Walking the Comdex Floor, Day 1

Comdex '99—Past the jammed-up entrance hall, where hundreds of people stood during the opening days, I was unable to move for almost half-an-hour. Slowly, I make my way past National Semiconductor's cheerfully obnoxious talking chip ("Come see the Device Girls! If I weren't strapped to this booth, I'd go to!") toward Comdex's largest booth—the Microsoft Pavilion. I'm taking 2 days to walk the Microsoft Pavilion and see everything in the Microsoft booths and Microsoft Partner booths. Let me tell you, there's lots to see. The Microsoft Pavilion was unceasingly packed with all manner of geeks, businessmen, and plain sightseers. During the first day, I visited most of Microsoft's booths, and a few of the Partner booths. As I wandered by the Windows CE stands, the mood of the crowd around me seemed blasé—the Windows 2000 (Win2K) section was where the action was, and the crowd knew it. This little corner of Comdex was even more crowded then the Device Girl's "Device Up Your Life" sing-a-long. Oddly enough, the Office Online booth was under-appreciated by many of the passers by. However, I was impressed with what I saw. When I performed a quick double-click of the mouse on an application service provider (ASP) icon, a stripped-down desktop instantly transformed into a new desktop, fully stocked with Office applications. Using the hosted applications, which run over an Ethernet connection, was almost indistinguishable from running the applications locally. This stuff is almost too new to have any buzz, which might explain the emptiness of the Office Online booth. I wandered by the Office 2000 booths where Microsoft was showing off collaboration features and more. The crowd seemed particularly appreciative of Office 2000's new multiselection clipboard, which can store up to 12 items and paste them in any order. When I approached the Exchange Server booth, I asked the Microsoft representative what the readers of Windows NT Magazine needed to know about the new Exchange Server. He shouted, "Integration with Active Directory," and promptly tried to demonstrate such integration. His demo failed, and the adjustments he made in Active Directory (AD) failed to properly trickle down to Exchange Server. Although the AD demo fell flat, I was impressed with Exchange Server's Webstore feature. According to the Microsoft representative, by putting all the data in HTML format, Exchange Server can handle many more users because you can eliminate the translation between the Messaging API (MAPI) and HTML. Over at the Smart Card booth, another Microsoft demonstration caught my eye. Apparently, just yesterday, Microsoft released a Smart Card Toolkit that lets developers configure smart card OSs and create custom smart card applications. Microsoft demonstrated an impressive application that lets customers stick their smart card into a mock-up of an airport kiosk. The kiosk instantly reads the personal data off the card and fires up personalized Web services, customized flight data, and more. According to the Microsoft representative, because the data is embedded on the card, it never transfers to the kiosk system and thus reduces the chances of compromising the user's privacy. The AD booth was showing off several demonstrations. Most impressive was VIA 2.1, a meta-directory application that synchronizes multiple directories. Microsoft was using this demonstration to synch AD, Lotus Notes' directory, and Novell Directory Services (NDS) and transfer changes from one directory service to all others. VIA lets you set business rules to untangle those unseemly conflicts that might arise when different administrators make contradictory changes in different directories. For example, you can configure VIA to set all directories to the phone numbers in Notes and let NDS take precedence in conflicts over a user's title. Leaving the Microsoft booths, I headed for the Partner booths and took aim on the AD section. Oblix was showing a new product that essentially turns AD data into a white pages and general HR database. NetPro was showing Directory Analyzer, software that maps AD infrastructure. Entevo was demonstrating its migration and administration product. Entevo's elegant tool has lots of features to search for and manipulate whole blocks of AD objects simultaneously. Bindview had an IT risk management program that looks for security holes in AD. I didn't get a chance to see this product in action, but it sounds promising. The product looks at the individual settings on the user permissions and determines the overall effect, a process the company calls resultant permissions analysis—a kind of net result analysis of the intricacies of AD. The company also offer similar analysis tools for group policy settings and replication behavior. Stay tuned for more Comdex coverage. Tomorrow, we'll tell you what Microsoft Senior Vice President Jim Alchin had to say during his speech about fixing NT 4.0's reliability problems.

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