There has been a lot of buzz lately about e-readers, such as Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook.  Best Buy also blitzed us with ads this Christmas for the Sony Reader.  Until recently, I blew these off, because as a book reader, I liked having the physical book, and the ability to turn pages.  I also was skeptical of the way copyrights and DRM would come into play.  The prime example of this was the ironically Orwellian incident with the Kindle where Amazon discovered that they did not have digital rights to certain of Orwell’s works, which then disappeared from users’ devices.

However, recently I have been rethinking my position and mainly eying it as a device that would help me to maintain a paperless office.  Sure it is great to scan all of your documents.  Less paper, less storage, easier recovery from disaster, and, well, you get the idea.  One of the downsides of this is the portability of data.  What happens when you are away from your office?  A physical file can be flipped through; booting up your laptop can be a pain, depending on where you are.  Enter the e-book, which can store and display PDF documents as well as e-books.  One can find and review documents much easier in a court hallway, bus, or some other place where a laptop might not make the best sense.

This got the devices on my tech radar, but I would definitely recommend that attorneys hold off on purchasing a device like this right away.   Apple is rumored to be announcing a tablet PC with e-reader capability on January 27, while many new devices will be announced this month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, including, it is rumored, one by Microsoft and HP.   Have it on your 2010 shopping list, but keep an eye on developments in the next few months in order to get the best all-around device that won’t be “one-upped” a few weeks later.

Okay, so I’ve been away for awhile.  I decided to work on my law blog and tweet on tech periodically as I found interesting articles on the net.  However, I have been seeing some very interesting things lately, and I just had to write about some of it.

One of those things is Tungle, a web-based service that synchs with your calendar and allows you to schedule meetings with others.   Anyone viewing your calendar will not see WHAT you are doing, but simply that you are not available at that time.  People can access your page and suggest a meeting based on your availability.  As a solo without a secretary, that is just a fantastic resource!   No more telephone tag with clients trying to schedule appointments.  I just e-mail them a link to my Tungle page and ask them to suggest times.  Much easier!

Tungle can synch with your calendar in Outlook and Google, while Mac Entourage is in beta and Lotus Notes is in development.   Even better, it synchs dynamically.  I make a change in my Outlook calendar, and in seconds it is reflected on my Tungle page.  You can dress up your home page with a picture and contact information (phone numbers, e-mail, web site), links to your Facebook page, Twitter feed, LikedIn profile, or Xing page, even add a note to visitors (mine says to call to schedule an appointment after 5pm).  Check it out, or even better, give it a try!

One of the downsides to the Vista upgrade that I mentioned awhile back was that certain programs (like QuickBooks) would have to be upgraded to work with the new OS, thus increasing the cost.  However, one of the new features planned for Windows 7 is an “XP Mode” (XPM), currently in beta testing, which allows XP-specific applications to run inside the Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise versions.  Interesting move by Microsoft to entice businesses to upgrade, but will it fulfill its promises?  Should an upgrade decision be based on that?  I don’t think so.

An April 26, 2009 post on the PC World blog warns that XPM could be more trouble than it is worth.   It quotes Michael Silver, an analyst with Gartner Inc., as saying that there are two downsides.

“You’ll have to support two versions of Windows.  Each needs to be secured, antivirus-ed [sic], firewalled and patched. Businesses don’t want to support two instances of Windows on each machine. If a company has 10,000 PCs, that’s 20,000 instances of Windows.”

The other downside, he says, is that XPM could be used as a crutch that would lead companies not to be sure that their applications are Windows 7 compatible.  Eventually, the upgrades need to be made, as Microsoft is phasing out support for XP.  In addition, XPM would continue to bog down Windows OSs by making them still run on “legacy code,” which has been a problem for the OS for over a decade.  Finally, XPM does not run on all hardware, so you would have to be very careful about what machines you buy.

My advice?  Bite the bullet now and upgrade your software with the move to Windows 7.  You will be surer of hardware and software support, and will leave behind performance and stability problems created by running legacy code on the latest OS.  It is an investment that will pay off.

Well, I finally got a netbook computer, after months of shopping and research. The Asus Eee 1000HE seemed like the best choice, with its 10 inch screen, latest Intel Atom CPU, Bluetooth capability, 9.5-hour rated battery, and generous ports (although it does not come with an optical drive). There is also an external monitor port, which is nice, a built-in microphone and webcam, 10 Gb of free online storage, and Skype software. So far, I am very pleased with my choice; in fact, I am using it to write this post.

The keyboard is fairly comfortable at 92% of a standard keyboard size, although I do not think I could recommend typing an appellate brief on it. The SD Card port allows me to upload photos from my camera for viewing and storage, while the headset port allows me to use it to listen to my music. I have yet to try out the Bluetooth capability with my cell phone (post to follow), but that would be great for backing up my phone data, including the pictures I take with it. The battery is holding up well and so far holding up its promise on longevity, but only time will tell.

The point here is that, although it is not a replacement for your main machine, it is a great, all-purpose workhorse for many tasks on the road, including:

  • More effective out-of-office web browsing than a smart phone (although naturally not as portable);
  • Access to music and pictures;
  • PowerPoint presentations off-site;
  • Access to files from anywhere when they are on Asus’ online storage server;
  • More effective document editing than on a handheld device (although nothing that long term or involved); and
  • Video conference calls using Skype for VoIP.

The only criticism I have so far is that it did not come with a trial version of antivirus software to keep me safe until I can download and install something else. Also, I was hoping to be able to use a USB external CD-ROM drive I have for system recovery, but the rescue disk that came with the machine was a DVD. Oh well. I can still use it to install software from CDs.

The bottom line is that a mobile lawyer can certainly use this machine to be more effective while out of the office. It does not replace a full-blown laptop, but it does act as a smartphone on steroids. Asus is a good company that makes solid products, which are certainly worth a look.

For the last few years I have been unhappy with the lackluster results of my phone book advertising; it just wasn’t bringing in the kind of business my other marketing efforts were.  This was also with me being in both major books, Verizon and the Yellow Book.  At the same time, I had been reading and hearing about how much more successful Internet and Web marketing schemes have become, and as a result I have, in the last year, ramped up my web presence significantly, while cutting back on my phone book ads.

The first sign that there was “trouble in paradise” (i.e. that the phone book was not the “gotta have” advertising for lawyers) was when Verizon sold the rights to its phone book to Idearc Media (you don’t sell the cash cow while it is still giving milk).  I also realized that I myself was not using either book.  If I was looking for a product or service, I would Google it; if I was trying to nail down an address for someone (or some business) I already knew about, I would use yellowbook.com, switchboard.com, or superpages.com.  But then, when I market, I am not looking for the person that already knows me; they will find me no matter what.

The next sign was Idearc Media filing chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 31, 2009, in the Northern District of Texas (Case # 09-31828-BJH-11, for those of you interested).  Now as a bankruptcy attorney I know the difference between a chapter 11 reorganization and a chapter 7 liquidation, so I am not sounding a death knell here.  Many businesses have successfully emerged from chapter 11.  However, this does come under the category of “this can’t be good.”  From what I have read, this situation was brought about by a huge amount of debt inherited from Verizon and not a cash flow crunch (although one blogger linked the filing to “tanking sales”), so the company may well regain its health once it restructures.  On the other hand, as one blogger put it, perception is everything:

“In this headline driven world, everyone is going to hear only that the yellow pages is bankrupt. And everyone will think they ran out of money because no one is using it anymore. Then people will think they now NEED to use the internet to get information when making a local purchase decision. Then the yellow pages will be bankrupt for real.”

Even if this is a temporary setback for the company, the stigma of the filing, in this fast-paced tech world, may well make it more difficult for it to get back on its feet.

It is still my belief that people are going more and more towards Google and other web search engines to find businesses, rather than using the phone book, and that even if Idearc survives, it is only a matter of time.  This should spur all of us on to a better presence on the web through vibrant web sites, blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter streams, if we haven’t done so already.  We need to be ahead of the tech curve on our marketing if we are going to succeed.

One of the first posts I wrote for this blog talked about the new HP laptop I had purchased (an HP dv9000t), and the advantages of the widescreen computer.  However, as I have used the machine since then, and in looking at netbooks over the last couple of months, I realized that I had not set my priorities right when I had bought it.  This is something that everyone shopping for a laptop should do.

In essence, what I bought was a desktop replacement machine, when what I really needed was something more portable to enable me to work from anywhere.  The machine is great.  It has a 17″ widescreen and a keyboard with a conventional numeric keypad, which is terrific for my bankruptcy practice, where I am constantly entering numeric data.  It had lots of RAM, a roomy hard drive, a good video board, and a fast processor.  However, when I said in that post that it was “a better portable office than machines with smaller, conventional screens,” I must say I was wrong.

A portable office has to be portable, and lugging around a heavier, bulkier machine just makes it more difficult.  If you are just going back and forth from office to home, this may well not be a big deal; but if you are traveling by air or trying to be more productive during downtime in court, a smaller lighter screen would be much more practical.

As for netbooks, although they are far more portable, I would not necessarily recommend them as a primary laptop.  Although they are great for web access, e-mail, and short term keyboard usage, real work needs to be done on a larger screen and a bigger, more comfortable keyboard.  Look for a machine with a 12-14 inch screen to keep the weight and bulkiness down.  Also consider how much work you are going to do away from a power outlet, as batteries with longer lives are bigger and heavier.

Just get what you need.  Avoid the hype for features such as larger hard drives, more than 3 gigs of RAM, or video boards.  Get a good, fast dual core CPU.  Also, whatever you do, wait for Windows 7 to come out.  Most of what I am reading about it is that it is a big improvement over Vista and does not have the heavy hardware resource demands.  Even Ubuntu Linux fans like Sam Glover over at the Lawyerist are saying it is worthwhile.

Lawyers need to work from anywhere in order to be more productive and more competitive.  This means portability.  If you want the laptop to be your primary machine, consider a docking station.  This will give you the portability, along with the larger screen and more conventional keyboard and mouse that you are used to in the office.  In this way, you get the best of both!

I have been posting a lot lately about netbooks, probably because I am shopping for one (will probably get an Asus model), and have been reading quite a bit about them online.   I like the idea of going back to basics with computing and using a machine that addresses your core needs and not adding a lot of features you may never use.   This helps us to do more with less, which means greater portability, longer battery life, and thus more efficiency on the road.  The netbook has been for awhile the antithesis of the PC hardware industry.  A quote I discussed here made a point that really says it all:

“For years now, without anyone really noticing, the PC industry has functioned like a car company selling SUVs: It pushed absurdly powerful machines because the profit margins were high, while customers lapped up the fantasy that they could go off-roading, even though they never did.”

In effect, the hardware manufacturers have been telling us what we need, rather than the other way around, in order to increase profits.  The netbook thus creates this much-needed responsiveness, and people have been buying them in droves.  You would think, then, that the hardware industry has finally “gotten it.”   However, this post on PCWorld’s blog shows that maybe they haven’t learned their lesson.

As the article points out, the lines are getting blurred.  Screens are getting bigger, video resolution is higher end, optical drives are being added, along with standard size keyboards.  Asus is adding a DVD drive and an LCD screen that supports 720p HD video for watching movies.  The price also reflects this: $531 and $590.  Hey, I thought netbooks were supposed to be cheap!  There seems to be some “feature creep” going on here to push the traditional netbook more high end.  As the article points out, “PC makers have long been conditioned to compete by continually adding new features whenever they are available.”

This appears to be an attempt to get buyers to spend more money for more machine than they may need, all to make more of a profit in a bad economy.  Anyone shopping for a netbook should keep a sharp eye on this and, when looking at one of these “netbooks on growth hormones,” ask themselves: for these features and these prices, am I better off just buying a more traditional laptop with a larger keyboard, better screen graphics, and more hard drive storage?  Keep your eyes focused on your needs, not what a manufacturer wants you to buy.

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