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The Handspring Visor sets itself apart amongst Palm OS organizers for its Springboard slot, an expansion port that accommodates modules such as MP3 music players and even a cellular phone. Jeff Carlson looks at a handful for the handheld in this issue. Also, Microsoft is handed a victory in its antitrust case, Adam relates some offbeat bits about MacHack 2001, and we note the passing of Usenet founder Jim Ellis.
by Geoff Duncan
Usenet Creator Jim Ellis Dies -- Jim Ellis, one of the creators of the globe-spanning messaging system Usenet, died 28-Jun-01 from non-Hodgkin's lymphomaShow full article
Usenet Creator Jim Ellis Dies -- Jim Ellis, one of the creators of the globe-spanning messaging system Usenet, died 28-Jun-01 from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He was 45. Jim and colleague Tom Truscott came up with the basic Usenet idea at Duke University in 1979, along with its first implementation between Duke and the University of North Carolina. At its simplest, Usenet is just a way for computers to share and synchronize sets of files, but its social impact was far more significant. For years Usenet was the primary instrument of the Internet community, and today plays host to tens of thousands of groups devoted to a wide variety of topics. Usenet culture was also the breeding ground for things like smileys, flame wars, quoting and reply etiquette, and (of course) spam. Jim had most recently been working as a security consultant for Sun Microsystems, and - though he never made any money from Usenet - received numerous honors for his contributions to the Internet world. [GD]
by Geoff Duncan
In a substantial victory for Microsoft Corporation, last week the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia unanimously reversed Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's ordered breakup of Microsoft under U.SShow full article
In a substantial victory for Microsoft Corporation, last week the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia unanimously reversed Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's ordered breakup of Microsoft under U.S. antitrust laws. The 125-page ruling comes more than a year after Judge Jackson's initial order to break up the company, and more than eighteen months after his finding of fact that Microsoft constituted a monopoly.
Although the Appeals Court upheld that Microsoft is indeed a monopoly and engaged in anti-competitive practices, it also concluded that Judge Jackson engaged in "serious judicial misconduct" in his statements outside of court and to the media during the penalty phase of the trial. The Appeals Court then remanded a portion of the case back to district court, but under terms which gut substantial portions of the government's case against Microsoft. The bottom line is that Microsoft was found to have violated the law, but is unlikely to face serious consequences for those actions, and almost certainly will not be broken into two or more companies.
We've repeatedly examined the Microsoft antitrust case in TidBITS, but in essence two central points of the government's case were reviewed by the Appeals court:
That Microsoft maintained a market monopoly in operating systems through anti-competitive actions; and
That Microsoft tried to monopolize the browser market by tying its browser to its existing operating system monopoly.
The Government's Victory -- The first point above is largely established through Judge Jackson's findings of fact from late 1999, and an Appeals Court can't just toss out those findings unless they're plainly erroneous or it can be proven the trial court was substantially biased. The Appeals Court overturned a handful of Judge Jackson's findings of fact, but for the most part, those findings were upheld and the Appeals Court was not able to find instances of actual bias in Judge Jackson's findings.
This is the part of the Appeals Court decision the government can tout as their victory: unless Microsoft appeals to the Supreme Court (and wins), Microsoft now has a monopoly in the eyes of the law. Contrary to popular opinion, under U.S. law it's not illegal to have a monopoly in a particular market. However, it is illegal to create or protect a monopoly by stifling competition in that market. This means that in the future, anyone who wants to come after Microsoft has half their case made for them: they won't have to prove Microsoft has a monopoly, they'll only have to prove that Microsoft has deliberately stifled or eliminated competition in that market. This potentially exposes Microsoft to heaps of litigation from other companies, particularly as Microsoft continues to integrate more and more previously separate functionality into what it considers to be its core operating system. Microsoft's never-subtle CEO Steve Ballmer has repeatedly said he doesn't feel there's any limit to what Microsoft can unilaterally declare part of its operating system; now he may find that stance is more frequently challenged in court.
Incidentally, this is the part of the case where Apple figured most prominently: the Appeals Court upheld that Microsoft illegally engaged in anti-competitive practices when it used threats of cancelling Microsoft Office for the Mac "as a club" to force Apple to adopt Internet Explorer as the default Web browser installed with the Mac OS.
Microsoft's Victory -- It's on the second point - that Microsoft illegally tried to leverage its Windows monopoly to create a monopoly in the browser market - that Microsoft can declare its victory. First, the Appeals Court found that the government failed either to define the browser market or to establish that Microsoft set up barriers to protect that market for itself. Furthermore, it reversed this finding without remand, which means the government can't even try to make the point again in a retrial. Unless the government appeals to the Supreme Court (and wins), it's now a matter of law that Microsoft did not attempt to monopolize the browser market.
Further, the Appeals Court disagreed with Judge Jackson's finding that Microsoft committed a "per se" violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act by integrating its browser with the operating system. As a legal standard, "per se" basically means Microsoft's integration of the two products was "in itself" a violation of law, simply because they did it. However, the Appeals Court found that since the software industry is unlike other industries to which antitrust laws have been applied, a "per se" analysis of the law wasn't valid. Instead, Microsoft would have to be found in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act by "rule of reason," a different legal standard which basically grants leeway to the first company to integrate what had previously been perceived as two disparate markets. The Appeals Court tossed this issue back to the district court for resolution (also stipulating that it be heard by someone other than Judge Jackson). However, since the Appeals Court found that the government failed to define a browser market, the government would have to prove integrating Internet Explorer with Windows harmed competition in the browser market without "arguing any theory of harm that depends on a precise definition of browsers or barriers to entry." That's going to be hard to do, so the government faces a heavy burden to prove this part of its case at a retrial.
Jackson's Packin' -- The harshest words of the Appeals Court ruling were reserved for Thomas Penfield Jackson, the trial judge for the Microsoft case. Judge Jackson and the Appeals Court have previously disagreed in regard to Microsoft: in 1998, a three judge panel on the Appeals Court overturned Jackson's preliminary injunction barring Microsoft from requiring computers pre-install Internet Explorer with Windows. Although the Appeals Court did not find any instance where Jackson demonstrated actual bias in his handling of the case, they held that Jackson violated ethical rules by holding "secret sessions" with journalists during the penalty phase of the trial, which "seriously tainted the proceedings before the District Court and called into question the integrity of the judicial process." In reversing Jackson's ruling, the Appeals Court also requires that any new penalty consideration or retrial take place before a different judge. So, this case is over for the man who made history presiding over the Microsoft antitrust trial.
You Get What You Settle For -- Since Judge Jackson's original ruling, the U.S. presidency has changed hands. During his campaign, President Bush repeatedly stated he wasn't in favor of breaking up Microsoft, and his Republican administration is generally not in favor of regulating markets or business activity. Although Attorney General John Ashcroft has said very little about the Microsoft case since assuming his post, in the wake of the Appeals Court decision, it would seem the odds that Microsoft and the government will settle out of court have increased.
However, the federal government isn't the only plaintiff: nineteen states are also party to the antitrust case, and so far haven't shown much interest in backing down. During settlement talks in mid-2000, the states were said to have resisted settlement proposals, and so far the states seem to feel the Appeals Court ruling upholds the core of the case. It's conceivable the Justice Department and Microsoft might agree to terms of a settlement, but the states could refuse to go along with it. Under a statute known as the Tunney Act, any proposed settlement would have to be reviewed by a federal judge in a hearing, and the states could urge the judge to stop any proposed deal on the basis it wasn't in the public interest. After all, Microsoft's failure to adhere to the terms of a 1995 court settlement are how the current antitrust case got underway in the first place.
For now, the next move is in the hands of the Justice Department, which must decide whether to pursue the case or a settlement, and the whole process will undoubtedly take several more years to unravel.
Last week I wrote about how Mac OS X fared at the MacHack developers conference, and I also looked at the results of the annual hack contest. However, MacHack is such an unusual conference that I can't resist passing on a few other amusing bits. Only in America -- Although MacHack brings over 300 people to the Holiday Inn Fairlane for the duration of the conference, there are often a few other guests who walk around looking bewildered at the high density of hackers and their Macintosh paraphernaliaShow full article
Last week I wrote about how Mac OS X fared at the MacHack developers conference, and I also looked at the results of the annual hack contest. However, MacHack is such an unusual conference that I can't resist passing on a few other amusing bits.
Only in America -- Although MacHack brings over 300 people to the Holiday Inn Fairlane for the duration of the conference, there are often a few other guests who walk around looking bewildered at the high density of hackers and their Macintosh paraphernalia. This year, though, those of us at MacHack returned a modicum of bewilderment upon realizing that we were sharing the hotel with the American Station Wagon Owners Association. And indeed, in a cordoned-off section of the parking lot, there were a number of old station wagons lined up, their chrome polished and (in a few cases) wooden door panels buffed to a healthy sheen.
It's tempting to poke fun at organizations like this, but there's nothing wrong with appropriately tempered fixations on consumer objects, like a station wagon or (dare I say?) a Macintosh. But if Macintosh users want to avoid becoming targets of ridicule, our Macintosh-related associations must continue to move forward and invent the future rather than living in the past. Otherwise we'll all be sitting around in thirty years, reminiscing about our 2001 "Woodie" iMacs with their then-new LCD screens. (I doubt Apple will release a faux wood iMac at July's Macworld Expo in New York City, but since the iMac is the only Apple product with a CRT-based monitor, it's safe to assume the iMac's bulky cathode ray tube display will disappear in favor of a sleek and electricity-saving LCD screen).
Please Raid This Tomb -- It's a MacHack tradition for many of the attendees to go to a movie on the last night, just before the midnight ice cream social that marks the final official event. The quality of the movie isn't particularly relevant, since it's likely to be drowned out by the non-stop commentary from the audience, such as loud cries of "Product placement!" every time a gratuitous burst of advertising intrudes into the film's fantasy world. This year's movie - Lara Croft: Tomb Raider - fit in perfectly. As you might expect from a movie based on a video game, it wasn't finely crafted cinematic entertainment. The high point of the film came at the post-movie ice cream social, where many of us crowded around Apple's Keith Stattenfield as he led an informal discussion of inspired zaniness in which we deconstructed and debated the movie. Topics included the possibility of deducting expenses (thousands of rounds of poorly aimed ammunition, killer robot repair bills, imported dust) related to the business use of a practice tomb in the home of a professional tomb raider; the legal liability and insurance implications of having an in-house tomb (a good reason to install bulletproof glass walls and automatic steel shutters that slam down loudly - again, deductible expenses); and speculation about the content of a trade magazine devoted to the profession - Tomb Raider Monthly.
As Keith summarized at the end of our marathon session (undoubtedly longer than the film's screenwriting sessions), "This is not a good movie. This is a baaaaad movie." That's not to say you shouldn't see it - but go with the right crowd.
Open Source and the Mac -- Although Eric Raymond, open source proponent and last year's MacHack keynote speaker, vowed to return to MacHack, he and the iBook we all bought for him were nowhere to be seen. The open source concept took some hits too, with derisive comments about the viral nature of the GNU Public License (GPL), a popular open source license that requires all released modifications to GPL-licensed code also be made available under the GPL. The bursting of the dot-com bubble undoubtedly played a factor as well, since many MacHack developers remained unconvinced about the viability of the open source business model during Eric Raymond's six-hour keynote, and the failure of a number of high-profile companies using the open source approach (including Andy Hertzfeld's Eazel, which was developing Nautilus, a better shell interface for Linux) lent credence to last year's skepticism.
MacHack CDs Now Available -- Finally, a CD-ROM compiling this year's Hack Contest entries as well as papers and presentations given at the 2001 conference are available for $20 plus $5 shipping ($15 for international delivery). Also available for $20 is the MacHack Historical CD, which collects hacks, papers, and presentations from the first 14 years of MacHack; you can order both CDs together for $35. All the proceeds from CD sales go towards funding MacHack 2002.
by Jeff Carlson
When you compare handhelds from Palm and Handspring, the two product families look quite similar. They all run the Palm OS, which includes a built-in calendar, address book, to-do list, and notepad; most of the models share the same type of screen and hardware buttons; and you can synchronize the data on a handheld with your Mac at the push of a button. However, the Handspring Visor features one notable difference: the Springboard expansion port, a slot on the back that accepts a wide variety of hardware modules (see "A Handheld Surprise: the Handspring Visor" in TidBITS-521)Show full article
When you compare handhelds from Palm and Handspring, the two product families look quite similar. They all run the Palm OS, which includes a built-in calendar, address book, to-do list, and notepad; most of the models share the same type of screen and hardware buttons; and you can synchronize the data on a handheld with your Mac at the push of a button.
However, the Handspring Visor features one notable difference: the Springboard expansion port, a slot on the back that accepts a wide variety of hardware modules (see "A Handheld Surprise: the Handspring Visor" in TidBITS-521). I've been using a Visor Platinum device with a host of Springboard modules over the past few months while writing the Handspring Visor: Visual QuickStart Guide (Peachpit Press, $20, available at Macworld Expo New York, then in wider release at the end of July). Here's a roundup of a few noteworthy modules that run the gamut from storing information to accessing the Internet and making phone calls.
Handspring VisorPhone -- I'm convinced that the idea for Handspring's VisorPhone came not so much out of a desire to capitalize on digital technology as the dream of carrying one less gadget around. The VisorPhone is a module that effectively turns your Visor into a cellular phone. But it's also better than a cellular phone for one simple reason: it gives your phone a usable interface! If you've ever tried to add a person's phone number to your phone's memory, you know what a pain it is to keep hitting number keys to scroll through letters. With the VisorPhone, the contents of your Address Book are immediately available to the phone. If you don't have a number in your Address Book, the VisorPhone software provides a regular phone key layout with nice large buttons to tap. You can set up to 50 speed-dial buttons, meaning you might not even need to access the Address Book.
Having a decent interface also means that some awkward operations on a regular phone are made much simpler. For example, I loathe the prospect of setting up a three-way call, because invariably one person on the line ends up parroting "Are you still there?" while establishing the connection. With the VisorPhone, it's simple: call one person, then tap a button to put them on hold. Call the next person, tap the big 3-Way Call button, and you're all set.
Best of all, you don't need to remain locked into the VisorPhone software while you're calling. To conserve battery life, your Visor turns off after its standard waiting period (usually one or two minutes) without breaking the connection (the VisorPhone gets power from its own rechargeable battery, which Handspring says offers three days of standby time and three hours of talk time, so it doesn't burn through your Visor's juice). You can also switch to other applications in case you need to confirm an appointment or look up another phone number while talking. The VisorPhone includes a headset, which is recommended, though you can hold the whole unit to your head at the risk of looking silly.
The VisorPhone uses the GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) cellular network, so be sure the service is available in your area - GSM is the dominant network in Europe and is making inroads in the protocol-cluttered United States. Being based on GSM, the VisorPhone supports SMS (Short Message Service) text messaging, so you can send short text messages to folks with many types of GSM phones, other VisorPhone owners, or to email addresses. Using the included Blazer Web browser, you can also use the VisorPhone to access the Web (again, offering a better screen and interface than even the most advanced cellular phones).
The only drawbacks to the VisorPhone are its price and size. At $249, you're paying more than the cost of most cellular phones (though Handspring is currently offering the VisorPhone for $99 with the purchase of a Visor Prism or Visor Edge handheld). And, of course, you need to sign up for a compatible service plan (you can optionally buy the VisorPhone by itself if you already have a GSM service plan, but the price then rockets to $449). The module's size isn't much larger than the Springboard slot, but it does add some weight and bulk to the back of the Visor.
As with most modern gadgets, however, you're paying for mobility as well as for whatever the gadget does, so consider what the reduction of one gadget is worth to you. Getting a VisorPhone may end up costing less in the long run, especially if you want Internet access that would normally require another Springboard module.
OmniSky Wireless Modem -- If you're looking just for wireless Internet access, it's hard to beat the OmniSky modem. I was an early tester of OmniSky's model for the Palm V, which looks like a sled that attaches to the back of the handheld; though functional, it infringes on the Palm V's main advantage, its thin profile. The OmniSky modem for the Visor is a compact improvement. A variety of monthly pricing plans are available, ranging from roughly $30 to $40 per month, plus $270 for the modem itself.
Like most Springboard modules, all the software you need is installed when you plug the modem in. It includes its own email and Web clients, plus directory software for looking up names and addresses. It also comes with several Web Clipping applications for specific companies, such as Barnes & Noble's online bookstore. (Web Clipping is the technology introduced with the Palm VII, which includes an internal wireless modem. Unlike typical Web browsing, Web Clipping programs - called Palm Query Applications, or PQAs - act as small forms that transmit your search criteria and receive only small, bandwidth-saving responses. You don't have to download a Web site's full page of information and graphics when using a Web Clipping application.)
As a modem, you're not limited to using the OmniSky software. Any Internet software for the Palm will work, such as the Blazer browser or the Eudora Internet Suite for the Palm. One interesting feature of the built-in email client is its capability to check your email account when you're not online. An OmniSky server can periodically check your mail server (you can set the frequency) and flashes a light on the modem to indicate you have new mail waiting.
Xircom SpringPort Wireless Ethernet Module -- So far, I've concentrated on getting Internet access via a cellular phone or wireless modem, but a recent entry in the Springboard arena gives you access to a wireless Ethernet network. The Xircom SpringPort Wireless Ethernet Module is basically AirPort for your Visor. Using the 802.11b-compatible device, you can connect to the Internet on your AirPort network. Since the SpringPort operates at 11 Mbps, getting online is speedy.
You can also access other computers on your network, though the software options are currently limited - I'm aware of MacVNC and PalmVNC, which offer Timbuktu-like capabilities to use one machine from another. The Xircom SpringPort can also be configured to HotSync wirelessly, but unfortunately this works only under Windows because the HotSync software on the Mac has never featured network synchronization.
In my opinion, though, the $300 SpringPort is too expensive, especially since 802.11b PC Cards that offer the same functionality sell for half of that price. I can see how corporate IS folks might use the SpringPort in a high concentration of Windows machines spread out over a large area, but the lack of network synchronization makes it a tough sell for Mac users. I hope that the price reflects the initial costs of squeezing wireless Ethernet functionality into a handheld package, and that prices will soon come down.
MiniJam and SoundsGood - I commented earlier that one appeal of the VisorPhone is to merge portable gadgets (a handheld and a cellular phone). The same applies to digital music players. Despite the popularity of the MP3 format, I wasn't interested until I could get a portable MP3 player. I still love the Rio500 that I eventually bought, but these days I'd be more tempted by either the $260 InnoGear MiniJam or the $150 SoundsGood Audio Player. Both offer 64 MB of storage, offering about an hour's worth of music. (You can also purchase the MiniJam in a 32 MB configuration for $200 or a 96 MB version for $300.) Both also include external buttons for controlling playback, plus a headphone port (and headphones, of course).
The songs are stored on the devices themselves, but the Visor provides a more extensive interface than just the physical controls. You can program the order of songs, play them randomly, or play them straight through. You also get all of the information that accompanies each song file (like the artist, album, genre, etc.).
The main advantage of the MiniJam is its expandability, which also accounts for its higher price. It can accommodate two MultiMedia Cards (memory cards about the size of a postage stamp), and therefore more memory. In addition to MP3 music, you can store electronic books or photos (reader software is available on the module).
The SoundsGood player looks like the better deal for the money, and has a couple other advantages: it's smaller than the MiniJam, and it can be fitted into a separate $40 Energy Clip battery pack that can be used to play music without being connected to the Visor (especially good for when you're exercising, since it's less fragile than the Visor). Unfortunately, Good Technology has recently stopped handling the SoundsGood audio player, turning it over to PalmGear; further, it's not expandable like the MiniJam, and it doesn't include software to manage MP3 files on the Macintosh. But if you're not looking for anything flashy and have a Windows machine that can act as a music server (or perhaps Virtual PC, but I didn't test this), the SoundsGood might be an economical choice.
Margi Presenter-to-Go -- Every once in a while, I hear about something that makes me scratch my head and wonder why anyone bothered to come up with the idea, much less follow it through to an actual product. Such is the case of Margi's Presenter-to-Go, a Springboard module that enables you to run Microsoft PowerPoint presentations from your Visor.
Although I'm not a big fan of PowerPoint presentations, Presenter-to-Go pleasantly surprised me. After you've created your presentation, you use Margi's desktop software to prepare it for the Visor; it's transferred the next time you HotSync. Then, with the Springboard module in place, you connect a supplied monitor cable and power cable (the Visor doesn't have enough energy to power an external display) to a monitor or projector. Without cracking the lid of your laptop, you have a mobile presentation machine. Everything is reproduced in full color, and thankfully the software doesn't support many of the garish effects that PowerPoint has foisted upon the business world. In fact, you don't even need PowerPoint: a Margi print driver lets you "print" pages from any application to the Presenter-to-Go format.
Although I don't personally need this type of module, I can see how people that need to give the same handful of presentations in many locations (companies looking for venture capital come to mind) can use their Visors to have their presentations at hand instead of lugging a laptop around.
Off the Deep End -- There are numerous other modules for the Visor, including digital cameras, GPS devices, and more. As an ever larger number of them appear, module lovers like me will have to face the dilemma of which module to use at any given time, not to mention the conundrum of how to carry around a slew of Springboard modules with a svelte Visor. Hmm... maybe I need a larger bag.