Notes from the Technology Trenches - October, 1998

Elizabeth H. Klampert is the Director of Library Services for the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. Ms. Klampert was formerly a litigator for five years, specializing in professional liability litigation. Before attending law school, she was a corporate librarian for twelve years, holding management positions in libraries in a number of large organizations, including Rainier National Bank in Seattle, Deloitte & Touche, and Merrill Lynch, both in New York. She received both her BA in English and MLS from the University of Washington in Seattle. She received her JD at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York.


As usual, a number of issues related to technology have appeared on my desk, some courtesy of the Internet, others from old-fashioned newsprint. These issues range from who will be handling domain name registration in the future to law schools on the Web to Linux, a new entry in the operating system wars, plus a few others that I hope will grab your interest.

Most of us do not deal directly with the issue of domain name registration. However, some of our users, particularly the intellectual property attorneys, do. On September 30, 1998, the government's contract with Network Solutions expired. Network Solutions has, for the past five years, held the exclusive federal contract to handle registration and distribution of addresses for the Web and has charged $70 for registering those addresses. Naturally, other entities now want a piece of the action, including the newly established Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, established by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).

As it now stands, Network Solutions is the temporary registrar and administrator for ".com" and others, but other companies will be allowed to offer services registering addresses with Network Solutions. The new Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers presented a proposal to the government earlier this month that would introduce competition in the registration of domain names and would recognize international interests in this area. Under its proposal, the corporation would also decide how and when to add new top-level domains. As of October 13, no proposal has yet been approved. Stay tuned, however. It is possible that some solution, albeit temporary, will be arrived at over the next month, if Congress doesn't focus all of its energy on the impeachment process.

For those seeking an alternative to Microsoft or Macintosh, keep an eye on Linux (rhymes with cynics). This operating system, developed by Linus Torvalds, is currently free and is purported to be quite fast. While a number of corporations are adopting it, it is probably not quite ready for the average PC user, since it does take more technical expertise to install than either of the current major operating systems. In addition, not much software has been written yet for Linux, although there is a Linux version of WordPerfect and it supports Netscape Communicator. A version of Linux can be ordered over the Internet at the LinuxMall site.

One of the main features of Linux that appeals to me is that, compared to Microsoft's systems in particular, it rarely crashes. Given that my PC at the office was out of commission for a week and a half due to some Windows problem, I would love to have something more reliable on my PC. Much to my chagrin, I'm finding that Win95 (no, I've not yet been "upgraded" to Win98) is not a very stable system and does not really support multitasking well. It is maddening to have my system freeze in the middle of an Internet search or while I'm drafting a document in WordPerfect or Word. Not to mention not being able to access my e-mail (but that's another whole story). In any event, I plan to watch Linux closely to see if it will become a real alternative to Microsoft or Macintosh.

Another trend to watch is the advent of the law school on the Web. Yes, folks, Concord University School of Law made its debut on October 6, 1998 - on the Internet. This new four-year program is being offered by Kaplan Educational Center and will cost a fraction of the tuition at more traditional law schools. The school does have authorization from a California agency to grant degrees so that its students will be able to sit for the California bar exam. However, it is not yet accredited and is unlikely to be in the near future. Classes are scheduled to start in December.

The American Bar Association, the leading accreditation body in the United States, requires at least 1,120 hours of "in residence" study. An online law school does not fit that requirement. Another ABA guideline that will be hard to follow is the requirement that a law school have a law library that also follows certain guidelines. Currently, the Web site offers a "Library" with a both a drop-down menu and a "keyword search" capability "to search the entire database of links." The drop-down menu currently offers the following selections: First Year, Cases, Statutes, Federal, State, Miscellaneous, General, Legal Research, Subscription Services, Search Engine.

I clicked on "First Year" and found seven Web sites. The first is "Introduction to Basic Legal Citation," based on the 16th edition of the Bluebook and found on Cornell Law School's Legal Information Institute's site. Cornell is used again for its Uniform Commercial Code Locator. Findlaw is also represented twice: the first time for the U.S. Constitution Annotated and the second for its U.S. Supreme Court Opinions Search. Since this is a California-based law school, the Constitution of the State of California is also in this First Year list, found at the Legislative Counsel of California's site.

The final two sites are "The Legal List: Research on the Internet," maintained by Lawyers Cooperative Publishing and "Oyez, Oyez, Oyez," for searching Supreme Court cases and listening to "important" oral arguments using RealPlayer (which a student will have to download if he or she doesn't have it already). While these are useful sites, I hope that whoever is maintaining this library (dare we hope that a bona fide law librarian - a requirement by the ABA -has been hired to do this?) will add some depth to it. As with Linux, it will be interesting to see how successful an online law school can be.

I've had any number of enthusiastic techies tell me that the good old-fashioned hard (or soft) cover book is in danger of being replaced by the "e-book" (they don't use the word "danger," however). Among other things, they rhapsodize about taking this "e-book" to the beach where they'll be able to select from any number of great books to read (no-one seems to have given any thought about what you do with this "e-book" when you want to go in for a swim - bury it?). In any event, two recent arrivals on the scene are the Rocket eBook (NuvoMedia) and the Softbook (SoftBook Press).

The Rocket eBook has been advertised in a number of places, including one of my favorite catalogs, Levenger: Tools for Serious Readers. Levenger has even designed a storage case for it. It, like the SoftBook, is a small, lightweight, portable computer designed for reading (and annotating) the electronic texts of books. The Rocket eBook is designed less like a book but has greater storage capacity than the SoftBook. The SoftBook is laid out more like a book and you can "flip" through it electronically. The source for updating for both is the Internet, but access for both is different.

For the SoftBook, you plug a phone line into the built-in modem and connect immediately to the SoftBook online store. However, since the SoftBook's capacity is limited, you can usually download only two to three typical books at a time. The cost of the SoftBook will start at $299 for the unit, plus $9.95 per month thereafter for, among other things, a variety of free books and periodicals. For those who intend to read a lot of e-books, the Web site advised that the monthly fee will be waived "with a 24-month commitment to buy at $19.95 worth of publications each month."

The Rocket eBook will cost $499 with no monthly fee and will hold about ten full books. Its battery is more long-lasting than is the SoftBook - up to 20 hours. However, to download, you will need a cradle that you plug into your PC (similar to the Palm Pilot). Any books that you buy that don't fit into the eBook will be stored on your PC's hard drive (with the SoftBook, the books that don't fit are stored remotely).

While I think the "e-book" will eventually be something to consider purchasing, neither of these products appeals to me. The good old-fashioned book, particularly the paperback, has it all over "e-books," even when you consider storage capability. I don't know about all of you, but if I'm going on a trip, I typically pack at least two and, often, three paperbacks (if its a really long trip, I'll pay a visit to the library and stock up). Sure, it would be handy to have any number of books just waiting at the touch of a button, but, until the price comes down, I think I'll stick with my lowly books in print.

Ever on the lookout for positive stories about librarians, a story in the October 1 issue of the Wall Street Journal pointed me to Homework Central, a Web site developed by a New York librarian, Judy Breck. Amusingly, it has an alternative name, www.nosweat.com The site is available for students from first grade through college and beyond (Encyclopedia Central). While its not the only homework site on the Internet, it is, evidently, one of the few that accepts advertising. It is nicely laid out and easy to navigate. I've bookmarked it for our household and recommend it to those of you who have school age kids but haven't found this site yet.

One final and probably non-technological note. I'm sure you all have properly registered the fact that the venerable "F.Supp." reached that magic moment where it segued into the "F.Supp.2d." It evidently took about 62 years to get there!

Until next time, I hope that all of you have an uneventful and serene technology month. In my dreams...