PC Expo 99 Show Report - Part One

STAR WARS Episode 1 Digital transfer
Monday night, Keith, Daniel Reznick and I attended an all-digital screening of STAR WARS Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, which is being shown for only a month in four select theaters around the New York area and Los Angeles. The digital format means no scratches, skips, or dirty film, but it really goes beyond that with a visual quality that is hard to describe. Projected digitally off a massive hard drive with Texas Instruments' DLP Cinema technology, STAR WARS took on whole new levels of sharpness, depth, and image quality. Digital sequences such as the pod race and droid/Gungan battle scenes were even more realistic. And digital characters such as Watoo and Jar Jar Binks were virtually perfect.

In the future, movies will be deployed via satellite to theaters and projected digitally this way, and our glimpse at this future was reassuring and exciting: We're right at the beginning of an age of degradation-free movie making.

PC Expo 99, Day One: Tuesday, June 22, 1999
Though I was excited to see STAR WARS digitally, I spent most of Monday fighting the need to sleep, and Tuesday morning arrived rather unpleasantly. Keith and I headed into New York for the opening of the show earlier than we had anticipated, arriving around ten. This year's PC Expo lacks any blockbuster announcements, but as always, it's the show to see on the East Coast.

As usual, Microsoft's presence is obvious all around the Javitz Center, where PC Expo is held. Outside, a massive inflatable SQL Server 7.0 box greets attendees, while product billboards hang everywhere in the entryway. Microsoft's gigantic booth includes a Partner Pavilion where allies and other smaller companies can show their wares under the Microsoft umbrella. Executive Software recently released Diskeeper 4.5, their excellent disk defragmenter for Windows NT. A lite version of Diskeeper 5.0 is included in Windows 2000; Executive says the full version, which will ship late this year, will allow for more advanced functionality. They're currently reviewing whether it makes sense to release this product during the Windows 2000 beta cycle. IBM was showing off its sleek black IntelliStations and flat-panel screens running Windows NT. And Windows CE partners such as AvantGo and Casio displayed their portable solutions.

Microsoft has three theaters running constantly, with demos of Windows 2000, Office 2000, and SQL Server 7.0. The most exciting announcement so far, however, has to be Microsoft's new line of keyboards, which include the Natural Keyboard Pro, the Internet Keyboard Pro, and the Internet Keyboard. The Natural Keyboard Pro is a full-sized ergonomic keyboard that answers user complaints about the smaller Natural Keyboard Elite with its odd key placement and miniscule arrow key layout. But the Natural Keyboard Pro also adds a bunch of new features, including two USB ports and Internet and multimedia hot buttons (which are small blue buttons arrayed along the top of the keyboard). The other two keyboards are normal "straight" keyboards with similar features. They'll all be available in October and trust me: I'll be first in line.

Microsoft was also pushing its new Terminal Services, which is now bundled with Windows 2000 Server. This cool feature lets you run applications remotely off a server using Windows clients, dumb terminals, managed PCs, and the like. One of the demo machines was an Apple iMac; there was something serendipitous about seeing the iMac running Windows 2000.

One of the unexpected highlights of the show is Corel, which recently released its WordPerfect Office 2000 suite, featuring WordPerfect 9. We're going to be reviewing the suite soon, so I don't want to give it all away here, but the short story goes like this: Don't count these guys out yet. In a world where Microsoft Office has been able to steal marketshare through ma chine bundling, it's easy to write off WordPerfect. But this product offers features Microsoft Office can't touch, such as real-time preview, at a price that blows away the competition. Corel understands the market in a way that I never thought was possible and there's even the possibility that Microsoft's antitrust trial could have a positive effect on this company's ability to get their product into more people's hands. The crowds at the product demos were certainly enthusiastic.

America Online, which included Netscape Communications, CompuServe, and ICQ in its booth, was showing off its latest online clients. But they got a small black mark for handing out Communicator 4.51 on CD when 4.61 has been available for a while now.

Creative Labs was demonstrating its new Nomad portable MP3 player, which features a beautiful small form factor, 64MB of RAM, PC connectivity and a nice suite of software. This is another thing I'll be buying as soon as I can. They say it will be out "later this year" and I can't wait: It looks fantastic.

Be was on hand with a curious new logo that is reminiscent of Newton's old logo and a new version of its namesake OS, Be OS 4.5. The company and its partners were showing off audio, video and other multimedia software that play to the OS' strengths. Though Be just keeps getting better, it's hard to understand why they bother in a market dominated by Microsoft. Alternative OS fans are turning to Linux in droves, but the Be OS is smaller, quicker, easier to use, and far more elegant. Do they have a chance? I don't think so.

Adobe surprised people with a new version of Photoshop, 5.5. I wasn't able to figure out what any of the new features are, but I'll look into it. They were also demonstrating their other products, such as Illustrator 8.0.

Downstairs in the low-rent district, the pathetic small "Linux Pavilion" was manned by exactly six companies in an area smaller than my bedroom. I fully expect to read on Linux news sites that "Linux conquered PC Expo," but don't be misled: The Linux presence here was a joke. Newcomer Linux Magazine, which joins Linux Journal on newsstands, joined Caldera, Red Hat and SendMail (oddly enough) in the Linux Pavilion. All in all, however, the Linux Pavilion was a non-event as usual. In fact, there were more iMacs at the show than Linux PCs from what I can tell.

One sad note: The once mighty Borland was represented by a pathetically small Inprise/Borland booth in the back of the cellar at PC Expo, shilling JBuilder 3 and Delphi 4. Only a few shows ago, these guys had a massive presence with constant product demos, but those days are clearly over.

What's next?
Keith and I will be joining Larry, Joel, Howard, and George from WUGNET tonight to attend a few parties. I'm not sure which we'll be hitting exactly, though we're shooting for the PCxPress, Windows NT Magazine, and Spencer the Katt parties at least. I'll have a full report on the PC Expo party scene tomorrow

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