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Magic Mirror

The magicians dump their (virtual) assistant

By Dan Hanttula
December 1998, issue 25

We have all seen trapeze artists work without a net, but what about a magician without an assistant? Prepare yourself. The Magic Cap team is about to spin off into a privately owned company, leaving General Magic to manage the success of their Portico virtual assistant. The new organization, named "DataRover Mobile Systems Incorporated," will emerge with approximately 35 people, capital, and shared intellectual property rights with Magic Cap to continue to develop DataRover products.

Since the briefing was held before the deal was complete and because the new company is going to be privately held, specific details of the transaction were not disclosed. However, it is clear that DataRover Mobile Systems Inc. will be a privately owned company in which General Magic will maintain a large minority stake. This leaves DataRover Mobile Systems free to make agreements with other companies as well as develop a management team that can focus on Magic Cap. This is an exciting move considering General Magic’s management team is laden with Portico-focused personnel.

Schramm in charge
In what will ultimately prove to be the best idea since Magic Cap’s inception, Steve Schramm will head DataRover Mobile Systems Incorporated. Steve is, by far, the best man for the job, since his ability to clearly convey and convince people of the superiority of the Magic Cap platform will be the most invaluable (and no doubt infectious) trait as the leader of the newly formed enterprise. In my opinion, the biggest fault of Steve Markman (who is now left in charge of General Magic and Portico) was that he never appeared truly captivated by any of the Magic Cap products. And eating your own dog food (or rather "using your own magic tricks") is an absolute necessity for Commander-in-Chief of the DataRover team. Anyone who has ever met Schramm knows that the Magic Cap operating system is as much a part of his life as is food and water.

With an almost impish grin, Schramm concluded the briefing by handing me a copy of an article from the San Francisco Chronicle. The article, quoting an internal Microsoft memo from Bill Gates, focused on Gates’ concern that their products were too complex. Obviously, the DataRover Mobile Systems Inc. team recognizes their biggest advantage in the fight for the corporate marketplace is their incredible ease of use. And Schramm is already drawing the line in the sand to let everyone know that the war has begun.

The tricks keep coming
Despite the intense distraction that spinning off from General Magic must be causing, the staff is still hard at work. They are reportedly making continuous improvements to their Rapid Application Kit (the development kit designed to quickly integrate DataRover devices into existing company systems) as well as adding new drivers for common accessories. I was shown a Socket Communications bar code scanner flawlessly performing on the DataRover while a Customer Engineering manager explained how easy it is to add any accessory to the DataRover, once you have its configuration specifications.

And the company is having continued success with their TicketRover product—the parking ticket application designed for the DataRover. Their test markets, Norfolk Virginia Police, the University of Georgia (Athens, Georgia), and State University (Fort Collins) have all purchased the product which dramatically increases the productivity of metermaids. Readers in those areas be warned!

What besides DataRover?
My first question, after being informed of the spin-off, was to check on the status of products that we had previously discussed. The Magic Phone, which we mentioned two issues prior, is still considered a valuable part of General Magic’s Portico service. Development continues within General Magic and, in my opinion, is based entirely on the success of the Portico service.

The better news, however, regarding the clamshell DataRover device, is that sales people are showing the prototype to potential clients and report that they’ll start building if anyone is interested. However, the DataRover 840’s one-handed capability has been much more attractive to their clients. And who could blame them? The slate-like device is perfect for anyone who can’t take the time to set the system down on a table to type or who demands what I consider to be the best on-screen keyboard in the market.

But the real demands are yet to come. As a spin-off company, DataRover Mobile Systems Incorporated will more closely resemble a trapeze artist working without a net. And this small group of die hard Magic Cappers will have to make sure each leap from the platform is perfectly calculated to bring the nimble company the success they need and not waste valuable energy. Of course, from what I have seen in my last few trips to their company, they have plenty of energy for this venture!

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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