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Magic Mirror

Readers: Tired of the same old tricks

By Dan Hanttula
June 1998, issue 22

General Magic was once the company that users loved through thick and thin, but the Magic Cap operating system is playing to a "tough crowd" these days. Since the last issue, I have received letters from industry executives requesting not to be identified, plus angry and sad letters from potential end users of Magic Cap 3.1, and even former Magic Cap supporters. Even an ex-employee of General Magic wrote me in a tone that conveyed sorrow for what he thought was the beginning of Magic Cap’s inevitable demise.

Questioning the proprietary methods that GM is employing seems to be the primary concern on every user’s mind. Just as General Magic tied the success of the Magic Link to AT&T’s PersonaLink service, they have now tied the DataRover to the anchor of requiring additional service from General Magic. And most people believe that General Magic can not survive without some out-of-the-box connection to the desktop or today’s computing world, regardless of the fact that it is a vertical market system. Like the low cost and simple synchronization that brought the PalmPilot in through the "back door" of many corporations, Magic Cap could have used a similar push of many satisfied users bringing their personal devices into work to help the platform gain wide vertical market adoption.

Speaking of push, and in case you missed this, there were rumors that General Magic was forced into delivering Magic Cap 3.0 to appease stockholder demands. I had honestly become proud to see some support for Magic Cap from the financial side of General Magic. However, in a conversation with one of GM’s stockholder relations personnel, I learned that this rumor was completely untrue.

And the newest rumor to surface relates directly to Microsoft’s six million-dollar investment in General Magic. Although technologies from Serengeti will be utilized in the WebTV version of Windows CE, there does not appear to be any partnering relationship between Magic Cap and Windows CE. Many Magic Cap loyalists expressed their displeasure at General Magic (a company that was comprised of many ex-Apple Computer employees) jumping into bed with Microsoft.

But the reactions to Magic Cap’s reentry into the handheld market have been numerous and varied. One reader penned such a clear grasp of where we’ve come from, that I had to publish his commentary:

    Mr. Hanttula:
    I very much like your "Magic Mirror" articles in Pen Computing Magazine. I believe I share your fondness for the Magic Cap concept that once was, but is no more.

    I bought into Magic Cap early. In fact, I still use it, if you can believe it. I find it almost a necessity to quickly access and keep my contact info. I still love my PIC-1000, even though I don’t get the complete usage out of it I once did.

    But for GM to think I’ve forgotten their "fun and games" they had with the consumer is a big mistake. I ask you, can a small startup continue to exist in business that has absolutely no regard for their customers? And should it? I think the answers are No and No. They were doomed when they forgot the people who plop down their hard earned cash on a new platform do matter to their success. I don’t care how slick their technology is, if they are not customer oriented, they should fail.

    Now this is coming from someone who could have been their most ardent fan. I love the concept of small mobile devices using "agents" to access information or services in a simple interface. But I think the DataRover for me is not the platform I want to tie myself to. "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

    If I were given the change to do it all over again, would I? — No. I learn from my mistakes. I question if GM did.

Well said, Greg. Very well said.

Will their ship come in?
Magic Cap has been stripped of PersonaLink, Intelligent agents, the big hardware manufacturers, and the devoted users that carried the first version of this operating system to life. But with just a skeleton crew at General Magic manning the ship, can Magic Cap sail to success, or even just survive the rough waters that lie ahead? If you believe Greg, and the many other readers that have written me in the past few months, the answers are "No and No."

Dan Hanttula the platform editor for Windows CE and Magic Cap operating systems and the president of HomeRun Advertising. He can be reached via e-mail at

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