PC Expo show report: day two

After sending off WinInfo yesterday, I was dragged away from the press room computer I was using by the crowd of Big Tent and Wugnet guys waiting to eat. The press situation at PC Expo is a mess: it seems like there are thousands of journalists here and the lines to pick up the press badges on Monday was disgusting. Hopefully they'll do something about this next year but I didn't really want to give up the PC. The night before, I was unable to get the new version of WinCIM to connect using the Windows NT install on my laptop and I didn't get to check my mail until I got to the show (I went to the MSN display at the Microsoft booth and got a local access number, so I can finally check my mail from the Hotel).

I headed off to PC Express with Joe, Adam, Larry, Howard, and Joel to eat dinner and meet with some software vendors. PC Express is a press-online event with a killer deli setup and some great people. We met up with folks from V Communications, JavaSoft (where I was introduced as "Paul 'ActiveX' Thurrott") and others. After PC Express, we headed over to Rockefeller Center for the Helix Software party. Helix makes Nuts and Bolts, a worthy competitor to Norton Utilities for Windows 95. I will review it soon for the Web site. Helix rented out the Rainbow Room, which sits atop "30 Rock" on the 65th floor. The view, as you might expect, was incredible. Joe and I were exhausted and cut out early after making the rounds at the buffet.

When Adam returned to the room, he somehow convinced us to go out and we found ourselves in Times Square in the early a.m. once again. After lots of pizza and lots of beer, we headed back to sleep.

Tuesday, Microsoft Senior Vice President Steve Ballmer presented a rousing battle cry for "Windows, Windows, Windows," his solution to the NC. During Ballmer's keynote address, he demonstrated Windows running on every conceivable kind of system, from little handhelds up to the biggest servers.

"Windows Everywhere was pretty silly in 1985, 1986, 1987," he said. "But here in 1997 we can talk in a meaningful way about Windows Everywhere."

Ballmer said that Microsoft's goal is to have Windows running on every computer system regardless of make or model and that the Network Computer effort envisioned by Sun, Oracle, and IBM is "starting from scratch. Windows Everywhere is in part our write once, run everywhere strategy."

Ballmer demonstrated--for the first time--the Microsoft Management Console snap-in (code-named "Darwin") that easily configures applications for individual users and "Hydra," the multi-user version of Windows NT Server that the company is building with Citrix.

The volatile VP also pointed out that Windows NT is now outselling UNIX in both the workstation and server markets and remarked that the release date for Windows NT 5.0 has slipped from the first quarter of 1998 until "about a year from now."

In case you're wondering, we didn't actually make it to the 11:00 a.m. keynote, though we did struggle out of the hotel at the crack of noon. After a breakfast/lunch/whatever in a local eatery, we headed back to the show. Adam took off on his own and Joe and I visited the "Network Expo" portion of PC Expo. Displays by Number 9, Eudora, the newly formed Newton, Inc., BackWeb, and Marimba dominated this portion of the show. At Newton, I finally got my hands on an eMate but was disappointed at its speed. We lurked around an Alpha booth manned by DEC, Polywell, and others, and were quite impressed by the speed of these systems. I still don't think the Alpha will every really take off, however, especially if Intel can get their Merced to market soon enough.

We headed back to the main floor and checked out a couple of shows in the Microsoft booth. The Internet Explorer show revealed nothing new--they were clearly using the PPR1 build for some reason--but I came away thinking that Dynamic HTML was just too slow. Every time some sort of DHTML screen appeared, the screen would sputter and flash as controls loaded and reloaded their user interfaces. Interestingly, a later show by David Ursino used Memphis build 1519, which featured a more advanced version of IE 4. We also watched a "60 Minute Intranet Kit for Office 97" show but came away unimpressed. Web development--be it intranet or Intranet--has progressed to the point where true professionals are required. I wouldn't want people working on my intranet with Office 97 products.

After nodding off in the Microsoft theatre, we made another round at the show. Some observations:

  • There are considerably more women at this event than I've ever seen at a computer trade show. This is an interesting, and positive, development. In the past, the only women here were the so-called "booth babes," locals hired to model in front of computer displays.
  • Apple has apparently showed up at PC Expo for the first time, though they are hidden in an upper floor by themselves and several Macintosh software vendors. The build of Rhapsody I saw running on an Intel box was simply incredible and I'm really looking forward to playing with it. We were surprised that Apple was demoing System 7.6.1 and Rhapsody, but not System 8.0, which is due late next month. Many people took that to be a bad sign, but according to Apple, they wanted to get the reaction of the Mac community rather than unleashing it on a predominantly PC crowd first.
  • Apple’s QuickTime 3.0 will include support for MPEG compression an decompression in software, allowing PC and Macintosh computers to display and create full-screen MPEG without additional hardware.
  • Windows CE was very visible at the show. There were numerous booths for Windows CE hardware and software outside of the Microsoft pavilion and some companies actually had two separate booths.
  • Hot rumor: Toshiba may license V Communications' System Commander so that their Libretto "sub-sub-notebook" can dual-boot between Windows 95 and Windows CE. Apparently, the biggest question they get about the Libretto is "yeah, but can it run Windows CE?"
  • Microsoft will release J/Direct tomorrow, which lets developers bypass Java APIs and directly access Windows APIs to create Windows-only Java applets. J/Direct clearly flies in the face of "100% Pure Java," as it should.
  • Netscape was conspicuously absent from this show, which is well-known as a "can't miss" event. Many vendors skipped out on Spring Comdex to come here instead, but Netscape didn't make either event. Perhaps they're feeling the pinch. This caused a lot of uneasy whispering about the Mountain View company in the press room.
  • It's interesting to watch the new guard of technology up-and-comers, such as Net Object's Samir Arora and Marimba's Kim Polese stake their claims at the show. These people and their many peers are mature business people rather than technologists like the previous crowd.
See you tomorrow with more news from the final day of the show
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