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Notes from the Technology Trenches - December, 1998

By Elizabeth H. Klampert, Published on December 15, 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.

(Archived January 15, 1999)


It’s almost 1999 so, while I will do my usual meandering through the technology maze of issues, I will also reflect on this past year.

First, that trial of the century in Washington, D.C. (and, no, I don’t mean impeachment) pitting the DOJ against Microsoft. While I have certainly raised my eyebrows about certain things Microsoft has done and have deplored their collective arrogance, I have been equally concerned about the DOJ’s heavy-handed approach. Frankly, many techies to whom I speak think Microsoft is on trial for the wrong thing and, given the recent announcement about the AOL-Netscape-Sun venture, just who is guilty of antitrust actions here?

What bothers many people about Microsoft’s products is that many of them are put out into the stream of commerce without being perfected. In other words, we are often asked to be beta-testers for alpha products that have bugs which, the joke goes, are actually features. How many of you avoid the ".0" version of Microsoft’s products? And, increasingly, many of the newer products are incompatible with other Windows-based products! To give Microsoft its due, the company has, in many instances, been a leader and innovator. Maybe, though, like IBM, the company has gotten too big and needs to rein itself in and concentrate on creating really quality products (like a better version of Word with REVEAL CODES!).

For those of you who are following this trial and would like to have access to the transcripts, Microsoft has made them available at its Web site for free. You will also find there commentary about the trial found in a number of news sources.Speaking of commerce, e-commerce is taking off after a period of cautious enthusiasm and a gingerly toe-in-the-water approach by many companies. I’ve been a catalog shopper at this time of year for a very long time (no mall or department store shopping for me – I’d rather have a migraine) and, last year, for the first time, I did some online shopping, primarily at Amazon.com. This year, a lot more companies are prepared for online shopping and some sites, like Amazon.com, have been created solely for the Web.

I’ll mention just a few of the many interesting and useful sites I’ve used thus far. I begin, of course, with Amazon.com which now offers videotapes and music in addition to all those wonderful books (did I mention that online shopping, especially for books, is even more dangerous than my going into a bricks-and-mortar bookstore?). Other music sites include Music Boulevard and CDNOW. I was surprised, though, to find several versions of the musical "Les Miserables" album at Amazon.com, but only a number of audiotapes with readings of Victor Hugo’s book at Music Boulevard. Curious.

Another great book site is A Common Reader – I’ve been getting their excellent catalog for some time and the Web site is nicely done. For those of you who just cannot face going into a toy store, try out etoys.com. It is a well-organized, easily navigable site that provides, thoughtfully, a "holiday shipping schedule" – click that on and find out when your gifts will get to your intended recipients. If you’re in the market for a computer or peripherals, there are some good shopping sites, but I’d check out ZDNET for reviews first. A nice site for good information about hardware is Toms Hardware.

A few of my personal favorites for online shopping include Levenger, Lands End, and L.L. Bean. It is helpful if you have a copy of each catalog in hand, though – it speeds things up considerably. I was hoping that the American Girl Web site would be operational this year for online shopping, but, sigh, it isn’t. Back to waiting on the phone. Isn’t it amazing how easily spoiled one can become?

An aside. I’ve been on a personal quest for a PDA (ok, a personal digital assistant). I know a number of folks, including my sister and one of the editors of LLRX, who swear by their PalmPilot. Experiencing just a bit of sticker shock, I’ve been waffling about getting one, hoping a) the cost would go down, and b) an alternative would appear on the horizon. So far, Nino (made by Phillips) and the Franklin Rex Pro PC Companion are the top contenders.  The latter is very compact (I’m sure you’ve seen the ads) but quite powerful and less costly. I have been reading reviews (see ZDNET, above) and am getting closer to a purchase. Since I currently have at least three different places that I’m plugging in my appointments (Lotus Organizer on my PC at work and at the office and my appointment book that I keep in my bag), I do need one place to keep everything. What gives me pause, though, is what if the batteries fail? Anyway, once I get one of the above, I will report back to you on my experience with it.

Onward and upward (I think). Since my last column, in which I mentioned the Second Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision in the Matthew Bender v. West Publishing Co. case, LEXIS-NEXIS has announced that Shepard’s will no longer be available to WESTLAW after June 1999. I have been surprised that there has been little discussion on the LawLib listserv about this, since it will likely have a major impact. After all, when I was still practicing law, I Shepardized exclusively on WESTLAW. Given my use of it in the last sentence, it is now even a part of speech!

Is this a great opportunity for WESTLAW to promote KeyCite to the max? Will attorneys who are generally conservative types feel comfortable enough to rely on KeyCite if it does essentially what Shepard’s does on LEXIS-NEXIS? Will the courts care? Since I now serve a clientele largely made up of small firm and solo practitioners, I expect that this will be a dilemma for them since many of them can only afford a subscription to one major legal online service. Interesting move on LEXIS-NEXIS’s part. To be continued…

On another note entirely, an article about a recent development in legal education or, more appropriately, non-legal education has come across my desk. Two law schools in New York State, Touro and Albany Law School are offering state-approved masters degree programs in legal studies for professionals who want basic legal training but not the law degree. Interestingly, those applying for the Albany program will be able to take either the LSAT or the GRE. Since credits earned in the masters’ programs will not count toward a law degree that a candidate may want to pursue in the future, I’m not really sure why someone would want to do this. However, for more information, see the November 30, 1998, New York Law Journal (or go the NYLJ Web site for the story). You can also visit the schools’ respective Web sites.

My column just wouldn’t be complete without a reference to Y2K. Congress recently passed the Information and Readiness Disclosure Act, P.L. 105-271, also referred to as the "Good Samaritan" legislation, mainly because it will protect companies from certain kinds of liability that they may otherwise incur for revealing information they share about Year 2000 issues. Incidentally, the Senate has established the Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem. You can find out more at their Web site, but the information is not up to date – the latest information is as of July, 1998. Hmm.

The House isn’t much better, though. I couldn’t even find a House Y2K committee, special or otherwise, and going to the House Web site didn’t help because you can only search individual committees for information. Since I had no idea which committee was responsible for Y2K issues, I had no idea which one to search. Back to the drawing board, guys. And, yes, I know I can find out this information in other ways, but since I have Internet access and Congress prides itself on its Internet savvy, that’s where I chose to look. If I had problems, think of John Q. or Susie Q. Public!

I could, but won’t, go on. Suffice it to say that during 1998, the Internet became an increasingly useful (albeit still frustrating) tool in our respective research toolboxes. However, it is still not the toolbox. Happy New Year to all of you and may your technology never fail you (just in case, though, be sure to keep your data backed up!).