Magazine article Information Today

COMDEX 1996 and Multimedia 1997

Magazine article Information Today

COMDEX 1996 and Multimedia 1997

Article excerpt

The evergreen question about COMDEX is whether it will ever stop growing. In its 25 years of existence, it has shown no sign that it will. The silver anniversary broke new records: 210,000 visitors and more than 10,000 exhibitors crowded the exhibit sites, the streets, and the hotels of Las Vegas.

Sweeping Statements and Sour Grapes

Some stay away from COMDEX because they don't feel that the right crowd is there. Compaq is one of those, and its senior vice president said to Infoworld's reporters that "people don't like to come here." Well, the numbers don't support this notion, and I can't imagine what would happen if people really loved to come to COMDEX. To me it is still the most interesting and rewarding show. True, it wears you down, but so does climbing to the top of the Statue of Liberty or Bangkok's Temple of Dawn, and yet the view is well worth it.

Of course there are those who dislike the view. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who promised the $500 Network Computer a year ago, said to Newsweek recently (December 2, p. 59) that "everybody hates Microsoft." I don't think Ellison is an oracle in this matter. This sounds more like the outburst of a kid who didn't make it onto the varsity baseball team. Once again, Ellison didn't make it to the COMDEX keynote speaker rostrum next to Intel's Grove, Microsoft's Gates, and Netscape's Barksdale.

Not being present, Ellison missed what I saw as the predominant forces: PCs connected to the Internet running under Netscape Navigator, Microsoft Explorer, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, and Windows NT, plus hand-held computers running Windows CE--a compact edition of Windows 95, Excel, and Word. It may indeed be true that some people sometimes hate Microsoft, but most companies would love to be the object of the kind of hatred expressed on the COMDEX floor by the tens of thousands who came to the gigantic exhibit area of Microsoft and its partners.

While I am not crazy about these handheld gadgets--which came not to bury PCs but to complement them--I have no doubt that they will be in the shirt pockets of many company execs in 1997. Compaq may not have come to COMDEX, but it certainly sent its Companion, one of a half dozen such hand-held PCs.

Almost as telling was what I could not see. For example, where were the sub-$500 Network Computers so fervently pitched by Oracle throughout the year as the "great savior," without Intel processor, without hard disk, and without Windows. I always considered that to be a stillborn idea conceived in a windowless office suite. In an era when World Wide Web sites featuring graphics, audio, and video rule the waves, it is absurd to believe that users would be willing to surf the Internet with a browser that simply cannot come close to Navigator's and Explorer's capabilities, that would not have plug-in and ActiveX control utilities, and that would not have today's mainstream applications--all of which are based on Windows.

It is equally absurd to try to sell the idea of a computer that, for lack of a hard disk, cannot cache megabytes of pages to save the time of re-transmitting the most-often-used home pages that a user visits. Centralized power and resources just do not sell in computing.

Power to the End User

It was clear at COMDEX that the opposite is true. "Power to the End User" could have been the show's theme. Or "Distributed Power at a Low Price." One of the most popular new software genres was represented by ForeFront Group, InContext Systems, and DataViz Inc., companies that offer various utilities to help you find Web sites, download selected pages with their graphic and even sound files intact, and print formatted Web pages in a booklet. The downloading activities can be scheduled for the wee hours, avoiding Internet rush hours and enabling you to find the desired pages on your hard disk for browsing at your convenience. While most browsers automatically download (cache) the pages that you visit, they are stored in a cryptic format only the browser can recognize, and you have to invoke the pages on the screen to get them cached. …

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