We're all trying to become more connected as part of the digital lifestyle. During the past few years, handheld devices, such as those based on the Palm OS and Microsoft Windows CE Pocket PC design, have become mainstream gadgets -- taking on a front-and-center role in the digital lifestyle. Many executives and professionals, for example, have become "addicted" to these PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants), but these same gadget groupies also tend to neglect some really basic data protection and security issues.

As we start connecting our PCs to our mobile phones, digital cameras and PDAs, the stakes go up...way up. So as data becomes more concentrated and more invaluable to both business managers and ordinary, connected people, this failure to properly care for the data becomes a really scary prospect - putting some of your most private, personal and irreplaceable digital-lifestyle trappings at risk.

Small businesses, telecommuters, and remote branch offices, without full-time in-house IT pros on staff, often overlook how to protect their intellectual property stored on PDAs.

If you use PDAs for important business data, consider:

  • What kind of sensitive data is or should be stored on PDAs?
  • How will the PDAs get backed up?

To help you get started on the right track, here are 10 simple tips to help you protect your PDA data and avoid frustrating, related tech-support headaches.

  1. Be very cautious when considering brand-new, unproven handheld models. Major design and software bugs are usually fixed in the first three to six months following the initial release. Unless you're prepared for the risks and demands of being an early adopter, let someone else endure these all-too-common headaches.
  2. Get software, peripherals and accessories bundled with your PDA purchase. This shopping approach will not only save you money and installation time, but you'll also dramatically reduce the compatibility risks. (i.e. will everything work together seamlessly?)
  3. Pay attention to vendor support offerings. Technical support and warrantees are not created equal! This is almost a mantra of personal technology adoption: whom you buy something from is often as important (or even more important) than what you buy.
  4. Make sure the PDA is compatible with your operating system. If your office is wedded to a particular version of Microsoft Windows or another OS, be sure your PDA can sync up its data with your desktop or notebook PCs.
  5. Insist on a PDA that's "well-connected." USB interfaces tend to be the easiest to configure and troubleshoot, while providing the best performance. Avoid older, legacy serial interfaces whenever possible.
  6. Don't take "plug-and-play" claims at face value. Over the years, Microsoft Windows hecklers have taken many a cheap shot at the OS family by branding it "plug and pray." Before making a PDA purchase, check out some independent product reviews in leading personal technology magazines and online portals. Pay particular attention to comments regarding device drivers and ease-of-installation.
  7. Do your homework before making the purchase. Because of their small size and minimal cost, PDAs are often impulse purchases. However, making the "right" hardware and software selections can have an enormous impact on lowering your computer support costs. Select the "wrong" hardware and software...and well let's not even go there! (Hint: It's not a pretty picture.)
  8. Watch out for dangerous end-user installation snafus. Unless your supported end users are very PC savvy, you probably don't want to leave users to install and support their own PDA to desktop connectivity. All too often, a user inadvertently will break a multitude of key software configurations while accepting default installation settings.
  9. Consider whether any proprietary data should be "PDA-banned." Be sure you've thought through what kinds of sensitive data can be stored on a PDA, given that the pocket-sized PDA devices are inherently vulnerable to theft.
  10. Back it up before you lose it. In the same context of data security, establish some kind of backup procedures. We've all heard the horror stories of users losing three years of appointments and 2,000 customer names that were stored on their PDAs and not backed up anywhere else. Don't let your organization or supported users become one of these statistics.

The Bottom Line

PDAs are taking on an increasingly important role in the digital lifestyle. Use these simple, low-tech tips and best practices to minimize your PDA support headaches and maximize the security of your incredibly valuable data.

PDA Information on the Web

Casio Cassiopeia -- http://www.casio.com/personalpcs/
Handspring Visor -- http://www.handspring.com
HP Jordana/Compaq iPAQ -- http://www.hp.com
Microsoft Windows CE -- http://www.microsoft.com/windows/embedded/wince/
Palm OS -- http://www.palm.com/us/
PDABuzz -- http://www.pdabuzz.com
PDA LIVE -- http://www.pdalive.com
PDA Street -- http://www.pdastreet.com
Pocket PC Passion -- Small Biz Tech Talk -- http://www.smallbiztechtalk.com
Tucows PDA -- http://www.pilotzone.com

Key Terms Defined

Microsoft Windows CE -- a specialty version of the Microsoft Windows operating system originally designed for handheld computers based on Microsoft's Pocket PC design specification; largest major competitor is the Palm OS.
Palm OS -- a specialty operating system designed for handheld computers manufactured and marketed by Palm and others; largest major competitor is Microsoft Windows CE.
PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) -- a handheld, pocket-sized computer generally designed for the Microsoft Windows CE or Palm OS platforms.
USB (Universal Serial Bus) Port -- hardware communications interface used to connect peripherals to computer systems; eventually could replace parallel and serial interfaces in PCs; offers far superior performance throughput and easier configuration than both parallel and serial port-based peripherals.

Joshua Feinberg (joshua@smallbiztechtalk.com) helps small businesses save money on computer support costs. His latest book, What Your Computer Consultant Doesn't Want You to Know ($19.99, Small Biz Tech Talk Press), exposes 101 money-saving secrets of expensive techies. To order Joshua's new book, visit http://www.SmallBizTechTalk.com or call 866-TECH-EXPERT (866-832-4397).

© Copyright 2003, Joshua Feinberg
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