Let’s hope Blackberry can ‘workaround’ its problems
Many folks have been following the trials and travails of Research In Motion
(RIM), the maker of the Blackberry handheld e-mail device. RIM was sued for patent infringement a few years ago, by NTP Inc.
, a company based in Virginia. Rather than rehash the details of the case ad nauseum, we'd like to talk about a couple of interesting tangents have arisen that usually raise red flags for IT folks.
Should NTP (which has never 'fessed up to what these initials really stand for) prevail, RIM recently announced a "workaround" that would skirt any patent issues with NTP. Technology industry veterans are always wary of workarounds, and for good reason.
Remember that great B-movie, "Road Trip"? A bunch of New York college kids have 18 hours to get to Austin, Texas (ostensibly to the "University of Austin" which is really the University of Texas). Somewhere along the way, our dudes run into trouble and take a shortcut that ends up in disaster. When bemoaning the decision to take a shortcut, we are treated with this line "... It's supposed to be a challenge! It's a shortcut! If it were easy, it would just be 'the way.'"
Well, if RIM's workaround was a really good solution, it wouldn't be a "workaround" it would be "the way."
Other common synonyms for "workaround" include "kludge" "patch" and "prayer."
Certainly, workarounds can often be suitable solutions, but in an even more distressing note, RIM has not released details of the workaround, although it does claim to have filed applications for a patent.
Furthermore, implementation of the workaround will require software changes on every Blackberry device out there.
Another interesting aspect of this case is the illustration of dependence on a single vendor's proprietary products. All the components of the Blackberry wireless e-mail solution, including hardware, software, and service, are provided by RIM and RIM only.
For years, IT folks have tried to avoid the single-vendor dependency that used to be the norm, enjoyed by vendors like IBM or even Wang. Of course, shutdown due to patent infringement is usually the least of our worries. Rather, concerns about pricing, institutional viability and flexibility are usually why we recommend spreading the ball around.
Certainly, you could avoid this single-vendor dependency for wireless e-mail. RIM's strongest competitors include Palm, Motorola and Nokia. These other vendors have their strengths.
For example, Palm's PDA functions are probably the most mature. But the fact of the matter is that for wireless e-mail, the Blackberry is the best device on the market today.
is president of ISDI Technologies Inc., a Honolulu-based IT consultancy. Call him at 944-8742 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org