Sometime in the next few days, the heads of BlackBerry users will explode. Like zombies, they'll roam blindly, thumbs still twitching as their headless bodies wander the streets searching in vain for messages that never come - all this because Research In Motion's addictive wireless e-mail service has been turned off due to a patent dispute.
Sound unlikely? You obviously haven't read recent BlackBerry news coverage (and features). Every story talks up how a BlackBerry shutdown is imminent, how users can't live without them and how their world is about to come to a nightmarish end.
It makes a great story. But it's not going to happen.
Not this week. Not in the next month. Not until late March at the earliest. And probably not ever.
There are going to be some unpleasant bumps coming soon for BlackBerry users. You need to be ready for them if you issue BlackBerries to your users - or if some of your users have become "CrackBerry" addicts on their own. But there's no crisis, no imminent shutdown, no impending doom.
Emergencies make great headlines. But this time, there's no emergency.
You have plenty of time
Here's what will happen: On Feb. 1, the much-ballyhooed court deadline, RIM and patent- holding company NTP Inc. will file legal paperwork. On Feb. 24, they'll argue before a judge over whether RIM must stop selling and providing services for BlackBerry users in the US, which the court already found infringes several patents owned by NTP.
The judge is likely to rule in NTP's favor. When? Maybe on Feb. 24, maybe later. After that, no sooner than 30 days after the ruling, RIM will have to stop using NTP's technology. That puts the earliest possible BlackBerry drop-dead date at March 26 - just about eight weeks from now.
RIM is asking the court for more time. RIM also says it can sidestep NTP's patents with a software patch that users will have to apply before the drop-dead date. NTP may object that the patch still infringes its patents, but that will take another round of court hearings to decide. That pushes any total BlackBerry shutdown even further out.
Eventually, NTP's patents may be officially voided. But that won't happen until October, if at all, and NTP's appeals could run on for years. Much sooner than that, NTP and RIM will probably hash out a settlement, as they almost managed to do last year.
But for now, you've got at least eight weeks. That's no emergency. But it is an opportunity.
Talk to users and work it out
What should you do? Start by talking with your users, whether you give them BlackBerries or not. Find out who has them. Then explain the situation and set expectations: There won't be a sudden, unexpected shutdown; there probably will be a patch, and after that, their BlackBerries may not work exactly the same; you'll stay on top of the situation and help users as much as you can.
Next, prepare to follow up on that talk. Free up resources to help users apply the patches sometime during March. Find out which providers you'll have to get patches from. Build a patching plan. And make sure you have more than one person tracking BlackBerry news, so you'll know when that plan has to kick in.
Create a contingency plan in case BlackBerry service is suddenly cut off. That's more likely to happen because of a tornado or a technical glitch than because of a court order, but you want to be ready anyway.
Finally, start looking at BlackBerry alternatives - just in case. Or rather, get users looking for those alternatives. That'll save you research time, give you useful feedback and start softening users up to the possibility that they may have to change devices, much as they hate that idea.
Their heads won't explode. They'll be happy to help, and glad to hear that the doomsday news is overblown. And, just maybe, they'll remember how useful IT can be the next time it looks like their world is about to end.
Frank Hayes, Computerworld's senior news columnist, has covered IT for more than 20 years.
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