January 30, 2004

Five Good Articles on Electronic Discovery Issues

Via Law.com, these links to five articles from the Law Technology News magazine on EDD (Electronic Data Discovery) are well worth the read:

  • "The Discovery Dance", Daniel Blouin, Law Technology News, Jan. 15, 2004

    Discusses recent EDD cases such as Zubulake v. UBS Warburg LLC, et al., and In re Ford Motor Co., and their effect upon negotiating and drafting electronic discovery requests.

  • "Data Collection Standards", Albert Barsocchini, Law Technology News, Jan. 15, 2004

    An analysis of why the current methodology for collecting electronic evidence in response to Hart-Scott-Rodino second requests and large electronic discovery cases is about to change dramatically, and suggested factors to use when evaluating EDD vendors.

  • "Can Your Old Files Come Back to Life?", Craig Ball, Law Technology News, Jan. 15, 2004

    A good primer for explaining how hard drives retain information, the forensic implications of "slack space" and "cluster size", and why these issues should be addressed in drafting discovery requests and the actual forensic collection.

  • "The Dilemma of Duplicates", Stephanie Sabatini, Law Technology News, Jan. 15, 2004

    Another good primer on the pros and cons of either keeping or removing duplicate data in electronic discovery cases, as well as related metadata, contextual, and privilege issues.

  • "Raves for Two New EDD Books", Albert Barsocchini and Craig Ball, Law Technology News, Jan. 15, 2004

    Good reviews on two essential EDD books, "Electronic Discovery and Evidence" by Michael Arkfeld, and "Essentials of Electronic Discovery: Finding and Using Cyber Evidence" by Joan Feldman.

    While you're at it, I highly recommend checking out Mike's two blogs, Electronic Discovery and Evidence and Digital Practice of Law, for a host of useful tips and resources.

Topic(s):   Electronic Discovery  |  Legal Technology
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January 29, 2004

Tablets vs. PDAs: Blurring the Lines

Let the feature convergence continue, as the lines blur between Tablet PCs and handheld PDAs. For instance, some of the newest PocketPCs have pretty good native handwriting recognition. I've tried it, and it blows Palm's Graffiti out of the water, it's that good. It takes your own handwriting and instantly converts it to text, so you don't have to learn a new way to write letters and numbers.

On the Palm OS side, new handhelds under development from Sony look promising. First, some Sony Clie's coming this year will feature OLED displays. If you haven't heard of OLEDs (Organic Light-Emitting Diode), it is a type of screen that is sharper, brighter, and uses less power than the conventional back- or side-lit displays (OLED dots glow all by themselves). When it comes to PDA battery life, the side- or backlighting consumes a huge chunk of it, so it will be interesting to see how much OLEDs extend a PDA's charge. OLED displays are also more compact and less expensive to make than conventional displays. I first read about OLEDs several years ago, and was beginning to wonder when they would find their way into mainstream consumer devices.

Next, Sony is developing its own type of organizer software for their Clies, which is in the concept stage. PalmInfocenter has the advance scoop and screen photos. From the limited information there, it reminded me of the old Lotus Organizer software for Windows -- using a tabbed notebook interface to quickly move from the calendar to address book to notes, etc. It was a popular program and interface because it enabled its users to relate back to the paper world to which they were accustomed.

I also think Wi-Fi access is important for web surfing and e-mail access. Unfortunately, SanDisk has yet again pushed back its release of their Secure Digital (SD) Wi-Fi card for Palms -- thus earning it the dubious "vaporware" award on a number of sites like Wired News. But if someone were to offer a PDA with handwriting recognition that works well enough, Wi-Fi access, a good-sized bright display, excellent battery life and good business grade organizer software for $500 or under, it certainly makes it a lot tougher to justify $2,000 - $3,000 for a Tablet PC.

Don't get me wrong, I think Tablet PCs definitely have their own niches and strengths and are extremely cool, but in a tight economy, a $500 PDA that meets 70-80% of a user's mobile needs is a lot more marketable.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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January 27, 2004

MyDoom Spreads Gloom

In case you've been bombarded by strange e-mails over the past two days and don't know why, there's a new bad boy in town named MyDoom, with AKAs of Novarg and Mimail.R by the various antivirus providers. Right now, experts are saying this could be the next big one. Among other things, it's been reported to do the following:

  • Travels as an e-mail attachment, and by social engineering it entices recipients to open the attachment which infects PCs. (Never underestimate social engineering -- it's one of the reasons blogs are so popular in search engine results.)
  • Sends out 100 infected e-mail messages in 30 seconds to e-mail addresses stored in the computer's address book and other documents. (Interestingly, it specifically avoids distribution to certain domain names and e-mail accounts -- presumably so these organizations and accounts are not infected.)
  • Copies itself to the Kazaa download directory on PCs if Kazaa is installed. The offending file is one of seven file names: Winamp5, icq2004-final, Activation_Crack, Strip-gril-2.0bdcom_patches, RootkitXP, Officecrack and Nuke2004, with a file extension of .PIF, .SCR, .BAT, or .EXE.
  • Performs a Denial of Service (DoS) starting on February 1, 2004, and has a trigger date to stop spreading on February 12, 2004.
  • Opens up a backdoor so that hackers can download and execute files later (some speculate that this may be for launching other DoS attacks).
  • Affects computers running Windows 95, 98, ME, NT, 2000 and XP.
  • Per Wired News, there were conflicting reports as to whether or not it includes a key-logging program. Although the key-logging discovery was attributed to Symantec, it doesn't appear to have the keylogger component mentioned on their Novarg security response page.

This worm looks to be more of a social protest, which probably explains MyDoom's partially selective nature. According to CNet News, MyDoom is programmed to instruct infected PCs to launch a Denial of Service (DoS) attack against the SCO Group's web server between Feb. 1 and Feb. 12. Per CNET, "[t]he SCO Group has incurred the wrath of the Linux community for its claims that important pieces of the open-source operating system are covered by SCO's Unix copyrights. IBM, Novell and other Linux backers strongly dispute the claims."

My best advice regarding e-mail attachments is this: Even if you recognize the sender of the e-mail, never click on any e-mail attachment that is an executable (e.g., ending .PIF, .SCR, .BAT, or .EXE.). It also helps if you have Windows configured to NOT hide file extensions, so you can see files' true extension names. This worm spreads if one opens the attachment. As Nancy Reagan once put it: "Just Say No" to strange attachments. However, if you absolutely must open them, make sure your antivirus definitions are completely updated, and always scan suspect attachments prior to opening them (don't rely upon your antivirus program to catch it on the fly).

For more information:

"Tricky E-Mail Worm Spreads Fast", Wired News, Jan. 26, 2004
"Gloomy Forecast for MyDoom Fallout", CNet News, Jan. 27, 2004
Symantec Security Response for W32.Novarg.A@mm

Topic(s):   Privacy & Security
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January 26, 2004

Just Around the Corner: New PCs and Longhorn

Okay, with a release date set for 2006, Longhorn, Microsoft's long awaited successor to Windows XP, is farther off than just around the corner. However, that doesn't dim the usefulness of two great articles at CIO.com.

First up, "Dawn of a New PC" explores what to expect in next-generation PCs. (Hint: Raw speed isn't everything.) Next, "The Real Meaning of Longhorn" takes a good look under its hood. First, be prepared for a serious hardware upgrade to take full advantage of its new features. Second, with XML at Longhorn's core, the distinction between desktop and webtop apps will be blurred considerably.

Topic(s):   Legal Technology
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January 24, 2004

Pretty Good E-Mail Device

Reading this post at Ernie's blog reminded me that I've been meaning to post some information about Good Technology's offerings. Good has been around for a few years, and has consistently upstaged RIM's offerings so much that RIM decided to sue them over it. Unfortunately, this has prompted some understandable hesitation for firms to jump aboard with Good for their wireless e-mail needs. However, on a number of fronts, it certainly appears that Good has built the better wireless mousetrap.

Two-way wireless (i.e., cradle-less) syncing utilizing Triple DES encryption, without reliance upon a desktop PC, is compelling enough. Couple that with a slicker, ambidextrous, and more compact PDA (the G100) than the BlackBerry 957, and one can see its broad appeal. Add to that its feature to remotely erase the device upon loss or theft to prevent embarrassing incidents, and support for viewing the text in Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and Adobe Acrobat PDFs. Indeed, the Good system has a compelling set of features.

Several photos of the G100 device are available here and at Good's G100 web page.

Of course, it has some restrictions as well. Although Good is looking to expand its network support, it only runs on the Cingular Mobitex network (but at ~$35/month it's reasonable), and only supports Microsoft Exchange for messaging servers. Goodlink also does not support the full range of BlackBerry devices, only the newer Good G100 and the older RIM 950 and 957 models. So that leaves out the newer BlackBerries with color displays, Java support, and cell phone capabilities. Apparently Goodlink 2.0 does not offer web capabilities either.

However, from a number of online reviews and feedback from several law firms, Good supplies the most-wanted features that wireless e-mail users have been asking for. As a firm believer that competition generates innovation, I'd like to see Good and RIM resolve their differences in a way that allows them both to compete.

If you're looking for more information about Good Technology's server and PDA offerings, try these links:

"GoodLink Offers Better Link", eWeek, July 28th, 2003
"GoodLink Challenges the RIM BlackBerry", PC Magazine, March 11, 2003
"Good's G100 Challenges BlackBerry for Data-Only Dominance", WirelessNewsFactor.com, January 30, 2003
"E-Mail Without Wires", Network Computing, May 29, 2003
"Law Firm Dumps BlackBerry for Good", Network World, June 23, 2003 (PDF format)
"This Smart Phone is Actually Easy to Use", (re: Treo 600 running on GoodLink) BusinessWeek Online, September 29, 2003 (PDF Format)

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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January 23, 2004

Burney on Wi-Fi Gadgets

Brett Burney, a fellow legal technology guru and gadgeteer, recently reviewed two useful Wi-Fi devices in his latest LLRX column.

First. there's the Kanguru Wireless LAN, a combo device that smartly crams both a Wi-Fi networking card and either a 64 MB or 128 MB USB flash drive into a single USB key fob unit. Granted, it only supports 802.11b and USB 1.1 (i.e., up to 12 Mbps, not USB 2.0's much higher speed). USB 1.1 is fine for 802.11b's top transfer speed, but file transfers to the flash drive should be noticeably slower than via USB 2.0. Still, it's an interesting combo device if your laptop or PC doesn't have built-in Wi-Fi capability.

Of course the drawback is that you lose the Wi-Fi function when you remove the device to transfer files to another PC directly (assuming you can't transfer them wirelessly in the first place). While the combination is innovative, this device seems a bit behind the times. I'd much rather see a USB 2.0-based 802.11g card (backwards-compatible with 802.11b) with a minimum of 256 MB for the flash drive to justify the higher price.

On a brighter note, Brett also reviewed the WiFi Detector from Smart ID Technology. Brett's review on this device mirrors exactly what I heard at the Wisconsin Law & Technology Conference a few months ago from Ross Kodner -- that this device really works well, while the competing unit from Kensington fails miserably at the same task. For $25 to $28 (not incl. S&H), this device is a bargain for helping one find an available Wi-Fi signal on the go.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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January 22, 2004

Treo 610 Rumored

If you like the Handspring (now palmOne) Treo 600, rumors are surfacing of an updated version in the 610 model. As I've mentioned previously, although a great combo device, the Treo 600 has several shortcomings -- most notably the low-res 160 x 160 display for a camera phone.

Read on to see what's rumored to be incorporated into the next Treo, and whether or not it's worth the wait.

According to Brighthand.com (and its attribution to BargainPDA.com):

"Though the Treo 600 has met with generally positive reviews, there have been some complaints. If BargainPDA.com's information is correct, the new model will deal with these problems. Specifically, many were unhappy about the Treo 600's 160-by-160 pixel screen. Supposedly, the Treo 610 will have a 320-by-320 pixel one. This is supposed to be a reflective CSTN display, not a transflective one, which will make it difficult to use in direct sunlight.

In addition, new model with have Bluetooth wireless networking, which the current one lacks. People have been asking for this feature mostly so they can use Bluetooth-enabled headsets. Reportedly, the Treo 610 will also have more than 16 MB of RAM, though BargainPDA.com doesn't say how much."

Regarding RAM, the 610 had better have more than 16 MB of RAM, since the 600 has 32 MB (24 MB usable) per its spec sheet. As for the updated display, it sounds like one step forward (resolution) and one step backward (readability in direct sunlight). Supposedly it will be very much the same as the 600, just with these updates. By the way, don't get your hopes up on Wi-Fi capability, as the original 600 model's maximum power specs were under the minimum required by SanDisk's forthcoming SDIO (Secure Digital Input/Output) Wi-FI card, and supposedly even under the new lower power Wi-Fi chips for PDAs. TreoCentral.com has a good thread discussing the power issues, while Brighthand.com explains the delays of the SanDisk SDIO Wi-Fi card and confirms its power incompatibility with the Treo 600.

If you're wondering about the release date, Brighthand cautions:

"According to BargainPDA.com, the Treo 610 will debut March 1. It is not known if this is the day it will be announced or the day that wireless carriers will begin offering it. Carriers are very cautious about what devices they allow on their networks and put each new model through a battery of tests that take months. For example, the Treo 600 was unveiled in June of last year but it wasn't available from a carrier until October."

Now if you're looking for Bluetooth, WiFi, and a 320 x 480 (half-VGA) display all bundled into a single piece tablet PDA (no clamshell), then Sony's new PEG-TH55 device looks intriguing, albeit without the cellular phone functionality.

[Update 3.8.04:

Looks like the Treo 610 rumors for a March release were just rumors, according to PalmInfocenter:

"Treo 610 Reports
Notice PIC has not covered the seemingly rampant rumors about the Treo 610? Why? Well we only publish rumors when the staff here, ourselves believe them to be credible or based on some fact. Truth is the Treo 600 is going to eventually be upgraded, but the current rumors about the 610 being released in March are totally bogus."

Given the large amount of lead time for FCC approval for any wireless device plus its adoption by the cell carriers who have to put it through extensive testing, it seemed unlikely that the device would have made a March 1st release deadline, despite many wishful thinkers. If/when there is going to be such a device, odds are we'll hear about it at least several months before its eventual release, since many of the confirmed leaks come from the FCC filings when a company like palmOne has to comply with the regulatory procedures.]

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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January 21, 2004

Detod Legal Portal For Sale

The My Detod legal portal, my favorite online legal blog portal/aggregator, is up for sale, so they can focus on their core business, e-mail hosting. The portions up for sale include the blawg search engine, legal research, and "my detod" aggregator.

This has been a favorite online stop for me, as it has many innovative features. While I use standalone news aggregator programs, the My Detod site is a great way to check the latest posts on a number of high-caliber and popular legal blogs. I particularly like how their blawg search is automatically tied into the news feeds and stories, again something quite innovative. Other blog aggregator sites have entered the market, but I prefer My Detod because it offered a quick one-stop news update from mainstream and blawg newsfeeds.

While I wish Chad Williamson and the other folks at Detod Communications the best, I sincerely hope that these great features survive online. It would be a shame to lose such a useful service just as it was showing some promising value-adds. I've always thought there was great potential in providing a "neural net" between news stories and associated commentary found in blogs and web sites featuring RSS feeds.

Topic(s):   Other Musings
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January 18, 2004

CAN-SPAM Act -- Can't

Wired News reports that despite the enactment of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, "providers of spam-filtering software say they're blocking more messages than ever. Spammers, they say, are either ignoring the law or pretending to comply with guidelines for legitimate e-mail marketing."

Here's why I believe it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better, and offer a few tips that may help.

Particularly troublesome is that spammers have "created programs that rapidly morph the content of messages, so that only three or four identical e-mails are sent out at a time. With the advent of Can-Spam, Jacob said spammers are also increasingly guilty of "faux compliance," exploiting a caveat in the law that permits unsolicited e-mails from legitimate marketers who allow recipients to opt out of future mailings. Unscrupulous junk mailers are pretending to go along with the guidelines by including false return addresses for opting out." Thus recipients who attempt to opt out either have their requests ignored or are validating their e-mail addresses for the spammers.

Ed English, CEO of Intermute (which offers SpamSubtract), confirms my original comments when he states that "many spammers will likely evade the law by moving offshore" since spam is a global problem and the U.S. law has limited reach.

Interestingly, some Wired interviewees believe that spam will continue to increase until the FTC makes an example of someone. Unfortunately, given the recent developments in music and file trading, even though the RIAA made numerous loud examples of prosecuting offenders, Wired reports mixed results in its recent "Study: Music Piracy Rising".

Indeed, the Wired spam article suggests the CAN-SPAM act may turn out to be a green light for "U.S. businesses to begin spamming American e-mail addresses as long as they give users a way to opt out. If this happened, the group predicted, 'opting out of spammers' lists will very likely become the main daytime activity for most U.S. e-mail users in 2004.'" Thus in the interim, expect more, and not less spam. I've said it before: Although the federal government was trying to do something about it, this Act was the "feel good legislation of the year", as it will not likely be effective in any meaningful way.

In my humble opinion, the Law of Unintended Consequences comes into play here. Separately the CAN-SPAM Act and the FCC "Do No Call Registry" are intended to combat unwanted and voluminous communications. However, as I've mentioned previously, a large side effect of the national "Do Not Call Registry" and separate state "do not call" laws is that they are driving the blocked telemarketers over to spamming techniques to make up for the lost call opportunities.

Here's a parting tip if you're interested in opting out from receiving more from a spammer: Don't just click blindly on the "unsubscribe" link -- its displayed text can fool you. That's because HMTL formatting in e-mails and web pages allows the displayed text to be different than the underlying link.

Instead, there's a better way to check before clicking through. It's not foolproof, but it's sometimes helpful. Depending on your e-mail program or web client, you can oftentimes right-click on the opt-out link and copy it to the clipboard. Then paste it into a text-only field (say, in Notepad or your web browser's address field). If the e-mail address looks legitimate, you have a chance it may work as desired. Conversely, there are many experts who advise against any opt-out attempts, so use your best judgment.

If the link doesn't look legitimate (e.g., it doesn't contain a valid domain name, or it goes back to a free e-mail service like Yahoo or Hotmail), then by clicking through you're just begging for more spam. Also, it depends on the sender and the relationship you do or don't have with them. If it's from a reputable company with whom you've done business, I've often had good luck unsubscribing from their newsletters, sales and PR announcements etc. (I consider it spam when I receive such things from a company when I did not specifically request them). Most mainstream companies don't want to risk offending and alienating their customers into boycotting them.

In conclusion, while I would prefer to say that it's going to be spam as usual, I fully expect it's going to get worse before it gets better, if ever.

Topic(s):   Privacy & Security
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January 16, 2004

More Legal Tech Trends for 2004

The beginning of a new year naturally brings a number of predictions, or put more accurately, trend analysis. Ron Friedmann kicked things off with his savvy crystal ball, and Dennis Kennedy just posted his. As usual, these are excellent articles well worth the read.

To these interesting points, I'll add five of my own:

I believe a number of projects law firms will be working on this year won't be "new" per se, but in actuality are a natural extension from their prior efforts. Specifically:

1. Integration

Over the past five years, law firms have invested massive amounts of time and money to install and upgrade office suites, billing and accounting, e-mail, practice management (CMS, DMS, KMS, etc.), marketing, contact management, human resources, recruiting, and intranet and extranet systems, among others. The problem is that for the most part, the data is still located in silos throughout the organization. In many cases, human resources, marketing, accounting, and practice groups all have their various databases in separate applications. In terms of internal business intelligence and responding to RFP's, there are just too many hurdles in the way. In order to gain the necessary productivity, effectiveness, and timely responses to inquiries, firms are looking at ways to bridge these gaps.

2. E-mail & Attachment Management

Most businesses have a real love/hate relationship with e-mail. Spam, viruses, web bugs, malware, document retention, electronic discovery, attachment management, and content search and retrieval has become some of the largest challenges to both IT directors and lawyers alike. Then mix in the additional issues with instant messaging and instant file transfer. As Dennis Kennedy has aptly stated, spam and spam filtering has broken the trust upon which we've come to rely in communicating via e-mail.

Thus identifying and implementing effective solutions to these challenges will most likely be high on the project lists. The problem is that there is no one program, no silver bullet, that will magically address all of these issues. With that said, more documents are received electronically, and there are systems available which help automate the storage and indexing of e-mail attachments. Note the use of the word "help", as the human element is still critical. Therefore, look for firms to try to find an acceptable balance between automatic system controls (i.e., spam filtering), ease of use, and meeting both their staff's and clients' needs in filing and finding those electronic needles in ever-growing haystacks.

3. Proactive Client Partnering

There have been quite a number of recent articles explaining why law firms get fired by in-house counsel. Controlling costs, lack of responsiveness, and failure to adapt to their clients' evolving needs are among the top reasons. Firms who want to retain their clients for the long haul are learning the value of proactively meeting with them to best determine what they want and what they need. There's been a lot of buzz regarding how portals can bridge this gap. However, the smart firms will be the ones who take the time to get to know their clients' business, and work backwards to mold their services (professional, technological, etc.) to fit those needs like a glove. A portfolio approach in this regard will serve firms quite well. Lastly, they need to bake these new processes into their staff's daily routine so they are not perceived as "extra work".

4. Electronic Discovery & Litigation Support

This topic was already mentioned in other "trends" articles, and for good reason -- this is hot technology. Lawyers in firms of all sizes are being dragged into electronic discovery whether they like it or not. Nearly gone are the days of the gentleman's agreement, "I won't ask for yours if you don't ask for mine." Ever-increasing percentages of electronic documents and data never make it to paper. New cases are refining the factors used for determining scope and cost-shifting. Thus it's probably only a matter of time until lack of due diligence in electronic discovery-related matters will have consequences with many sharp teeth.

In addition, there has been an explosion of new service provider entrants in this area. Lawyers don't have time to meet with them all. So the savvy law firms are compiling a list of "preferred providers", ones they've pre-screened or have tested previously. Recalling the previously "Hot" ASP market from several years ago has taught us this lesson: Trickling down, this will result in shakeout and consolidation in the ED market over the next several years. Indeed, there is already noticeable instability in this market niche. I have observed much mobility of key people between ED vendors -- people I've spoken with at one provider only 6-12 months ago are now with a competitor. Some ED businesses are already being acquired by larger companies. Expect all of these activities to continue during 2004 and beyond as the marketplace continues to self-adjust.

5. Mobile Technology

Let's face it: The more one uses technology, the more one generally becomes dependent upon it. Thus having access to the right information at the right time at the right location is key. Remote access isn't enough anymore. Professionals need mobile access to their calendars, address/cell phone books, e-mail, document attachments, research, notes, databases (both online and internal), and much more from a growing number of locations. Thus look for firms to take more of a portfolio approach to their mobile technology systems and offerings, rather than having just one or two pat solutions. A combination of desktop-like remote access, webified program extensions, wireless (Wi-Fi, broadband cellular, Blackberries, Palms, combo devices like the Treo 600, etc.) are already being offered at firms. Therefore, look for savvy firms to approach these not as discrete technologies, but as part of a broader plan to further integrate and yet untether their attorneys.

Well, there you have it -- my take on where things are headed for 2004. While challenging, most of these are not "rocket science", but rather are just the next evolutionary steps for those willing to move forward.

Topic(s):   Electronic Discovery  |  Law Practice Management  |  Legal Technology
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January 15, 2004

Kids, Don't Try This at Home...

For the ultimate gadget hound: How about Segway X Games? If you've followed the trials and travails of the Segway Human Transporter device, including these pics of President Bush on one, then you'll love these. (No, they're not real, but they make a great diversion.)

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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January 12, 2004

Web Browser Usage Statistics

I previously posted a link to OneStat.com for those interested in seeing how web browser usage is categorized between the various browsers (IE, Mozilla, Netscape, Opera, etc.).

Well, here's a better one: W3Schools Browser Statistics provides even more useful feedback, particularly to those who are involved in web site development and marketing. Browser usage is broken down by make and model as well as a number of time points to aid trend analysis. It also lists a similar breakdown of end-user display stats (screen resolution and color depth), operating system versions, and JavaScript versions and state (on and off). A note at the end of these statistics states the source of the information was TheCounter.com.

So if you're designing or updating a web site or blog, or having someone else do it for you, the above is useful to know in terms of seeing the big picture of web browser and end user environment demographics. For browser usage, I noticed the W3Schools.com stats don't vary all that much from OneStat.com's figures.

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
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January 11, 2004

MyIE2 vs. Opera Browser

Sniptools has a nice review and comparison of the pros and cons of the MyIE2 and Opera web browsers.

Regular readers of LawTech Guru may recall that I've posted my own comments on MyIE2 several months ago, as well as why I've all but dumped IE as my web browser.

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
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New Notebook PC Features for 2004

In the market for a new notebook, but not sure what to get or wait for? ZDNet has this nice piece outlining some of the new things we can expect to see in notebooks this year.

In a nutshell, expect a lot more goodies to be available. Larger screens (some with widescreen aspect ratio for multimedia), better 3D graphics, smaller dimension hard drives with faster RPMs, DVD+RW and/or -RW drives instead of the CD-RW/DVD-ROM combos, dual-band wireless LAN (802.11b/g), Bluetooth, slimmer form factor, and more will be either built-in or optional. I agree with the article regarding Centrino that with the right combinations of chipsets, battery performance can be dramatically increased.

Interestingly, the only mention of tablet PCs in this article was the rumor that Apple might be introducing its first one, targeted at graphics designers. Supposedly, the Mac tablet can double as a digital media hub that can be connected to the TV and PC. I would have thought there would have been discussion of the Windows-based multimedia center portables. If you've seen these portable entertainment PCs, you'd probably have a little difficulty calling these larger cousins "notebooks" or even "laptops".

Of course, with these larger displays (some as large as 17 in.), good luck trying to work on an airplane, even when the person in front doesn't recline.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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January 09, 2004

Great Date Calculator For Your Palm

In my many presentations and articles on using Palm-powered PDAs in legal practice, I often highly recommend that attorneys try the incredibly useful Dates! v2.11 program by Marty Wilber. However, over the past year this freeware program has all but disappeared from the web. The programmer's original site has disappeared into the ether with no forwarding address. Many palm software sites like Palmgear.com and FreewarePalm.com have also pulled it from their listings, which of course made it difficult to continue its recommendation.

However, serendipity struck today, as I found it while searching for other Palm programs. You can still download it from Tucows PDACentral and also from this mirror site and this one.

Why is this date calculator worth the search? This tiny program (only 17K in size) nicely calculates the number of days, weekdays, and weeks between two specified dates. Or, you can choose a beginning (or ending) date, and specify the number of days to have it give you the other date. This is handy for motion practice, or anything else where you need to quickly determine deadlines working forward or backward -- scheduling conferences, statutes of limitations, how many days left until your vacation or significant other's birthday, etc.

While there are other Palm date calculators available, Dates! has the most features yet is still very easy to use. One of its distinguishing features is the DateBook button at the bottom of the screen. Once you've calculated your due date, a single tap on this screen button will instantly take you to that day in your built-in Palm Datebook (or a compatible calendar program such as DateBk). This makes it easy and fast to enter the item in your Palm calendar and then set any reminder alarms. Naturally, it syncs over to your PC's calendar during the next HotSync. While a number of PC-based programs include some or all of these features, I like Dates! because it's available anywhere I have my PDA handy -- so I'm not tied down to my PC or have to fire up a laptop just for this.

Two caveats: First, this program was written in back in 2000 for the Palm OS up through version 3.5. If you have a newer Palm-powered PDA running Palm OS 4.x or 5.x, I fully recommend that you perform a full backup of your PDA via a HotSync (preferably with a good backup program like BackupBuddy) before installing it, just to be on the safe side. In fact, that's my recommendation to follow before you install any new Palm program. Many Palm OS 3.5 programs run just fine on Palm OS 4.x and 5.x without any modifications, but it never hurts to be careful. If nothing else, it's probably time for you to backup your PDA anyway.

Second, as I didn't write this program, I make no representations, warranties, or any other kinds of assurances whatsoever that any date calculator is free from bugs or mistakes. So I always tell people to try it out with some test date calculations to make sure it passes muster. Now with that said, I've recommended this to many attorneys I've worked with and have received nothing but great feedback. For free, the price is certainly right.

A parting tip: Given the rate at which this fantastic little program has been pulled from the web, I strongly recommend downloading it today so you have it, even if you don't have time to install or use it yet.

[P.S. In the giving-credit-where-due dept: Thanks goes to Bruce Dorner who first beamed this program to my Visor several years ago when we served on the ABA Techshow Board together. Just in case you thought those planning meetings were dull -- you can imagine what happens when you put a group of fun-loving tech-savvy legal professionals together in a conference room for extended periods. ;^) ]

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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January 08, 2004

USB Server Will Network Your External Devices

Today at the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, Keyspan announced their upcoming USB server.

Per the press release, the server will connect USB devices to a Mac or PC via a wired or Wi-Fi Ethernet network, and will ship in late Q1 2004 with an MSRP of $129. In essence, it will share USB printers, scanners, hard drives, and more. The client PCs will need to be running Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Mac OS X 10.2.8 or higher. Mike Ridenhour, president of Keyspan, states "its most innovative use may be to enable Wi-Fi-based laptops to connect to remote USB devices."

If it works as hyped, it would save the time of disconnecting, reconnecting, and moving devices between PCs. Thinking aloud, this would probably work well as long as the OS has the particular USB device drivers built-in. Otherwise, I can see where it might be necessary to install the requred drivers or end-user programs on the various client PCs for it to work. For example, scanners usually need additional software installed to realize their full use. And of course, with printers and scanners, you'd still need to physically go over to them to work with the hardcopy. This driver issue probably explains why only Win 2000 and XP are supported, since they have more device and network drivers built-in than their predecessors.

Basically, I see the best use for the server in cutting the cords and going completely wireless. However, unless the server setup is a breeze and problem-free, many people just might find it easier to simply move and plug in the USB device by hand. After all, that was one reason why USB was created, to make it easy to hot-swap devices.

Another option would be to use Bluetooth-enabled devices instead, but I still hear from people who've run into connectivity and communication issues with it, mostly due to vendor differences in the BT implementation. As with all CES-prompted press releases, it will be interesting to see if reality lives up to all of the hype on this one.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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January 07, 2004

Honorable MVP Mention

My humble thanks goes to Jerry Lawson for including LawTech Guru among the blawgs honorably mentioned in his recent post for the 2003 site of the year. My congratulations to Denise Howell's Bag and Baggage blawg, which is well deserved. Denise has helped set the standard and raised the bar (if you'll pardon the pun) for legal blogs.

LawTech Guru was honored as Netlawtools' October MVP Site. I'm honored to be included with such a distinguished group of pioneers. Be it known that Jerry's blogging evangelism, insight, and gracious help had a direct impact on my creating this blog. While Jerry is too humble to admit it, he's definitely an MVP in my book -- and, I suspect, in those of the blawgers mentioned.

Topic(s):   Other Musings
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RSS Feeds Help Dodge Spam with Dodgeit

Now here's an interesting use of RSS feeds. Dodgeit is a free service that lets you pick your own throw-away e-mail user name at dodgeit.com, such as noone@dodgeit.com. Then you can give it out to whomever you want without fear of receiving spam at your regular e-mail accounts. Per their site, it is free, receive-only email with no set up required.

While there are a number of these services, not to mention the old stand-bys of Yahoo! and Hotmail, this one adds a new twist: Instead of you having to manually go to their web site to check your e-mail, it adds a free RSS feed which will automatically notify you in your favorite news aggregator. This is a practical and useful application of news feeds.

However, in this particular service, I would strongly caution against using it for several serious reasons and flaws:

1. There is no privacy policy posted.

Indeed, the site has all the hallmarks of being a programmer's pet project. I'm not trying to be critical, and I heartily applaud his efforts. I just don't like my e-mail to be hosted somewhere without knowing what will be done with it.

2. There is no security on the e-mail addresses or accounts.

This one is fatal. For example, I tested the security by entering the following e-mail accounts and was granted immediate access to the e-mails: test@dodgeit.com and noone@dodgeit.com. From this I am concluding one's e-mail is open to reading by anyone who guesses your account user name. There was no password to stop me or anyone else.

Let's think about what happens when you submit your Dodgeit e-mail address to sign up for a free account at a web site. Later on, you might forget your password, and naturally have the site e-mail it to you. Well, you guessed it -- it goes over to Dodgeit.com with no security and now everyone knows your login information -- not to mention the problems this raises if you're prone to reusing passwords.

So why would I even point this service out? Because it's one of the more creative, yet practical, uses of RSS feeds besides pushing headlines and blog content. I'd like to see more of these email-to-RSS gateway services introduced. For example, I check my regular e-mail accounts daily, but I don't check my free Yahoo! accounts nearly as much because I have to go over to Yahoo!'s site and login, which is outside of my routine and e-mail program. Yes, I could sign up for Yahoo!'s paid service which would give my e-mail program POP3 access. However, I just don't use Yahoo! that much for important e-mail (as it's my throw-away e-mail account). I use my news aggregator nearly daily, and an RSS alert is a lot more convenient to have right next to my other news feeds.

However, this raises yet another security requirement: authenticated RSS feeds. I wouldn't want just anyone to subscribe and "listen in" to my e-mail RSS feeds. Not all news aggregators support RSS authentication. Luckily, my favorite news aggregator, NewzCrawler, includes this feature. The nice thing is that you just set up the login information once in the aggregator, and it can then retrieve the RSS feed items for you in one convenient place.

Therefore, if anyone has come across a good, free, reliable, private, and secure e-mail service with authenticated new mail RSS alerts, I'd love to hear your experience with it. Please post a comment.

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
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January 06, 2004

Risk Management of Wireless Networks

Slashdot has an interesting thread on this one, and particularly a link to the OCC's (Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, for banks) advisory on the topic. While the advisory lists a number of technical and tactical items to address, it also covers strategic concerns and lists many items that a wireless network security policy should consider.

If the idea of a bank using a wireless network concerns you regarding your financial privacy and security, then definitely check out the sub-thread on doctor's offices, which eerily could apply to lawyers.

Topic(s):   Law Practice Management  |  Privacy & Security
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New MS Office 2003/XP Add-in to Remove Hidden Data

Microsoft just published a free tool to remove hidden data (metadata) from the following Office applications:

  • Microsoft Office Word 2003

  • Microsoft Office Excel 2003

  • Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2003

  • Microsoft Word 2002

  • Microsoft Excel 2002

  • Microsoft PowerPoint 2002

Microsoft's overview states: "With this add-in you can permanently remove hidden and collaboration data, such as change tracking and comments, from Word 2003/XP, Excel 2003/XP, and PowerPoint 2003/XP files." There is a "readme" file included in its installation which provides a complete list of all of the types of data that the tool will help to remove.

Per MS, "you can run the Remove Hidden Data add-in on individual files from within your Office XP or Office 2003 application. Or, you can run Remove Hidden Data on multiple files at once from the command line."

Here's the big catch (you knew there had to be one): Currently, the only supported operating system for this add-in is Windows XP. Microsoft states that "[t]he Remove Hidden Data add-in has not been tested on Microsoft Windows 2000. Also, the add-in cannot be installed on Windows 98 or Windows Millennium Edition." While I'll resist the temptation to mention this appears to be yet another MS ploy to drive Win XP upgrades, I have to admit the thought crossed my mind. It could also be that MS wanted to release it as soon as they had a Win XP-ready add-in. Here's hoping they will support other Windows versions (but I'm also not holding my breath on this one).

Apparently this add-in is free to licensed users of these programs. Please note this is not a separate standalone program, so you must have the necessary Office program installed in Windows XP for the add-in to work. Microsoft's web page above also lists a number of helpful tips, such as saving to a new file so as to preserve any wanted items (e.g., Track Changes) in the original collaborated files.

I mentioned the readme file so that savvy users could compare its functionality to other metadata removers on the market. Although it's free, I strongly suggest that you make sure this tool removes everything you need it to remove. If it doesn't, then I recommend obtaining a program that will do the necessary job rather than rely upon this free utility. Otherwise, it could create a false sense of security, which when relied upon can cause many of the same problems as not using a metadata remover at all. Still, if you do not currently have a metadata remover and use the Office XP or Office 2003 suites, then using this add-in is probably better than the alternative.

On another note, while speaking at a recent legal technology conference, I was glad I attended a presentation from Donna Payne of Payne Consulting. She emphasized that metadata issues and improved metadata control is at least one compelling reason to upgrade to either Office XP or 2003 from prior versions. Of course, she then "scared us straight" by demonstrating metadata issues about which MS was unaware until she showed them. Yikes.

Topic(s):   Electronic Discovery  |  Legal Technology  |  Privacy & Security
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January 04, 2004

Palm OS Devices Deliver Lower TCO, Higher Satisfaction than Pocket PCs

I sometimes get asked why I favor Palm OS devices over Pocket PCs. My short answer is that in my humble opinion, Palm-powered devices are simply easier to learn and use out of the box (i.e., are more intuitive) and have many thousands of programs available. Chances are that if I'm looking to do something new on my Palm-powered PDA, someone else has already thought of it and posted a program (often free) or the solution online. Here's not only my thoughts on this much-debated topic, but the survey results of thousands of PDA-toting PC World readers regarding reliability and service. It confirms much of my own experiences and why firms are smart to support them.

Only now am I beginning to seriously eye up the Treo 600 as its replacement. The GSM model is a true world phone and GSM phones often get nearly double the battery life compared to their TDMA and CDMA counterparts. Also, the SIM card portability of account and other information between phones is very handy indeed. However, the swiss cheese-like U.S. GSM coverage maps are still problematic as the Treo 600 has no analog or other fallback capabilities, so it's GSM all or nothing. Metro areas aren't much problem, but I still want better coverage overall. After all, I live in Wisconsin, which has many great outdoor activities throughout the state and I like to have a cell phone along for safety reasons.

With Palm-based devices, I've had very few problems that couldn't be corrected in fairly short order. Lastly, with nothing more than the stock plastic snap-on cover and a screen protector, my Handspring Visor Platinum has weathered and endured numerous drops, car keys in the same pocket, and worse with nary an adverse effect. It's been one tough hombre and is still in great shape. That plus its unique ability to plug in memory card, modem, and PowerPoint presenter modules has extended its use and kept me satisfied for a long time. How does your PDA compare?

Well, as I said above, it looks like the December issue of PC World magazine confirms my Palm OS-powered experiences. The conclusions drawn from their reader survey reports:

"There's a clear consensus in our survey of handheld owners: Respondents with PDAs that run the Palm operating system had a better time than those running PocketPC-based PDAs. The three companies at the top of the reliability class, Handspring, Palm, and Sony, all use the Palm OS. Meanwhile, companies including HP, Dell, and Toshiba--all of whose PDAs run the PocketPC operating system--lag behind this group."

The PC World article also posted the reader rankings of specific PDA manufacturers for reliability and service.

Am I biased? You bet -- biased by my direct numerous positive experiences with Palm-powered devices. This certainly seems echoed by Walt Mossberg in his recent WSJ Personal Tech column. While reviewing the same two new Pocket PC-powered smartphones I reported on here back in November, he even goes so far to mention "the brilliant Treo 600, from palmOne, uses the Palm operating system and is the gold standard in smart phones." He had more positive things to say about the Treo 600 back in September when it debuted.

While Pocket PC's have improved overall, I've tried playing around with them and still conclude that for the average person, the Palm OS is still easier to use. Note that I'm not saying "more powerful" or "better". The processing power of high-end Palms and Pocket PC's is quite comparable. "Better" would be far too subjective, and that call depends upon how close a particular PDA met its owner's specific needs and style of working.

A PalmInfocenter post covering this survey reports that "Palm OS owners had 22% fewer support problems, and were more likely to be highly satisfied than their Microsoft-powered counterparts according to the 32 thousand subscriber respondents."

Fewer problems equate to a lower support cost and lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). For any firm that supports handheld use, they know firsthand how that makes a difference both in productivity and the bottom line.

Topic(s):   Legal Technology  |  Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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January 03, 2004

PDAPortal -- For the Connected PDA

I'm back from taking a week off, and here's something for all you smartphone and Wi-Fi enabled PDA owners:

Thanks to PalmInfocenter.com for posting some nice links to PDA-friendly web sites. In particular, PDAPortal is a handy site listing 463 PDA-friendly web sites, and it includes category and language filters, as well as a text search. Another great site I like is PliNkIT.com, which also lists quite a number of PDA-formatted web sites by category. So if you just got a Treo 600 for Christmas, here's your chance to give it a really good spin around the world.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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