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I.T in practice: Great gadgets, but...


Every Issue

Cite as: (2008) 82(4) LIJ, p. 87

The benefits of new technology are sometimes outweighed by cost and other disadvantages.

It is often hard to keep up with the continual release of bigger (or smaller), better, faster computing gadgets with more features, a lower price and higher levels of useability. There are a few emerging and converging technology devices that bear mentioning because they might have an effect on legal practices in the months ahead. This effect may be felt by the practice as a whole, or in the work practices of individual partners and staff.

Notebooks

Computers usually break because of the moving parts inside. The bearings in cooling fans seize up and cause computers to overheat. Hard disk read/write mechanisms “dive” the few microns clearance into hard disk platters and become unusable. CD-ROMs and DVD drives fail when the spinning and access pieces stop working. So it would seem that the easiest way to increase the reliability of computing devices would be to minimise the dependency on moving parts. This is exactly what is beginning to happen in higher end notebook computers, with the replacement of hard disk drives with “solid state drives” (SSD). Instead of the traditional platter-and-head mechanism inside hard disk drives, SSDs are merely a bank of memory chips with a similar capacity. In contrast to normal computer memory, SSDs retain all information when a computer is turned off. SSDs are silent, more robust, lighter, use less power, and are an order of magnitude faster than hard disk drives. This has the added benefit that when installed in notebooks, either when bought or as a later upgrade, battery life is extended significantly. There is a downside of course – cost. For example, a 128Gb SSD will cost 10 to 15 times more than a standard 120Gb hard disk.

Given that many computer peripheral device connections and communications have now gone “wireless”, manufacturers have begun to respond to a market in which computer users don’t want or need cables connected to their notebooks. Take out the DVD drive from a laptop and convert the hard disk to an SSD and you are quickly left with just a screen, keyboard, and the computing innards in a slim package. The next generation of full-function notebooks is now hitting the market, available in a size that will just about fit into an A4 envelope, is about 5mm high, and weighs less than 1.4kg.

This technology will go the way of much of what has gone before – early adopters will buy the new technology and develop methods to leverage the new investment in client service, competitive advantage, or increasing efficiency. As the technology becomes cheaper there is a trickle-down effect whereby old technology becomes obsolete (tried to buy anything smaller than a 160Gb hard disk drive recently?) and buyers are forced into using new software and hardware – much to the disappointment and confusion of many computer users.

Phones

The iconic iPhone was released in the United States in July 2007. Take away its unique interface and touch screen and it is fundamentally very similar to many of the high-end offerings by both computer and mobile phone companies in the personal digital assistant (PDA) market. However, the hype behind the iPhone has been significant, and its progress in making it to Australia has been slow. At a fully accessorised cost of more than $700, it is important to qualify any prospective purchase on a comparative basis. Another factor that is important to ascertain is whether any phone will operate on the older (2.5G) or newer (3G) network, the latter being more appropriate in many circumstances to carry data traffic. Many techno-savvy practitioners have challenged the value of handheld phone-type devices that can go beyond merely being used as a phone – in truth, a concerted effort will be required to harness the additional features to positively and materially change the way a practitioner using these devices can help clients.

VHS vs Beta

Older practitioners will recall the competition between models of home video cassette recorders – VHS vs Beta – in the late 1970s and 1980s. In the end, VHS won. Surprisingly, a similar “format war” has been raging with the product that will replace the current DVD format introduced in 1997, which is limited to about 8.5Gb of storage per platter. The two competing technologies are HD-DVD (which can store up to 30Gb), and Blu-ray Discs (which can store up to 50Gb). The relevance of this apparent domestic development to the law practice becomes significant when it comes to data security. Many practices back up their essential client and practice management to DVD disks at the moment, and are beginning to be hampered by the 8.5Gb limit. In the end, consumers have decided the format war, and higher levels of industry support for Blu-ray have meant the end for the HD-DVD format. With Blu-ray recorders still about ten times the cost of DVD recorders, it will be some months before practices will want to being reviewing this technology area.


ADAM REYNOLDS is the principal of Proficio, an independent IT consulting firm. For more IT in-practice information, see the contributions of the LIV Legal Practice Management Committee and IT e-Marketing Department at http://www.liv.asn.au/members/sections/lpm/it.

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