Don't Get Into a Crunch: Prevention and a Backup Plan Can Save Your Data

A friend of mine was rather excited about her new personal digital assistant until something fell on top of it. In a moment, her much-treasured display screen became a piece of abstract art--and totally useless in the bargain.

I remember the first (and, touch wood, only) time it happened to me.

I was disconsolate. Yes, we all should (and do) back up our data and, yes, you can go out and buy a new Palm/Visor/Pocket PC/Revo or whatever.

But with prices for these devices ranging from $149 to $499 (or more, depending on options), replacing them can put a dent in your budget.

For an information technology department that's buying lots of these devices, the costs can add up fast.

So what do you do?

The first strategy, of course, is to avoid breaking it.

Many devices--the Palm III series, the Palm VII models and HP's Jornada 540--come with flip-over protective covers that should minimize the possibility of damage. Handspring's Visors arrive with a snap-on cover for protection. Carrying cases for these units abound, some offering rather thick-skinned coverage.

It's important to treat these not as unbreakable items but rather as sensitive electronic equipment.

That means carrying them carefully and acting cautiously. Pack the PDA in a good case and keep the case in a briefcase or other secure carrying bag. Be careful to avoid putting weight on top of the PDA.

Despite the best-laid plans, screens still often go crunch. Some manufacturers will cover this with their warranties. Psion, the British PDA maker, promises to do so under its 12-month warranty. Palm offers extended service contracts to cover screen replacement. After a warranty expires, it'll cost you $99 to replace the Palm's monochrome screen. Hewlett-Packard will replace a damaged Jornada screen under warranty. Handspring Inc. will replace a monochrome Visor screen for $85; a color Visor Prism screen will cost you $100.

For devices that aren't covered by a manufacturer's warranty, you can buy insurance to replace a PDA screen.

Safeware Inc., an Ohio company specializing in computer insurance, will pay to fix your PDA under the "accidental breakage" clause of its SystemSure policy, which costs $99 per year to cover PDAs costing as much as $825 each. Details on the policy can be found on the Web at

At the same time, it's always useful--no, it's vital--to make sure you have at least one, and maybe more than one, backup of your PDA's data.

The whole idea of the PDA-to-computer cable and docking station is to make synchronization as easy as humanly possible. You should do it daily, at least.

There are online services that can store your data as well, such as Synchrologic, at FusionOne Inc. ( also offers a free synchronization service and a $3.95-per-month ($39.95-per-year) premium service, which includes the added ability to synchronize e-mail and program files.

It makes sense to have backups in more than one location, just in case.

Handspring users have an extra means of escape: The manufacturer offers an 8-megabyte backup module that fits in the Springboard expansion slot on each Visor.

For $40, you get a copy of your Visor's data, and peace of mind--so long as you don't lose the module.


Mark A. Kellner is editor at large for Government Computer News.

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