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Despite what it calls a “dark legal cloud” hanging over the company, the New York Times in a Nov. 3 review labeled the BlackBerry 8700c, coming out this month, “more habit-forming than ever.”

“Microsoft has been wanting to get into this market and hasn’t been able to crack it – that’s a testament to the kind of power RIM has,” says Null.

And of course there’s the well-known loyalty among BlackBerry users. “It’s with me 24 hours a day on my side,” says Ali Fatahi, an engineer with Northrop Grumman. “If I ever lost it I would lose my hair trying to keep track of everything.”

For Fatahi, “everything” means sending e-mails and checking his calendar several times a day, using the memo pad, and browsing the Web. If his BlackBerry was no more, he says he’d “replace it right away” with “a PDA with a calendar and e-mail support.”

One reason for such loyalty is the device’s basic software, which has remained much the same over the years, despite new features added since 1999. Back then, users could only send and receive e-mails – and even that function wasn’t fully synchronized with a PC. Now they can plan meetings on the fly, update tasks, and surf the Web.

Mark Rejhon, a software developer in Ottawa, has had a BlackBerry since 2001 (“when they were still called RIM Inter@ctive Pagers,” Rejhon says). He uses it primarily for e-mail, but also instant messaging, Web browsing, and as a “relay” service for making phone calls, since he’s hearing impaired.

“The BlackBerry is my main text communications device – I can do almost everything with it,” Rehjon says, adding that “it would be a major loss of independence for me if I was traveling in an unfamiliar city. If I ever got lost without the BlackBerry, I would be very dependent on Internet terminals or asking people for help to place phone calls.”

Like many dedicated BlackBerry users, Rejhon is aware of the lawsuit and confident that RIM has a backup solution. If he did have to give up his BlackBerry, though, he “would probably adapt to a [PalmOne] Treo unit.”

Meanwhile, NTP insists that RIM owes it at least $250 million. RIM officials say the company has set aside money for paying the NTP settlement if necessary, and claims it has an emergency backup plan should NTP try to enforce the injunction.

But the company might be wise to head off an emergency now, suggests Null. “I would think they need to start looking at a settlement,” he says.

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