they stopped a car last week for a traffic infraction when they found the driver naked from the waist down with a laptop computer on the front seat, playing a pornographic video that had apparently been streamed over a residential wireless hot spot. The driver was charged with possession, distribution and creation of child pornography, as well as theft of telecommunications--a first in Canada, according to local authorities."

Now imagine that it was your Wi-Fi connection he hijacked, except that the authorities didn't catch the war-driver, but instead tracked the downloads back to your network from your ISP's logs. Talk about some explaining to do.

Study after study shows that the vast majority (more than two-thirds per one study cited in the story) of consumer Wi-Fi networks do not have even basic wireless security features enabled. The article further discusses some of the liability concerns for the owners of Wi-Fi networks, particularly on negligence theories. As most Wi-Fi networking components ship with most or all security features disabled for "easy setup", and the default passwords are well known, it certainly doesn't help matters.

All of the above clearly illustrates the serious need for a comprehensive set of "Wireless Best Practices". Here's some links to get off to a good start:

Naturally, there's much more information available on the web on this controversial topic. Some advocate the strict prohibition against Wi-Fi networks due to the valid security concerns. Others advocate its use by enabling as much security as possible, to make it "reasonably secure", which is subject to various interpretations.

There's no doubt that wireless networks are very convenient, but that needs to be balanced against the relevant risks. Each person or organization needs to make the call for themselves, but I'd rather see the decision made as an informed one -- hence the need for better Wi-Fi security education, best practices, and policies.

Topic(s):   Privacy & Security
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December 01, 2003

What To Do When You Get an Odd Electronic File

It's only a matter of time before you receive a data file you can't open. Perhaps it was created by a program you don't have, such as a CAD or a graphic design program. Regardless, the first thing you'll need to do is identify the type of file.

I've collected a list of sites that identify and describe computer file types by their extension or suffix, e.g. .BMP for Windows Bitmap file. This is particularly handy when dealing with files obtained from clients, opposing and co-counsel, or various parties via electronic discovery, especially when you don't have copies of the original programs that created them:

Then, of course, you'll need to open the file in a program that can understand it. Therefore, having a versatile file viewer is a handy tool for viewing and/or printing those files. While there are a lot of them, I particularly like these two:

  • Quick View Plus handles more than 225 Windows, UNIX, Macintosh, DOS and Internet file formats. It's not freeware, but it's well worth the price since you don't have to go out and purchase all the programs it supports.
  • IrfanView supports many graphic, video, and audio file formats, although some plugins may be needed. From their web site: "IrfanView is a very fast, small, compact and innovative FREEWARE (for non-commercial use) graphic viewer for Windows 9x/ME/NT/2000/XP." You'll need to purchase a license for business use.

File viewers, while not a complete substitute for the full original program, also enable you to open a suspect file safely. They do so by opening the data files without executing any embedded malware such as viruses or trojans.

Lastly, some software developers provide free downloadable viewers so that people without their software can still view those formats. Adobe has long made their Acrobat Reader free via download. Even Microsoft offers some freebies. For example, Microsoft provides free viewers for Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Access, and Visio. Other vendors' viewers are easily found via some savvy Google searches.

So the next time you receive that oddball file, there is much more help at your fingertips than you may have realized.

Topic(s):   Electronic Discovery  |  Legal Technology
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

NetMeeting to be Phased Out

PCWorld reports that MS is retiring NetMeeting. For online meetings, MS will be offering Office Live Meeting, formerly known as PlaceWare.

I had the opportunity to speak with one of PlaceWare's tech people before MS acquired them -- and there is a very good reason that MS acquired them instead of Webex. Having used NetMeeting, PlaceWare, and Webex, I can safely say that PlaceWare was the most firewall-friendly of the three in my experience. Even if all other ports were blocked, it had the ability to run through port 80, the common HTTP or web access port that nearly every firewall has open. This makes it business-friendly.

I've attended many webinars, and never had a problem with PlaceWare-hosted sessions, which is saying something. Webex, on the other hand, was pretty much Russian Roulette. NetMeeting was doable as long as you had tech-savvy people on both ends, and it was free, but still clunky at times depending on the network obstacles.

So while I hate to see good, innovative companies acquired by Microsoft, with any luck this could be a good thing, as MS has the resources to make it more successful and integrate it into the rest of their offerings. Naturally, if one uses a browser other than Internet Explorer, it's prudent to be concerned that MS controls the development of both IE and Office Live Meeting. Particularly since MS has a proclivity to invent their own web standards at times.

However, if the integration makes Office Live Meeting even easier to use by non-techie business people, then I'd say that's progress, regardless of how it got there.

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)