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COMDEX Fall 2002: A Show Report

I've read a lot about the demise of the COMDEX Fall trade show, but sitting here amid the throng of show goers in the Las Vegas Convention Center, I can't call this year's show a bust. Yes, the number of attendees is down: About 100,000 people packed the show this year, down from last year's 125,000 and far below the high of 200,000 a few short years ago. Although the show supposedly has fewer exhibitors--roughly 1100 this year compared to more than 1600 at last year's show, this year's show feels just as busy as last year's.

Of course, COMDEX Fall has changed a bit. What started as a vendor show has developed into a bizarre shadow of its former self, with individuals rather than corporate customers wandering the show floor and Web-site-owning children with press badges posing as journalists. Vendors at the show conveyed the same message again and again: Renting floor space at COMDEX Fall isn't worth it anymore because of the quality of the crowds--corporate customers are staying away in droves because of the economy.

For me, however, COMDEX Fall is sort of a homecoming and a chance to meet with a wide variety of companies. I've been coming to COMDEX Fall for 8 years now and have established a steady, if busy, approach to the show. This year, that strategy meant back-to-back meetings for 2 and a half straight days, with little time to explore the show floor until yesterday. Steady improvements over the years have eased the taxi lines and traffic snarls that threatened to ruin past shows. Another huge improvement is the cost of coming to the show: In previous years, a hotel room could set you back $200 a night. This year, my Expedia trip package included a 4-night hotel stay, rental car, and cross-country airfare for about $500; I got a similar deal in January for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

Observations from the Show
Predictably, Microsoft's booth was massive and the first thing that attendees saw when they entered the convention center. Last year, the company moved its press presence from the small meeting rooms above the show floor to a hotel up the street, and that scheme is still working well. Microsoft showed Windows .NET Server (Win.NET Server) 2003, Windows XP Media Center Edition (XP MCE), XP Tablet PC Edition, and Visual Studio .NET 2003--pretty much what you'd expect.

Samsung's LCD and plasma displays are huge, bright, and attractive. If you don't believe we're entering the era of flat-panel displays, you need to check out Samsung's product lines.

SnapStream will soon release a new version of its Personal Video Station (PVS) digital video recording (DVR) software that features a full-screen UI, remote control compatibility, and--through a third-party add-on--the ability to pipe recorded shows over a network to your Sony PlayStation 2 so that you can watch them on your TV. If you wanted to buy XP MCE software but don't want to spend two grand on a new PC, SnapStream is the way to go.

IBM has rebranded its products around the "Think" slogan, which harkens back to the company's origins while highlighting its most successful product of the past decade--the ThinkPad. IBM is changing all its product lines, and the company has some exciting products in the works, although I'm temporarily sworn to secrecy about most of them. But I can tell you that IBM will market its monitors as ThinkVision, its desktops as ThinkCentre, and its various products and services as part of the ThinkVantage Technologies strategy. Are you Thinkworthy?

Microsoft OneNote is going to change my life and will be a huge hit with a lot of people. For people who take notes (and lose most of them, as I do), this application will be as popular as Microsoft Outlook. I'll post a detailed write-up about OneNote soon; the product is far more important than it seemed at first blush.

Windows Movie Maker 2 rocks, and even though I've already spent a lot of time using the software, I learned some cool new tips at COMDEX. I'm still getting email from incredulous Apple Computer fans about this product, but the game is over: Windows Movie Maker 2 blows Apple's iMovie out of the water. I'll post a full review on the SuperSite for Windows Web site soon.

After taking a closer look at Hewlett-Packard's (HP's) Compaq TC1000 Tablet PC, I'm not so sure about this product. Two problem areas have come to light since my first look at it during last month's Tablet PC launch. First, the TC1000 is the only Tablet PC that uses a glass screen; it doesn't have an active digitizer that provides important features such as pressure sensitivity. Second, the TC1000 uses Transmeta's Crusoe TM5800 processor instead of Intel's Pentium III-M processor. I'll take a closer look at the TC1000 soon and see how it fares in the real world before I predict its fate.

Speaking of HP, the company demonstrated what is clearly a Longhorn PC (although HP refuses to call it that). Dubbed Project Agora, the device's hardware end is basically a modular PC that separates the noisy components (e.g., video card, CPU, fans) from the user components (e.g., ports, optical drives). Hardware is Agora's best feature because of its integration with upcoming Microsoft realtime-communication tools. HP showed a demonstration movie of this project that featured prototype Microsoft UIs I've seen previously. The company hopes to ship the hardware in late 2004--you know, at the same time Longhorn ships. I'll examine Agora more closely soon.

And here's a bit of news that isn't related to products: Las Vegas is getting a monorail. This week's trip was my first to Las Vegas since January, and although I didn't see any work on the monorail then, the project is now almost complete. The monorail will connect major hotels on the strip to the Las Vegas Convention Center, giving convention attendees a clean, quiet, and fast way to get to the show without having to deal with the city's often gridlocked traffic. I can't wait to give the cool-looking monorail a try, and I'm assuming--based on progress so far--that it will be completed soon.

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