EDITOR'S DESK: RIM reliance
Until recently, BlackBerry users would have found it un- thinkable to live without the handy little devices'and the mobile access to the work world they engender.
That was before U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer ruled against BlackBerry's maker, Research in Motion Ltd., earlier this month over a patent dispute. Unless RIM wins a last-minute patent reprieve, or strikes what promises to be a very costly settlement, the judge's decision carried the distinct threat that service to well over 3 million U.S. BlackBerry users might be halted.
Few people believe it will come to that, much to the disappointment of millions of spouses of BlackBerry addicts.
The plight facing Research in Motion'and the government's dependence on RIM's product'however, is a revealing tale of how the benefits and the risks that accompany the government's move to commercial products can often collide.
The government might not get the credit it deserves for fostering many technology innovations. But few can argue it will ever match the commercial world in bringing those innovations to the marketplace.
Just how successful commercial product rollouts can be was reflected in the court ruling against RIM. You know a product has made a distinct impact in the marketplace when the government declares it too indispensable to let a U.S. court rule without intervening. (Government and emergency users'who make up just 10 percent of RIM's U.S. user base'would reportedly be exempted if RIM were forced to shut down its U.S. BlackBerry service. Who would have guessed having a .gov e-mail address could suddenly be so valuable?)
The possibilty of a BlackBerry blackout also illustrates that the commercial market can and probably always will be a messy, chaotic, albeit creative place, where innovation often carries the price of inconvenience.
As messy as all this is, the government is still better off relying on the innovations coming out of that creative chaos than being saddled with protected but quickly outmoded technology and ideas, as in days gone by.
Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.