Everything Old Is New Again

By Howard Baldwin, CIO |  Hardware

TECHNOLOGY IS PUSHING OUT THE BOUNDARIES of the possible. Its potential
is intoxicating -- except if you're the CIO, who's responsible for managing this
technological event horizon as its boundaries become indistinct. But that's
technology: The more it advances, the more tenuous its connections, kind of
like the ripple that fades after a pebble is dropped into a pond.

To illustrate this concept, CIO looked at the past, present and future of
four technologies?handheld computing, customer relationship management,
outsourcing and peripheral connectivity. Unlike the ripple, however, these
technologies are not dissipating. They're gaining momentum, even though they're
a long way from the pebble that initially propelled them.

Handheld Computing

About eight years ago, pen computing was all the rage. Every company out
there, from NCR Corp. to Grid Systems Corp., marketed tablet-and-stylus
computers for the gamut of users, including mobile professionals and factory
floor personnel -- anyone who found keyboards inconvenient. Other companies, such
as Apple Computer Inc. and Casio Computer Co. Ltd., sold handheld computers or
personal data assistants because they housed calendars and to-do lists and
contacts. But they all failed, either because they were slow or complicated or
because Doonesbury lampoons made them laughingstocks.

Into this handheld graveyard walked a ghostbuster named Jeff Hawkins, a
Grid Systems alumnus who reconsidered what handheld computers should be and
founded Palm Computing Inc. "Before Hawkins integrated software and hardware
together in the original Palm Pilot, systems were self-contained products that
didn't connect to the desktop," says J. Gerry Purdy, president and CEO of
Mobile Insights, a market researcher in Mountain View, Calif.

"People were misfocused on pen-based computing," adds Donna Dubinsky, who
worked with Hawkins at Palm Computing and cofounded with him their new company,
Handspring Inc., also based in Mountain View. "It was like saying 'keyboard-
based computing' or 'mouse-based computing.' Jeff realized it wasn't about the
pen -- it was about making the device small enough that you could walk around with
it."

People wanted devices that were small and ready to use, and would be
complementary to PCs, not supplant them. As a result, the Palm computer had no
printing capabilities. "When you put printer drivers in a small device, it
slows it down," says Dubinsky, remembering that, at the time, the idea was so
counterintuitive that she and Hawkins couldn't even find investors to fund the
business.

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