PDAs are here to stay

Two years ago I predicted hard times for Palm. Hard times have arrived, in the form of plummeting market share and negative profits.

ManagementSpeak: We have a highly stable environment.

Translation: We haven’t had a new thought in 50 years and won’t even consider your ideas for improvements.

— IS Survivalists Kathy Lewis and Don Parmentier, two very stable people, provided this week’s bit o’ wisdom.

Two years ago I predicted hard times for Palm. Hard times have arrived, in the form of plummeting market share and negative profits.

It was not a difficult prediction. When I wrote the column, Palm hadn’t given customers any reason to buy a new PDA in years, and there are still only two reasons to replace a Palm PDA: (1) You dropped your old one; or (2) you want to upgrade to something better, which means either a Windows CE- based device or a Symbian-driven PDA/telephone combo.

Palm’s meiotic “strategy” is to reorganise, separating its devices and operating systems into two separate businesses, which, although this is probably too obvious to bother saying, means Palm is exiting the device business. The problem, of course, is that in a marketplace driven by innovation, the Palm OS is the least innovative of the contenders. Even the upcoming Palm OS 5 is basically a me-too offering, providing a subset of what Windows CE and Epoc/ Symbian have offered for years. Yesterday’s features tomorrow — impressive.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a lot of IT organisations are equally backward, at least if Gartner is to be believed. In Wireless Newsfactor, Gartner analyst Todd Kort said, “IT managers have generally been dragging their feet in endorsing the use of PDAs.”

It’s a year-old story, but given the events of the past year, I doubt many IT managers have aggressively embraced new end-user technologies. More likely, most have been battening down their proverbial hatches.

It’s like a bad habit: end-users bring in technology they find personally useful; IT says no. Why? “Do you know how often we have to recover PCs that were destroyed by end-user-installed software?”

Actually, I have a pretty good idea. While the anecdotes are colorful, the numbers aren’t large, and PDA synchronisation software is rarely the culprit. Is it worth it, when refusing to endorse PDAs gives IT an image of being sand in the gears of progress?

In the interest of providing solutions, not just criticism — here, for your use if you’ve been one of the footdraggers, is your new PDA support policy:

“Install anything you want. Call for help if you need it, and we’ll make a reasonable effort to get your PC up and running. If we can’t, we’ll restore it to a standard build.”

It’s an old saying: If you can’t lead and can’t follow, at least get out of the way.

Send any comments to Lewis, who heads IS Survivor Training, which organises "Leading High-Performance IT". Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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