D&A Software, Inc.
As we all know, the HP200LX is probably the greatest piece of hardware to come off the assembly line since the invention of the transistor. It's small, durable, and gets good mileage. But a computer is only as useful as the software that runs on it! With vendors following the masses into the realm of Windows CE, the only thing keeping DOS LX users from slipping into obscurity is vendors who still manufacture quality software for the 200LX. Vendors like D&A Software.
In the following interview, we find out about D&A President and CEO Avi Meshar, D&A Director of Technology Andreas Garzotto, and what makes D&A the business it is.
Q: Where and when were you born?
Avi: I was born in Israel too many decades ago to mention :)
Q: What was your first computer?
Avi: I played on IBM 1401 then IBM 360/30s. These were mainframes at the time. I worked on them back in 1969. My first personal computer was a Sinclair ZX-80 or something like that. Had 4K with Basic and cassette drive and a TV for monitor. Neat machine to play with. The next one was a 64K Apple ][ and I actually did useful and paying work on it. I wrote a system to manage Equestrian competitions, some strong Visicalc sheets, and things like that.
Q: What was your first palmtop?
Avi: A 100LX 1M in August 1993. I thought I died and went to heaven. I have seen the 95LX in ads before, but the screen size turned me off, too much of a compromise in my opinion. So the 100LX was perfect. It was traded in for a 2MB 200LX on August 2nd 1994 at EduCalc. Those puppies came out on August 1, 1994. I needed more storage on C:.
(David: Evidently, Avi was a little anxious to try out the 200LX!)
Q: When did you found D&A Software?
Avi: D&A Software had its roots in discussions with Dara Khoyi on HPHAND and in subsequent emails in June-September 1995. We thought it would be great to put together some organization that would track and buy up and resell old DOS programs. We found out there were many such businesses, but we pursued some specific products. Not successfully, I might add...
Then I convinced Andreas Garzotto to let D&A Software sell
his ABC/LX (then called BCC). He agreed in December 1995 and that
was our first product. In very short succession Dara and I
recruited David Shier and Andreas as partners too. Dara Khoyi and
David Shier, while no longer involved with D&A, they are
still close friends and advisers and very trusted people to us.
Q: What sort of customers were you trying to reach?
Avi: We did a lot of thinking in those days and very quickly the idea of supporting the mobile professionals became the major thrust of our work. Everything we tried to do since then at D&A has been done to support the mobile professionals, the "Road Warriors".
Q: Why did you choose the 200LX instead of something like, say, the Psion or Sharp Wizard?
Avi: We obviously perceived the platform to be ideal because of its size, its long battery life, and openness. We seem to have been proven right! There seems to be more and more things that can be done of these machines today than ever before. We also think very highly of the Psion, BTW.
Q: So is it called D&A Software because of your initials?
Avi: Well, Dara Khoyi, and I argued about it. He contributed his first initial and I contributed my first initial - "we was poor then!" <g>. We argued (amicably, yet fiercely) since Dara wanted it to be A&D and I wanted it to be D&A. I leaned on Dara, and being the heavier of the two, I won, and it became D&A Software :-)
When we recruited David and Andreas, we told them they were recruited only because their initials were matching D&A's name. <g> But we had other reasons, obviously.
Q: Which of your products are you the most proud of?
Avi: I am most proud of TimeTracker/LX. It was inspired by Lotus' Agenda and my long talks with Andreas on a hike to Mount Pinos in Southern California. So I have a personal stake in the early design. I was involved in other products as well, but most deeply with TimeTracker/LX. TimeTracker/LX is a subtle product with immense power. It is hard to market and explain, because it is a bit abstract. This is the same issue Lotus had in marketing Agenda. Once you "get it", you are hooked!
I also like WWW/LX Plus because it is such an enabling product. It opens the palmtop to a diension of usability that HP never even dared to dream about! I bet many laptops are now left at home to gather dust (to bite dust maybe? <g>) because of WWW/LX Plus!
Q: Can you tell us any interesting palmtop stories?
In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Northridge, California in January 1994, I got this huge form from the insurance company to document my losses. I asked if it was okay to transcribe it to a spreadsheet, and the agent said sure, if I kept all the fields and their relationship intact. The form was on a spreadsheet on the 100LX in no time. I then filled it out, and let the palmtop do the calculations, sorting and all that. Then I called CompuServe and faxed the form to the agent.
The agent called in amazement that I could get it all to her in a matter of a few hours. I explained how, and she said she wanted to see what I was talking about. I agreed to show her, if she had a check for me. She giggled and agreed. I was there in an hour, collected my check, and converted her to using a palmtop for all her work! She still uses one today.
Q: Is there anything in your personal life you'd care to share?
Hmmmm... I don't share too much of my private life generally, but I'll talk about some of the parts that were touched and influenced by the palmtop.
One of my passions is to read. I love classical stuff, "the old authors". I discovered VR (Vertical Reader, by Gilles Kohl) one day, and that is the one application which turned my thinking about the palmtop. Before VR I liked the machine, but it was no more than a stong organizer with a few learning tools, some programming etc. After VR I suddenly realized that it is a companion which I can use to enhance my life and help me pass some difficult times. I was spending a lot of time during 1994-1995 with doctors because my health was not so good. As you know, waiting for doctors is a major time sink. Being able to read some of my own favorites on the palmtop instead of watching mind-numbing TV or reading old magazines certainly made things a lot easier.
Then I began to look at other things the palmtop offered, especially in ways that helped enhance my life quality. I found HPHAND Forum on Compuserve and through it, many excellent people who became friends, companions, and partners. This little machine is definitely an amazing binding force of people I would not otherwise have met.
I have been involved for many years with an international organization and have helped develop their leadership ranks. The palmtop has been an indispensable tool in this job. I have written probably 5000 pages of materials relevant to my teaching and training efforts. I can do this work in tiny pieces and in minutes stolen while waiting in the bank line, or in the supermarket or whereever. Being able to send it to people all over the world directly from my palmtop for review and commentary helped make my materials more solid and meaningful in the long run.
My lectures are usually prepared as a series of one liners with more extended materials in the note, so I use the Database application directly. I have the the one line field, the note, some smaller fields for sorting (containing a subtopic keyword), and an indicator of "done." My database uses a "lecture" subset which eliminates from view anything that I marked as "done." So as I speak, I often refer to the palmtop on the podium looking over the topics, their order, which I can even change during the lecture (and have done so), and I also refer to the notes to refresh my memory, add some statistics, references, and "words of wisdom" <g> etc. this is Quite powerful.
At first I thought that stopping to look at the palmtop would be terribly disconcerting to my audience, but I found it no more difficult to do than using slides and papers etc. Being able to see just the topics lines helps me move and adjust the lectures as the audience participates.
I also have printed out all these databases using the Smartclip facilty. At first it was just my safety net, and later simply to provide my lectures in printed form.
Q: Are you doing anything interesting now?
Avi: Well, I am currently a student at UCLA completing a degree in Economics. I am also working on developing an interesting business idea. It is too early to talk about it.
Q: What do you think about Windows CE?
Avi: There is DEFINITELY room for these machines. Many people work in a mode that keeps them closely attached to a desktop with Win95, Win98, or WinNT. The specifications for WinCE O/S have a long way to go to make this machine as powerful and versatile as the 200LX is. There are a few disturbing trends in that platform:
- Increasing ROM size, but not a commensurate advance in features
- Increasing size making it less "pocketable" - they
went from barely shirt pocket, to barely pants pocket, to barely
well... you get the point. They seem to be bent on competing with
miniature notebooks from the bottom: The Libretto is still King
of mini-notebooks, and far far away from the WinCE.
- Decreasing battery life. The color screens are nice, but they chew batteries dry. Same goes for the backlight. At least the backlight is under the user control.
For my money, I would rather see HP put their energy into a 386/486 sequel to the 200LX. There is an effort like this going on, but it rough going with the economic problems facing the Asian participants of this effort.
Many people asked why we do not use our substantial programming prowess to work in this platform. When the economics of such a move is calculated in detail, the numbers just do not add up. Sure, there are many entrants in the market, but our situation indicates that it would be uneconomical to do.
Q: Well, thanks for your time and answering our questions. Is there anything else you'd like to say?
Avi: I would like to thank you for this interview and your patience with me. You have been supporting our community in an excellent manner and I am honored that you took the time to interview me. Lastly, I want to thank this community of palmtoppers for remaining strong and cohesive and demanding of new and good things. The push from the community has unearthed talents, programs, and new products that simply make this machine better and better as time foes on!
Q. Where and when were you born?
A. Zurich, Switzerland, 11-APR-1964
Q. What was your first computer?
A. I think the Sinclair ZX80 was the first gadget that I owned that could be called a computer (several other gadgets, most notably the HP41C, preceded it).
Q. What was your first palmtop?
A. It was a 64k Casio organizer. Stopped using it after a short while, mostly because the appointment book did not provide the functionality I needed and the display did not come close to a paper appointment book in terms of overview. The first palmtop computer I owned was the HP 95LX.
Q. When and why did you begin writing software for palmtops?
A. About 1 day after I bought the 95LX (Turbo Pascal 2.0 worked great on it). Why? Because I wanted to add to its functionality.
Q. How did you become involved with D&A Software?
A. :-) I had intensive contact with Avi, Dara and Dave at the time when they discussed founding a new company. I could bring technical knowhow into the company and also some products (ABC/LX was under development at that time), so it made sense to become the director of technology.
Q. What sort of customers were you trying to reach with your products?
A. People who are interested in mobile computing and want high quality software tools and service in order to improve their productivity.
Q. Why did you choose the 200LX instead of something like, say, the Psion or Sharp Wizard?
A. The 200LX was (and still is) the only "complete"
computer of a real portable size. It has standard interfaces, did
run lots of existing software when it first was introduced and
because of that, it allows developing *on* it. If I had to be
tied to a desktop, I simply would not be able to develop software
for a mobile computer.
Q. Which of your products are you the most proud of?
A. The WWW/LX-POST/LX-PalEdit combo. I do all my email and Compuserve access with POST/LX and thus spend a lot of time with it. Since I like to work efficiently, I tailored these products so that they can do everything I want in order to optimize my work with them. And I believe this made them also very useful for other people.
Q. Can you tell us any interesting palmtop stories?
A. Maybe the moment when I felt most foolish with my "addiction to the palmtop and mobile communication" was in a phone booth in Italy, where I went online using an acoustic coupler and simply did not have enough hands to hold all the stuff because there was no space to put all the gadgets. So I had to use my knees too, to fix the palmtop. The whole scene must have looked very, very strange - at least according to the faces of the people watching me. I have a GSM phone now :-)
The following might be an interesting almost-palmtop story: I spent a year in the U.S.A. for a research project at the University of California in 1995/96. My girl friend stayed at home. That was the time when, with Avi's help, I could get her hooked up to a palmtop for communication purposes: email was by far the most convenient way to communicate - mainly because of the time zone difference. However, during that time I got aware how invaluable she is in my life. So I did propose to her. Not on the palmtop, but on the phone. :-)
Q. Is there anything in your personal life you'd care to share?
A. I want you to know that there are times without a palmtop. :-) These are when I sleep, under the shower, when I play my violin, sing in the choir or go jogging - and there are more private situations that I don't want to mention :-)
Q. Are you doing anything interesting now? (Palmtop-related or not)
A. I would find my life unbearable if I would not do interesting stuff. In my working life, I am managing a (successful!) data warehouse project for a large Swiss company. This is very interesting due to the many people involved and the fact that most data warehouse projects either die or build something that I really would not call a data warehouse. Palmtopwise, I am currently exploring the possibilities of IrDA. Yesterday, I had an online session with WWW/LX where the palmtop talked to a GSM phone via infrared. No cables at all.
Q. What do you think about Windows CE?
A. What is Windows CE? Seriously, I own a WinCE gadget and it serves very well as a paper weight. Apart from that, the Casio organiser I mentioned above was a more versatile and mature product.
Copyright 1999, David Sargeant.
Last Updated 1-1-1999