Does Obama have to prosecute?

I’ve been thinking a lot about legal matters recently. Now that President Obama (that does sound nice, doesn’t it?) is in office, sworn in (twice, for good measure) and issuing all kinds of executive orders and policy statements (whither K street? or more appropriately, wither, K street), everyone is coming around to the same question.

Will he seek prosecutions of Bush administration officials (including, possibly, Dubya and Cheney) for war crimes?

We’re getting more revelations by the day, now that the old gang is out of power and less capable of retribution. We’ve learned that the NSA was spying on all American conversations, all 300 million of us, on our phones, text messages, email and everything else. The NSA was listening to everything, and flagging what they thought merited closer examination. We’ve heard Bush administration officials admit to using the “T” word, torture. And even as Obama has ordered the shutdown of Guantanamo, we’ve all had to confront what went on there and why so many of the detainees can’t be tried under American law because any evidence against them is inadmissible. Attorney General nominee Eric Holder said definitively in his confirmation hearing that waterboarding was torture, and now Republican senators are delaying the nomination hoping to get assurances that he didn’t really mean it, or at least won’t prosecute Bush and Cheney, who have admitted ordering torture.

And yet, Obama seems very careful to reassure Republicans that no one is coming after them. He wants to put the recriminations of the past behind him and move forward leading a united American people. It’s a noble thought, and one I happen to share with him. I’m willing, personally, to let the transgressions of the Bush administration go if it means healing the nation and moving forward. But is it possible?

There’s a very real chance that Obama and Holder will not have a choice. In some interpretations of the law, now that Cheney has admitted ordering and authorizing these tactics in public, Holder may be required by law to charge him. We are also bound by treaties to charge and try war criminals. The Bush administration was all too ready to ignore laws they found inconvenient, but the new administration is supposed to be about changing things, right?

Obama may find himself in a catch-22 even he can’t think of a way out of. He wants to unite the country and end the partisan divisiveness that has defined American politics for the last three decades. And if he charges the former president and vice-president (along with their secretary of state, two or three attorneys general and a former secretary of defense) with war crimes and brings them to trial, he loses all hope of ever getting Republicans to work with him on anything. It would be more polarizing than anything the Bush administration did. And yet, if he’s required by law to do so and chooses to ignore this legal responsibility, how has he changed anything at all?

First, kill all the lawyers

Palm has trouble, right here in River City. Apple’s COO and interim CEO said on their recent earnings call that they would aggressively defend their intellectual property. He didn’t call out the Palm Pre by name, but the subtext was there.

Palm needs to be ready for this. Apple files for every patent they can think of, and they believe they have defendable patents on multitouch and using a proximity sensor on a smartphone to turn off the screen (which is why you don’t see that feature on HTC devices). Apple also has lots of land sharks, I mean lawyers, and a lot more cash than Palm to handle legal fees.

I know Rubenstein saw this coming, he’s too smart to have missed it and he knows well how his old company operates. So he implemented those two features on the Pre knowing Apple would come after him. Why? What does he know that we don’t?

Exchanging Exchange

My hosted Exchange provider started acting weird again recently, and I decided I’d had enough. At the same time, the new Live Mesh client that was supposed to improve compatibility with Windows 7 started causing my netbook to freeze up (solid, no moving the mouse pointer even) about five minutes after booting up. Now while the rational thing might be to switch to a different Exchange provider, I decided to shake up my whole computing ecosystem and see what was involved in living La Vida Google.

Exchange email to Gmail

This was probably the easiest transition to make, because of the way I was using my email in the first place. When someone sends me an email to jeff@jeffkirvin.net, it goes first to my domain host, then redirects to Gmail, then gets autoforwarded to my Exchange provider. So all I had to do was turn off that forwarding, and start using Gmail as my mail client instead of Outlook. Frankly, this has worked out better than I expected on my netbook, since I don’t have the overhead of running Outlook to deal with anymore. A lot less random (The program is not responding) messages in titlebars now.

It was a little more challenging to make the switch from Exchange to Gmail as the email client on my phone. Windows Mobile is, obviously, designed to work with Exchange. Setting it up for anything else is a lot less automatic. I opted to go with Google’s IMAP option rather than POP, which meant I wasn’t able to use Microsoft’s automated setup (which defaults to POP). I went with IMAP for two reasons. One, it synchronizes with other mail clients should I decide later I’d rather use something like Windows Live Mail or Mozilla Thunderbird on my Windows 7 machines instead of Gmail’s web interface, and two, it supports subfolders for labeled items, particularly starred items. I went through the manual IMAP setup instructed provided by Google, and have email syncing to my Touch Pro without a hitch. It’s not push, like my Exchange email was (Google doesn’t fully support the IMAP IDLE protocol), but I’m okay with pulling new messages every 15 minutes. In fact, I might even change that to 30 or even 60 minutes to reduce distractions. If someone needs to contact me quickly, there’s always SMS, Twitter, or an actual phone call.

Exchange calendar to Google Calendar

This was a little more challenging. First I recreated every recurring appointment I had in Exchange in Google Calendar. I could have exported from Outlook to .csv and then imported into Google Calendar, but I have only a dozen or so recurring appointments and very few one-off appointments, so it was probably faster to just recreate them, especially given how easy it is to create new appointments in Google Calendar. That took care of the desktop easy enough, but mobile is a little more challenging. For that, I had to download Goosync. A one year subscription is about $30, or you could go for $60 for a lifetime subscription. This is way less than I was paying for hosted Exchange, so it seemed like a no-brainer. I downloaded and installed the Goosync Windows Mobile client and set it to sync my calendar and contacts. It runs in the background and syncs every half hour, which seems to work okay. Appointments on the device retain full fidelity including repeat settings and alarms.

Exchange contacts to Gmail

I solved this the same way I solved the calendar issue, with Goosync. The one problem I had was that I need to re-add my contact photos and weed out dozens of incomplete contact records Google saved for me automatically that I really don’t want. Once they’re set up, though, they work well enough in Windows Mobile for email, SMS and dialing.

Exchange tasks to Remember The Milk

Gmail supports tasks now, but the feature is still in its infancy, and I can’t find any good way to sync them to other devices. So instead, I went with the most popular of online task lists, Remember The Milk. This has great integration with other services like Gmail, iGoogle, Twitter and SMS. I could use their MilkSync application to sync tasks from the web interface directly to Windows Mobile’s Tasks application, but since Tasks is generally ignored by TouchFlo 3D on my Touch Pro, it’s just as easy for me to manage my tasks on the device in Opera through RTM’s mobile interface as it would be to keep them in the Tasks application and dig that up every time.

Live Mesh to Google Docs

Don’t get me wrong, I love the concept behind Life Mesh, and it’s still technically a technology preview, not even a beta. I’m sure the issues I’ve been having with it recently will be ironed out, especially now that Mesh has been moved under Steve Sinofsky’s Windows division (which is on track for their best release ever in Windows 7). But for now, it’s just not stable enough and requires way too much CPU, especially on my Windows Mobile phone and my netbook. So instead, I’ve uploaded my current projects to Google Docs. This works well enough on my netbook and desktop, though I can’t do much offline because Google Gears doesn’t support Firefox 3.1b2 yet. It also means I can view, but not edit on my phone because Google Docs doesn’t support that through their web interface. I’m still trying to come up with a way around this, but all I’ve come up with so far is saving documents from Google Docs to my desktop, then using my phone’s drive mode to copy them to the phone, then reverse the process when I need to get the document from the phone back into Google Docs. Usually this won’t be worth the trouble. I might just write new material in an email addressed to my Google Docs address and then copy and paste it where it should be the next time I’m online. Still not ideal, but it should work for the rare times I have to write something on the phone. Writing on the phone itself isn’t as big a deal for me as it used to be now that I carry my netbook everywhere I go.

iGoogle or Gmail Labs?

On my phone, I’m accessing my data pretty much the same way I always have, other than the aforementioned difference with tasks. (Hey, Llamagraphics, any chance of a web-based LifeBalance? You could knock RTM right off the map!) On my Windows 7 machines, though, I have more choices. I could keep using Outlook (right!), but even if I opt to go with the web interface, it’s still not cut and dried. I could use Gmail for everything, or I could use iGoogle, Google’s widget driven homepage. Gmail labs offers the ability to insert small side modules for Calendar, Docs and RTM to the right and left of the message list, which has everything on one page, but pretty tiny, especially on my netbook. It is nicely arranged, though. With iGoogle, I can spread stuff out over multiple tabs, change the layout at will, and add in other stuff that I can’t do in Gmail. (Also, Gmail is blocked by content filters at the office, but Google isn’t.) I have three tabs set up in iGoogle. Organizer contains Gmail, Google Calendar, Remember The Milk and Weather. Media contains Google Docs, Google Reader for my RSS feeds and Google News. Social contains widgets for Twitter, Google Talk (my IM of choice), Facebook and MySpace. If I open these up in separate tabs in Firefox, that’s pretty much everything I need for my daily use.

A method to my madness

And last, an ulterior motive. Part of the reason I’m taking this opportunity to transition off Exchange to something a little more open is to make it easier to move to a Palm Pre when they go on sale in March (yes, I’m standing by that prediction), or to an Android-based variant of the Touch HD. I’m still happy with Windows Mobile today, and with a little third party help and some choice registry tweaks it can be as slick and modern as any other mobile OS (more on that to come), but I’ll state publicly that I’m not sure they can overcome the public perception that they’re “old and busted” before such rumor festers into fact. Fortunately, cloud computing offers choices enough to build your own solutions.

Palm’s accident of timing

It’s about time something went Palm’s way. And now, suddenly, everything seems to be going Palm’s way. They blew everyone away at CES, are getting tons of positive press in the national media, and now, their biggest rival in the mobile space looks primed to falter.

I don’t think anyone at Palm was rooting for Jobs to step down for health reasons, but the situation is what it is. Currently the mobile market is Apple’s to lose, but their hold is a lot more tenuous than it initially appears. No one has a lock on the still growing mobile market, no one has established numerical dominance, and Apple’s early lead in a field that has only just recently penetrated the consciousness of “normal” consumers could easily repeat their early lead in personal computing, and we see how that turned out.

And now, Apple is losing their rudder. Steve Jobs, the “tyrant with exceptional taste” that has driven Apple in all their successful years, is taking an indefinite leave of absence from the company. He says he’ll be back by summer, but given how much he’s publically underestimated his health problems already, many analysts think this is really the end of the Jobs era and he won’t be coming back, ever. As 2009 wears on, Tim Cook will officially lead the company he’s been de facto leading for a while now.

But there will be a difference. Cook may have kept the trains running on time, but Jobs was the visionary. Jobs was the creative force behind Apple’s big moves. Without him, Apple will have a tendency to coast, to continue doing what they know already works and stop innovating. (It’s worth noting that the internal force at Apple really responsible for two of their big Jobs 2.0 innovations, the first iMac and the iPod, is Palm’s Jon Rubenstein.)

So Palm may have an opportunity here to swipe smartphone dominance out from under a sleeping Apple. If the Pre really is everything people like about the iPhone and fixes everything people don’t like about the iPhone, Palm really could have the trifecta of industry-defining devices (Pilot, Treo, Pre) and take the lead as the company everyone else wants to beat. Before CES, I wouldn’t have bet that Palm could execute well enough to take advantage of that opportunity, but now I’m not so sure. Ed Colligan’s experience with mobile and the cell phone market combined with Jon Rubenstein’s knack for innovation and design are proving a tough combination to beat.

Pre-mature

Don’t get too excited about the Palm Pre, folks. Palm themselves is going to kill it the same way they they killed the Foleo, which could have been the standard-bearer netbook: by fundamentally misunderstanding the mobile market. When they should have unveiled a slick and easy Linux-based netbook, Palm insisted on tying it to a Treo and crippling that the device could do on its own. They were right in that small, cheap laptops would be the next Big Thing in computing, but insisted that they knew better than their customers what their customers wanted. And without a Jobsian Distortion Field (JDF) you really can’t pull that off.

And with the Pre, they’re doing it again. Palm CEO Ed Colligan made a telling comment at yesterday’s CES presentation to All Things Digital’s Peter Kafka:

The biggest unknown is price, which went unmentioned during the demo. My assumption is that Palm (PALM) would try to take market share by coming in significantly lower than the $200 or so Apple wants for its iPhone. But when I ran that theory by Palm CEO Ed Colligan, he looked at me liked I’d peed on his rug. “Why would we do that when we have a significantly better product,” he asked, then walked away.

Again, Ed fundamentally doesn’t get it. The iPhone 3G’s release at $199 changed everything we knew about smartphone pricing. I’ll be dollars to donuts Palm is expecting to get $299 for the Pre with a new 2 year Sprint contract. At that price, they’ll be a niche player at best and fade away before 2010. I’m skeptical of Palm’s assertion that they can go it alone without a supporting ecosystem by tying into everyone else’s ecosystems, uniting disparate sources of mobile data. But if they plan to do it at a 50% price premium in these troubled economic times (drink) over the competing iPhone for AT&T, Blackberry Bold or Storm on Verizon and G1 on T-Mobile, they’re riding the Fail Whale.

Palm Pre is close, but no cigar

Don’t get me wrong. Palm’s keynote at CES was impressive (I wasn’t there, but thanks to liveblogging from gdgt, TreoCentral and cnet, I feel like I was). Palm’s webOS platform and Pre smartphone take the best of the iPhone and Google Android, mix them together and fix all their flaws. It’s an excellent smartphone.

And a year ago, maybe even six months ago, that might have mattered.

The mobile market is crowded and getting more crowded. The line between smartphones and feature phones is blurrier than ever, and might be eradicated entirely if Android fulfills its promise to become the dominant “feature phone” OS. Here in the US, the battle lines are drawn, with each major carrier having a preferred smart platform. Verizon has Blackberry, T-Mobile has Android, AT&T has the iPhone, and now Sprint has the Pre. And even there, Palm is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, hitching their wagon to a carrier that is best known in the last few years for hemorrhaging customers and money alike. The Pre doesn’t even support Wimax.

See, here’s the problem. The Pre doesn’t fit. It’s a great smartphone, but that’s not enough anymore. You have to plug into a whole ecosystem to make it work. Palm’s intent is for the Pre (which comes with Exchange OTA sync out of the box) to plug into anything, and it might work, but it’s a longshot.

I’ll be sticking with Windows Mobile for my smartphone needs at least for another year or so. Because I use Microsoft Office on my other PCs, sync my files with Live Mesh, manage my media with Windows Media Player, email with Exchange, manage my photos with Live Photos, etc. I use a Microsoft smartphone because I’ve already bought in to Microsoft services. And services are coming to drive device selection, not the other way around. And Palm, as cool as their new platform is, doesn’t supply services.

Maybe this is where their partner announcements will pay off. Facebook featured prominently in their keynote, as did Google. But can someone other than Google make a better Android than Android? I wouldn’t put money on it. Palm’s last fight will be a good one, they’ll go down swinging, but the ending is not in doubt.