Whenever biro caps mysteriously disappear I immediately suspect the elves. You know - they live beneath the office floorboards and sneak out at night, looting any pen tops to wear later as hats. Don't take my word. Just leave a green biro cap out and by morning I guarantee it'll be gone, especially because green is a rare, highly prized colour and probably reserved for royal elves.
But lately, I suspect the same elves will be adapting their headgear to incorporate spinning paperclip propellers, their sartorial splendour enhanced by broken micro specs held together with stolen tape.
Welcome, then, to the world of the Diddy Digerati, inhabited by a growing legion of programmers whose primary focus is to devise miniature applets for equally Lilliputian computers. Dealers, providing they're adept with jewellers' tweezers, magnifying lenses, or have filigree fingers, are also welcome - as it looks as though they'll have work coming out of their ears - pointed or otherwise.
Though Newton might have recently been zonked on the head by Apple, the market for handheld computers, message pads and personal organisers is booming, and with it the opportunities for dealers not just to market the devices to corporate customers, but build bespoke applications.
In the UK, Psion, of course, has had some success in this field. But in the US 3Com's PalmPilot - a device no bigger than a fag packet - has become a cult among programmers thanks to 3Com's decision to release the operating system's source code on the Net. Not only does the PalmPilot command two-thirds of the handheld market and thrashes sales of Microsoft CE devices, but it also boasts more than 1,000 programs, written within a few years of its launch. And it's not just a gimmick.
Alongside the usual email and diary programs there are niche applets like chromatic musical tuners, on a corporate level interest has been stirred by the PalmPilot's seriously mooted potential as a Unix terminal (a la Linux O/S community) or as a scaled-down Lotus Notes or Web browser. Even redneck truckers are starting to use it, loading up their PalmPilot's with info on filling station locations before hitting the goddam road. But it's a pocket-sized world still in its infancy.
Voice recognition programs should soon negate the need for physical input of much data, allowing further miniaturisation, while smaller, faster processors will accelerate the trend. Little wonder the likes of IBM, Microsoft and Hewlett Packard are also pushing the edge of the digital fag packet, with more products likely to hit the market soon.
Here in Blighty, there's a competition to write a slimline program for Baby, the first stored-memory machine built half a century ago at Manchester University, and proving, if nothing else, the information age has gone full circle. But then some of us have long had our ear to the floor. If only to detect those thieving elves.
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