Windy Cities, Winding Roads & Whines
By Monica Bay
CHICAGO's always the venue for ABA TECHSHOW, and this year's event was the best in years. It was also vibrant proof that many vendors waited for the odometer to click over to 2000 before releasing new editions of their products. The event was jam-packed with new launches (See page 1.)
Congratulations to the key organizers, especially chair Andrew Adkins. But I do have one question: Were there any panels or events that didn't feature Ross Kodner and Sheryn Bruehl?
I'm also curious if anybody shares this pet peeve: The trend to allow smokers unbridled territory in hotel lobbies. In Chicago, I was seated next to two oblivious 20-something jerks, who thought nothing of enjoying fat, stinky cigars. The aggressive ventilation system routed their toxic exhale directly into our faces. New York's just as bad. Anybody ever hear of non-smoking sections?
NeverLost Gets an A
The last time I rented with Hertz, I got upgraded to a car with NeverLost, its new Global Positioning System. Wow oh wow is it great!
It's amazingly simple to use: You just program in the address, and it calculates the route. Then, it then literally talks you through your trip. The unit, located near the dashboard, has a map that illustrates your route and your location. If you goof, it recalculates instantly.
I used it to find my way home from the 'burbs of Manhattan and it was virtually flawless (one tiny spot of confusion as I neared the Triborough Bridge). My only complaint: I'm too blind to be able to read the map while driving. (Maybe this is how I'll become a millionaire: I'll patent dashboards with bigger symbols and letters so that aging baby boomers can see the commands without having to wear our bifocals.)
Microsoft eXtreme was held April 8, with a live simulcast to 30 theaters across the U.S. In NYC, it drew quite an eclectic crowd, many who seemed to view the experience as the equivalent of sitting through a timeshare presentation to earn a weekend vacation. (I.e., they sat through the two-hour presentation to get the T-shirt and CD-ROM sampler at the end).
Microsoft previewed its new Pocket PC software, the latest version of its Windows CE operating system, which will be incorporated into upcoming products by Casio, Compaq, and Hewlett Packard (and obviously is intended to compete with Palm).
Microsoft also offered a sneak peak of the upcoming (this summer) upgrade of Windows 98: Microsoft Windows Millennium Edition, which it is calling Windows Me. (If ever there was an Apple marketing rip-off, this is it. Think iMac). Every live demo seems to have its de rigeur failure, and this event was no exception: The fail-safe self-repairing function designed to fix system crashes wouldn't work. Oh well.
What did work and was quite impressive was the demo of FrontPage 2000. A Microsoft staffer built and published a terrific Web site in about 10 minutes flat.
London LegalTech, AmLaw's first international tech show, will be held May 17-18. There's been an update to the program: LTN Editorial Advisory Board member John Hokkanen will speak at several panels, including a session on the impact of the Internet on law practice.
Richard Susskind presents the keynote, "Transforming Legal Practice: What's Next?" It's not too late to sign up: Visit www.legaltechshow.com for details.
Not Enough Mac
Mac-addict lawyers are an avid bunch, and I got a polite slapping of my editing wrists for the omission of MacLaw on Randy Singer's "Apple Bites" list of resources in last month's LTN. Sorry! I should have caught that! So here's some "equal time" info, provided by one critic who preferred to remain anonymous:
"MacLaw is a Web site, e-mail lists and user group comprising lawyers who use Macintosh. It is a community of interesting people all over the world, from Denmark to Singapore, Australia to Canada,with two common interests: Law and Macintosh. The MacLaw email list provides a rich source of information on both law office technology and broader questions of law," he notes. "The second e-mail list, MacLaw Admin, is a forum to sound off on virtually any topic of interest. The MacLaw User Group sponsors MCLE classes, provides access to bargains available only to User Groups, appears at shows like LegalTech and works with Apple to reach the legal community.
L&H Buys Dragon
We now turn the column over to Bruce Dorner for a voice recognition report:
March blew across the voice recognition landscape with a blizzard of stock certificates. It started when Lernout & Hauspie signed a definitive agreement to acquire Dictaphone Corp. Shortly thereafter L&H announced that it had signed a definitive agreement to purchase Dragon Systems, Inc.In the words of Mel Brooks, "It's good to be the king!" I guess if you have money and guts you can buy your competitors and turn them into allies. Gee, does this sound like Bill Gates' philosophy of life?
L&H will acquire all of the Dicta-phone shares for about 4.75 million shares of L&H stock, while the Dragon acquisition will cost L&H approximately another 5.45 million of its shares. I'm dying to find out if the attorneys handling the transactions are preparing the documents using voice recognition. Even more important, are they using Dragon NaturallySpeaking or Voice Xpress!
Other than press releases and publicly posted statements on their Web sites, no great revelations have appeared as to which brand names will survive and which products will advance or be merged into others. I have been assured that there will be no short-term problems for customers.
Here's my personal view of where the dust will settle. Dictaphone has great name recognition, especially in the medical and analog dictation areas. They have solid equipment. Heck, my portable Dictaphone is about 14 years old and still works well! They have a loyal customer base. I'm betting L&H will maintain the Dictaphone brand name and enhance its product.
I have spoken with several people involved in L&H and they quietly admit that Dragon NaturallySpeaking may be a little better in voice recognition. Lawyers are so fussy about the need for accuracy! What L&H got in its purchase are about 170 engineers from the Dragon team who really have a view to the future and a burning desire to voice-enable our society. In short, I'm watching for greatly increased accuracy, shorter training time, and easier to use voice tools.
Dragon has the most visible brand name in the U.S. law office market, and the only product that provides direct dictation and voice command navigation inside both WordPerfect and Microsoft Word. I fully expect the Dragon name will remain the dominant force in legal and will be significantly enhanced by the technology, tools and accessories in the L&H product line. Just think, we could end up with Dragon Xpress as the new moniker.
As part of the acquisition, L&H obtains access to the Dragon stable of major customers which include Bank America, Boeing, Citibank, Compaq, Corel, Dell, Deutsche Bank, Fujitsu, Kaiser Permanente, Seiko, Sony, Toshiba, and many others. Clearly, these relationships will be of major value to L&H.
Now, here's an interesting little gem. Microsoft has made two investments in L&H totaling about $60 million since 1997. In Oct. 1999, this represented about 7 percent of L&H shares. The deal was good for both parties. On Dec. 31, 1999, L&H closed at 46.50. On March 31, 2000, it closed at 110.50. L&H had revenues of about $87.5 million in the third quarter of last year, of which about $7.9 million came from Microsoft. A win for everyone!
Says L&H president Gaston Bastiaens: "It is in our best interest that as soon as possible, voice (becomes) a standard user interface within the Microsoft operating system." Ah, don't you just love the sound of this? We need better voice recognition which requires more computing horsepower, which requires a stronger operating system, which requires faster, bigger and better everything. Onward, oh noble Microsoft juggernaut!
We probably will experience some confusion in the voice recognition market as product names change and feature sets are enhanced. But product development cycles will shorten, and new versions will appear quickly. The pace of voice recognition as a mainstream application will accelerate.
The average lawyer will find that by 2002, voice dictation will be easier, faster and more accurate than we predicted.
I was there when they laid the cornerstone on discrete speech and I remain amazed by what has happened in the past two years with continuous speech software. There's money to be made pandering to lawyers and L&H will be working hard to expand the use of voice tools in the law office.