Shouldn’t It Just Work?

♬It’s work, the most important thing is work..♬

Words and Music by Lou Reed and John Cale, recorded by John Cale.

I was part of an online email dialogue today on Tablet PC’s. I have long been an admirer of these devices that are closer to a pad of paper than any other computing platform. I liked the idea that you could take out a stylus and start drawing, writing, clicking – rather than being limited to using a keyboard. I felt that this was a positive step in the development of the portable computer.

However, I was dismayed to find out that the experiences of my colleagues (all of whom are lawyers) with their latest tablets were less than satisfactory. There were relating troubles of the devices constantly reconfiguring out of the blue, simply going to a blue screen of death, shutting down without warning, being slow (this may be related to the processor speed) and similar problems. The manufacturer did not seem to be important – the complaints were widespread across different Tablets by different manufacturers. Vista was certainly a common factor among the users.

But this post is not a Tablet or a Vista bash. My point is that now – over 20 years since the launch of the PC – that we *shouldn’t* be facing these kinds of problems. One would have thought that the platform – the foundation – would have been settled and the basic workings ironed out. Instead we find ourselves wrestling with decisions on what is compatible with what, does this run under this operating system, can you find a driver for this etc.

But this shouldn’t be the case – businesses – especially today – need to be able to invest their IT funds in systems that are dependable, reliable and secure. I have talked to many lawyers who find that while they must live with technology, they find it mystifying and the choices and configurations confusing. I find myself attempting to assist them through the maze, all the while concentrating on the ends that they wish to achieve.

Yes this is a specialized area and yes, as professionals it is only to be expected that we need to engage other professionals with their skills to set up, maintain and secure our IT systems.

Some, like myself, have recently gone to a Mac, seeking a quieter, less stressful and certainly less technical involvement with the technology. While not eliminating the issues, it has certainly lessened the requirement to have to deal with them and the technological interface on a continual basis.

But my point is that the technology is not an end in and to itself – it is a tool to be used to accomplish goals and increase productivity. The tool – like any good tool – should be intuitive, easy to use, be effortless in terms of how it works and should be a thing of beauty itself. That is my image for information technology – regardless of platform, manufacturer and software. Perhaps I am dreaming…reality has this way of intruding on any great theory…but I think that we should be concentrating on the results we should be getting from the technology at this point – and not on the technology itself.

Sometimes I get the feeling that we have (temporarily) lost sight of the fact that the most important thing is work….


  1. Dave, thanks for this excellent post. I think we tend to get caught up in what will save us time, what will be easiest, etc., and inevitably spend more time thinking (and whining about) the problem than it would take to just do some work in any number of old-school, pen-to-paper ways. There is generally some initial outlay of money and effort to get a new system up and running, but it should be just that: an initial outlay. As you say, when technology starts becoming the focus, there’s a problem. It’s a concept we all need to be reminded of every now and then!

  2. I was one of the people involved with Dave’s conversation yesterday and thought I would chime in.

    Overall, from my experience, I remain positive on the tablet PC – see my ABA LPM Law Practice Magazine on Why (and How) to Buy a Tablet PC

    Now that I have used it for several months, I can say that I like my HP tc4200 better than my Toshiba M600 for the main reason that the Toshiba has a touch screen (i.e. your finger works as a pointer). This is real cool when you want to mindlessly surf the web or play solitaire, but not very cool when you want to use the stylus and the edge of your hand or shirt sleeve blots out half your doc (in theory the stylus overrides the hand-touching the screen, but it doesn’t seem to work well in practice. You can’t turn the touch off on the Toshiba (I think you can on the Dell and some others). Buttons for tablet navigation and operation on HP were better in terms of location and operation too.

    I was keen on using Vista on my tablet, but my IS people said I couldn’t because it wouldn’t play nice with some of the apps we still use. I downgraded to XP and have only one hiccup on shutting down (which is a known issue and it just ignores).

    I liked the form factor on the Lenovo X61 relative to my Toshiba, but could not live without a touchpad (check the specs before you buy – read my above article for the other things you should think about).

  3. Dan:

    I think one of the more interesting developments in this area is the long-anticipated Mac Tablet. The web is rife with speculation as to when, not if, this tantalizing tidbit will appear.

    Certainly if it incorporates the functionality of the iPhone and iTouch, it could revolutionize the tablet market (some may say, revive it).

    Of course, speculating on something that as of yet doesn’t exist is just that – speculation. But Apple has a reputation of innovation and out-of-the-box thinking.

    Certainly if they do launch a tablet Mac, I would anticipate the same level of interest as was generated by the iPhone. Given that the iPhone is now outselling the BlackBerry, this could mean a whole new interest in not only the tablet market in particular but also in how people interact with computers generally.


    Dave Bilinsky

  4. What does the tablet computer provide for someone who can type? I had one for over a year. I was very impressed by its ability to learn to read my scribbles, but I type way faster than I can write by hand, even with a computer to decipher, so why bother?

    The only use I can imagine is to deal with situations where one does not want to be so obtrusive as to sit with an open laptop, so one less obviously uses something more the size of a piece of paper or a large book.

  5. Although a surprising (to me) number of lawyers can’t type, the young ones coming down the pipe certainly can — and do. In the last half dozen years, law schools have gone from offering minimal opportunities to write exams on computers to essentially arranging for nearly all students to do that. They think with all nine digits, in the way I used to think with a pencil when I was younger. So tablets will be interesting, I’d hazard, but not mainstream. Now voice recognition… that’s another matter.

  6. John:

    The advantage of a tablet is the ability to not have a screen between you and whomever you are meeting. That lack of a physical barrier is important, in my opinion.

    In a courtroom, you can use a tablet unobtrusively without disturbing the court. In a meeting room, you can use a tablet in the same way you can use a pad of paper. It doesn’t disturb or interfere with the ‘dynamics’ of the meeting in the same way that a standard laptop (or more importantly, the clicking of the keys) does.

    I can certainly see the attraction towards a tablet. It is quiet and effective. Combine the tablet with a USB GSM Modem (like the Rogers USB Novation “rocket stick” modem) or PCMCIA data card and you can quietly do research, respond to emails or IM from where ever you are (like waiting in court to be heard) without disturbing those around you and without interfering with the operation of the court. There are distinct advantages for having an unobtrusive laptop.

    Voice recognition has come a long way – and I think that handwriting recognition will have a similar improvement in efficiency – which will also drive the tablet/writable computer market.

    Another advantage of a tablet is the ability to draw graphic notes rather than just using text. My meeting notes on a pad of paper have arrows and other sorts of symbolic ‘things’ scrawled on them. This is something that we haven’t yet fully captured on a text-oriented computer, but is capable of being implemented on a drawable computer.