There have been lots of posts in the blogosphere about going paperless.  Sam Glover over at the Lawyerist site, for example, is a big proponent of it.  There are several reasons why this is a good idea, many of which are the economic savings on paper, copier toner, storage space, and postage.  However, an incident at a law firm in my area recently points out another good reason to do it.

Their office is in a building that houses three law firms with a residential unit on the third floor.  Over a weekend, the toilet in the third floor bathroom overflowed (for several hours unnoticed – whole other story).  This resulted in the water flooding down through the bathroom below it on the second floor, and through to the conference room on the first floor.  On the conference room table were several stacks of documents and files being worked on that suffered damage.

Luckily the firm had insurance that covered the cost of reconstructing the files.  However, having electronic copies of those documents as a backup would have made things so much easier.  Yes, all sorts of accidents can occur that can destroy electronic documents.  However, those that go paperless have at least two redundant backups of their data, and at least one of those is off site.  Physically making that many photocopies and storing them off site just would not be practical.  Remember, going paperless does not mean having no paper at all; it means having less of it around.  Scanners are cheap now, and every firm should have at least one (with a sheet feeder).  If you are not scanning all important incoming documents, you should be.  You never know when it will save you from disaster.

I am currently shopping for a netbook, which has me scanning blogs and web sites for advice on hardware and software features.  In this search I ran across a great post on Laptop Magazine‘s blog that set forth some very good pointers. although I do not agree with all of them.  As to hardware, they said:

  • RAM: Go for at least 1Gb.  I agree.  Many netbooks sport 512Mb, which may be all right for Linux, but definitely not enough for XP.  Even if you do get Linux, you will be thankful for the memory overhead;
  • Screen: Get a 10″ model, not the 8.9″.  If you are over 40, this is certainly good advice, if you want good screen readability.  Much larger than 10″, however, and you are defeating the purpose of getting a netbook;
  • Battery: Get a 6-cell battery, rather than a 3- or 4-cell one.  This can result in significantly longer battery life (4-6 hours rather than 2-3 hours), which is always a boost to the portability you are going for in a netbook; and
  • Hard Drive: The post espouses hard drives rather than solid state drives (SSDs) and ones with RPMs of 5,400 rather than 4,200.  This, they state, is because hard drives offer better write performance than SSDs.  As to the capacity of the drive, I would not look to get too much; less is better.  Remember, many people use netbooks for cloud computing with Google apps or other web-based solutions that do not result in much local storage. along with web browsing and e-mail.  Again, you are using this for work, which produces documents and spreadsheets that do not take up nearly the room of photos, video, or music (which are not the recommended use of netbooks).  In short: netbooks are not intended for a lot of local data storage or huge client applications.  Get the memory you need, but do not go overboard.

Where I really disagree with the post is on the issue of the operating system you choose.  They do warn you off Vista (which is good advice), but they steer you towards XP over Linux (which is not necessarily the best advice).  They mention software compatibility as a reason, but you must ask yourself this: if you are just using the netbook for e-mail and for web-based solutions, why is XP necessarily better?  Linux does the same thing with no compatibility issues (so you might have to learn to use Firefox, Opera, or Chrome rather than IE; big deal), and runs faster on the same hardware.  For most tasks, OpenOffice is just as good as Microsoft Office when Google Docs won’t do or you don’t have access to the Internet.


I have posted several times before about how I see Linux entering the law office market, whether through big firms or through the back office (i.e. the servers).  However, it has become apparent in the past few months that there is another inroad developing that may fast-track the OS into the legal market.  This is the introduction and rise of the netbook.

More and more laptop users (and road warrior lawyers) have been discovering that they use their portable computers mainly for e-mail and web based applications.  Thus people have been buying netbooks as secondary machines in order to have lightweight, highly portable computers for travel (here is a great post on the development of the netbook that explains this phenomenon).  These netbooks often come with 512Mb to 1Gb of RAM, slower, more energy efficient microprocessors (Intel’s Atom for the most part), which means that the OS that runs on it must be lean and mean, a term seldom, if ever, applied to a Microsoft product.  In fact, Vista, if it does run on a netbook, runs poorly, and Redmond has, as a result, made XP available to hardware companies for another two years.

Linux, on the other hand, because it can do more with fewer resources, is really the better OS candidate for netbooks.  Also, because the machines are designed (and intended) to be used with web-based applications, they are more platform-independent, and thus do not run into the problems that Linux presents on the lawyer desktop (e.g. the lack of compatible verticle market apps like case management and bankruptcy software).   The lack of cost for Linux also keeps the overall price down for netbooks and can make them more attractive.

I have been using the open source Mozilla Firefox web browser for years now and have found it easy to learn and use, which also goes for their e-mail client, Thunderbird.  Google Docs and other web-based apps are already being used by many lawyers, and even if you need an offline solution, OpoenOffice is a great alternative that is easily downloaded and installed on the netbook (at least in the Ubuntu distribution, which is what is being installed on most Linux netbooks).  The learning curve is not steep at all, and the increasing usage of Linux netbooks by lawyers may well overcome the phobia to change and encourage them at least to consider using Linux on their office systems.  We can only hope.

I have written here many times about the Linux operating system, and more specifically the Ubuntu distribution, with which I have been experimenting.  As a tech hobbyist, the Linux option has interested me for awhile, but I have not seen how it can really replace Windows or Mac in the law office (outside the server) without using Wine, Crossover, or VMWare for verticle market legal apps like case management or bankruptcy software.  However, I am certainly not the only one struggling with this.  A reader, Williamson Day, recently put me on to an Ubuntu Linux Discussion Group for lawyers that might well be worth a look if you are trying to see whether a switch to Linux will work for you.

In previous posts I talked about the fact that some businesses may want to wait to upgrade from Windows XP until Windows 7 comes out (which many pundits have predicted will be in the 4th quarter of this year, despite Microsoft saying it will be in early 2010).  In a post on its blog yesterday, PC World quoted Microsoft’s Gavriella Schuster, a senior director of Windows product management, as saying that Windows 7 is no “magic bullet” for businesses.

“Moving from XP to Windows 7 is not a magic bullet . . . You have the same level of application compatibility from XP to Windows Vista or Windows 7.”

This means that many applications, like Quickbooks, will still have to be upgraded with the OS, whether you move to Vista or Windows 7.   Shuster went on to say that customers should examine their application and hardware environments closely to see which would be the best fit for them. “It really depends on the environment.”  Microsoft actually went further than that in advising businesses by launching a “Windows for Your Business Blog” in which Ms. Shuster offers advice to businesses on what upgrade path to choose.   In addition, Al Gillen, an analyst for IDC, was quoted in the PC World post as saying,

“It will essentially be about as painful for customers to move from XP to Vista as it will be to move from XP to Windows 7 . . .  a migration from Vista to Windows 7 will be far easier.”

Certainly firms need to look at their upgrade strategy soon, especially since Microsoft is moving Windows XP out of mainstream support on April 14, relegating it to what they call “extended support.”  What does this mean?  According to PC World, by Microsoft policy, mainstream support delivers free fixes — for security patches and other bug fixes — to everyone. During extended support, all users receive all security updates, but non-security hot fixes are provided only to companies that have signed support contracts with Microsoft.


Although I have been a gadget freak for many years (more than I care to admit) I have acknowledged in the past that many tech solutions just don’t have it over pen and paper.  Interestingly enough, Google recently wrestled with this in the Tasks app of their Gmail Suite.  They realized that “despite dual-core CPUs, 30″ monitors, and high speed internet connections, many Googlers still found themselves using paper to track their tasks.”  Their solution is set forth in a February 2 posting to their Gmail Blog that states:

“We set out to fix this by making Tasks available from your phone with a version optimized for the small screen. And starting today, you can manage your task list from your iPhone or Android device, and access it from any xhtml enabled phone.”

If you have an iGoogle page, there is a Gadget for that, so you can add your tasks there.  What would also be great is if there was an iPhone app as well.    They are looking for input, so feel free to post any ideas you might have for this.

This is also in keeping with what I have been reading lately on “cloud computing” and the use of web based services by the mobile lawyer.  One benefit that was pointed out to me was that many of these calendar/task/e-mail net services (like Google Apps and Remember the Milk) sync wirelessly with your phone from anywhere.   Sam Glover talks about this on his Lawyerist blog in a post on how he uses these apps in his office.   It’s an interesting read.  Note also that the web task-list app Remember the Milk DOES have an iPhone app.  All of this is certainly well worth looking into.

UPDATE (2-13-09): For another example of how Internet based apps can help the road warrior by sync’ing calendar, contacts, and to-dos wirelessly to mobile devices, see this post on the Linux Law Office blog about Yahoo’s Zimbra.

I have been reading a lot about netbooks in the blogosphere recently both in terms of the “next big thing” in hardware and whether Windows 7 will cure Microsoft’s woes in the market.   For those of you yet unfamiliar with the term, a “netbook” is a laptop that is typically about 3-lb in weight, with a 9-inch screen, wireless Internet connectivity, an Intel chip, running either Linux or Windows XP, and at a cost of less than $400.   A netbook, unlike a notebook, is more suited for accessing web-based applications and cloud computing, rather than running complex or resource intensive applications directly from the netbook itself.  As a portable device, it is basically a smartphone on steroids.

This type of device can be very useful for the road warrior attorney who mainly needs to check e-mail, surf the web, access web-based applications like Google Docs, and the like.  It sure beats lugging a larger, heavier laptop through an airport!  The price is also so low that it makes sense to have one as an extra machine just for travel.  This is what makes it the “next big thing,” and certainly worth looking into if you travel quite a bit.

As for  Windows 7, netbooks present a bit of a quandary for Microsoft.  As mentioned above, these machines usually run either Linux (many manufacturers are using the Ubuntu distribution) or Windows XP.  This is because of the scaled down CPU (most use the Intel Atom chip), smaller RAM allocations (many have 512Mb to 1Gb), and smaller screens.   This is because these specs do not present enough resources for Vista, and even early beta testing on Windows 7 is showing it would not be a practical option as well.  This is one reason why Microsoft is continuing to license XP on lower end machines like netbooks.  Unfortunately, Microsoft can’t extend its support for XP indefinitely; it has to come out with a newer OS that will run on this hardware.

Redmond is apparently trying to find some middle ground on this through a proposed version of Windows 7 for netbooks, Windows 7 Starter edition.  The problem with this version is that it can only run up to 3 apps simultaneously!  At least one tech blog has claimed this to be a “fatal flaw” in the OS for netbooks, and uses it as another reason why Linux may well come out on top on these devices, since it is an OS that runs much leaner and meaner than Windows.

On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal has reported that Microsoft will offer an upgrade to the Starter version that will not have this restriction, although no price has been set yet.  Even if the full version of Windows 7 would run effectively on a netbook, the upgrade cost would take away somewhat the inexpensive nature of the netbook option.  Linux proponents argue that this makes their OS a much more logical candidate for this hardware.  It is free (thus not impacting the overall cost of the machine and, if anything, lowering it) and is far more feature-rich than a stripped down version of Windows.

My overall recommendation is that if you are thinking about a netbook as an additional PC for travel, you should seriously consider one that runs Linux rather than Windows.   Since netbooks focus on web-centric app solutions that run within browsers, software compatibility is not an issue.  At worst you would have to learn your way around an open source browser like Firefox or e-mail client like Thunderbird.  Google apps would run just as well.  You would also get a more secure, stable OS.  Having been a user of Windows for close to 20 years, I found that using Linux was not all that difficult in a GUI environment.  You can always judge for yourself by getting a LiveCD (a self-contained version of Ubuntu Linux that runs from the CD when you boot the machine from it) and giving it a test drive.   I think you will find that Linux makes more sense for these devices.