As palmtops come of age, managers must take them seriously

Thomas R. Temin

A couple of months ago I wrote about my adoption of a handheld organizer-computer. Despite a salesman's assurances that I would need nothing else, I'm using both the Palm Pilot V from 3Com Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., and my trusty paper Day-Timer, so I'll have continuity of paper archives.

I admit I was enjoying the envy of the handheld-deprived'until an acquaintance showed me how he'd equipped his machine for downloading The New York Times every day. Then I felt a little envy of my own.

If you're as much a gadget and miniaturization freak as I am, a sample of the current crop of handhelds would be a pleasing, if pricey, addition to your collection of toys. But are they expensive indulgences or worthwhile computer products that can boost productivity?

As a story by Richard W. Walker'also a miniature-gadget freak'in this edition of GCN/Shopper details, a red-hot functionality war is raging among vendors seeking to cash in on the growing popularity of handhelds. As the so-called PC companions running Microsoft Windows CE attest, these devices have evolved from simple organizers to true application platforms. They can also do
e-mail'online, if you add a modem.

Spurred by the reported 3 million Palm owners and the cadre of third-party application developers for that platform, Microsoft is lining up a slew of hardware vendors for WinCE, notably Hewlett-Packard Co. and Compaq Computer Corp. No doubt the Microsofties realize how many more Exchange e-mail client licenses they can sell if people start using WinCE devices that way.

And with the Palm VII'not yet available in all areas'you buy a monthly e-mail and Web access account from 3Com to get integrated wireless data. Eventually, vendors will find a way to blend
e-mail, Web access, telephone, pager and data applications into handheld devices and allow those who carry multiple gadgets to lighten their load.

Regardless of which operating system they use, handhelds really are computers and communications devices, potentially important ones for workers on the go. Agencies are beginning to adapt them to data collection, inventory and logistics applications in addition to the personal organizing functions.

Because they have a desktop PC software component for e-mail and database synchronization, they have implications for the network and help desk'all the more so as agencies adapt them for specific applications not supplied with the devices. And because they are so tiny and meant to be carried around'I bought a geeky leather belt clip for mine'they present new data security and theft challenges.

It all means that, as a manager of systems, you've got to start viewing'and gaining control over'these devices as real computers needing support and configuration policies.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

Internet: [email protected]


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