The fate of your BlackBerry is uncertain. You're worried that one day you'll wake up and the service will be turned off. You're definitely not going back to the old way of reading and sending e-mail on a -- gasp! -- computer. You're ready to run out and buy a Palm Treo or one of these other gadgets that you've heard are going head to head with the BlackBerry.

Remember that BlackBerry is both a device and a service -- and that means switching to an alternative isn't as easy as it might seem. There are plenty of things to consider -- compatibility among devices, e-mail providers, the wireless carriers and other technological restrictions.

Before you act on your BlackBerry anxiety, take a moment to review some helpful hints.

* Keep using your BlackBerry. Service is still on, and it's too early to be sure about court injunctions and legal settlements that may affect your mobile e-mail.

* Talk to your wireless phone providers and ask them about business e-mail services. Some of them have exclusive relationships with alternative e-mail providers.

* Check with your employer if your BlackBerry manages your corporate mail. Many companies have restrictions on which wireless e-mail providers and devices can access corporate e-mail servers. Your employer, for example, may not let you grab mail through a Treo.

* Go window shopping for various types of smartphones. Hold them, tap on their keyboards, look at their other functions. Wireless e-mail service providers list supported devices on their Web sites.

* Remember that e-mail on a mobile phone usually uses data minutes, not voice minutes. Don't go out and change the service plan on your cell phone, thinking that you'll need those minutes for e-mail.

* Don't forget that mobile phones with a Web connection can access most Web-based mail accounts, such as Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail -- even if it's still a bit slow and clunky.

-- The Washington Post

A handheld with a clouded future.