GTSI nets large USDA buy of Apple's Newton

Government Technology Services Inc. soon will ship nearly 500 Apple Computer Inc. MessagePad 2000 handheld computers to the Agriculture Department making it the largest order for Apple's latest Newton product by a civilian agency.

The USDA plans to create a forms-management application for the MessagePad 2000s said Marc Cannady the Apple/Mac OS business manager at GTSI. The USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service will use the devices to collect information on the status of the nation's natural resources. Cannady said the MessagePad 2000 is a "wonderful device for forms management and data management using forms."

GTSI plans to ship 484 MessagePad 2000 units to the USDA this month or early June according to GTSI. The order was placed through the General Services Administration schedule and is worth $457 065.

The MessagePad 2000 became commercially available in March. The product runs Apple's Newton operating system and is powered by a 160 MHz reduced instruction-set computing chip. The MessagePad 2000 ships with business software that includes a word processor an Internet e-mail client a World Wide Web browser and depending on the configuration a spreadsheet. The product retails for around $950 to $1 100.

According to Cannady Apple's latest Newton device differs from earlier machines in that the MessagePad 2000 is a handheld computer whereas previous Newtons were designed to be personal communications devices.

In addition to the bundled business software the MessagePad 2000 includes two PC Card slots which could for example accommodate a storage card and an Ethernet card Cannady said. The product he said also features vastly improved handwriting recognition. "This is not your father's Newton " he said.

Payton Smith an research analyst with IDC Government said the more-businesslike Newton could be of more interest to government users than its predecessors. He said the product's success could depend on the availability of software that meets the requirements of a specific repetitive function such as animal inspection.

But Smith added that the MessagePad 2000 faces competition from portable computers that offer greater functionality. He said that for many buyers "greater functionality will outweigh the greater cost."

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