Comdex '99—Comdex is a particular kind of curse that an unkind and uncaring God lays down on newsmen. I have a blister the size of Montana on my lower left heel, and my feet burn with the heat of a thousand suns. I have been assaulted by PR people by the thousands. People have actually stolen Windows NT Magazine business cards from my pocket. I can't believe that some attendees are actually on vacation and doing this for fun. In my last floor report, I mentioned the legions of integrated and unified multimedia messaging solutions. Wandering the floor again, I noticed how much buzz they were getting, and how many people with Exec badges were listening with interest to the presentations. And I noticed how many integrated messaging booths there were. On the Comdex floor, it felt like corporations were starting to come around to the fact that a unified multimedia messaging solution would be neat to have. This presence can only mean that many of our readers might soon be forced to choose a solution, install it, and administer it. I saw several partially unified solutions—things that would throw fax services into Exchange. What appeared to be the most important challenger to the Lucent unified messaging solution was Active Voice. Active Voice offers full unification with Exchange on the server side and Outlook on the client side. The company does the whole shebang—taking faxes and voice mail, displaying them, and using Microsoft Access to allow users access to their messages. In addition to full remote retrieval capability, my favorite feature lets you call in from a remote location and forward your email to a nearby fax machine. Active Voice claimed that it is, along with Lucent, the only unified messaging system that integrates with Exchange on the server side, offering single-point administration and single-message stores. Callegra, which was also in the Microsoft Partners Pavilion, offered an integrated messaging solution. In essence, the company integrated its product with Outlook on the client side, but kept its proprietary server with a separate message store. Callegra claims that this approach is worth the added administrative headache, given Exchange Server’s poor reliability record. The company offers similar multimedia integration and remote access capability. In addition to the multimedia coverage, Comdex had a lot of other showstoppers. Bill Gates gave the keynote address at a graphics specialty show at the Flamingo Hilton called Imagescape. In his address, Gates described how the advent of broadband will change the way the general public uses computer images. Gates has founded a company called Corbis that collects and sells images and content over the Internet. The company has displayed many of Gates’ purchases, such as DaVinci's notebooks, on its Web site. At Imagescape, I saw many new digital cameras, with a new crop of 2-megapixel cameras on display. Sony is introducing a new $2100 Handicam that combines a 2-megapixel video capture to digital tape, capture of high-quality still images, and a Zeiss lens system—all in a very small form factor. I felt a lot of heat for Sony’s Vaio, the company's new line of super-thin laptops. It looks like we’re getting close to technology such as the kind you saw in the film "2001." The smallest member of this family of laptops is barely thicker than your average pad of paper, and it’s a nearly perfect computer to carry around with you. I talked with Pioneer and found out that it has completely converted its production away from CD-ROM toward CD-R, CD-RW, DVD, DVD-RW, and DVD-ROM. This transition is a sign of things to come. In the next year, we'll see a dramatic change in the number of computers that ship with these more modern drives. Pioneer was showing advanced digital entertainment centers in its booth, along with some of the best looking (and pricey at $20,000) plasma display monitors. I can’t wait until these monitors become more affordable. Pre-production SCSI Ultra 160 boards, the new SCSI standard due out during the first quarter of 2000, also made their presence known at Comdex. These boards are the next step that will leap ahead of the current state-of the-art in fibre-channel technology. The Fibre Channel Alliance (FICA) had a small meeting room festooned with products from its members. About 200,000 people crowded into Comdex this year, down about 10 percent from last year. A similar decrease occurred in the number of exhibitors, but it was hard to tell. Until next year!