Show report: Spring Comdex, day one

I've been to enough trade shows by now that I know what to expect, but Spring Comdex--which has combined itself this year with Windows World and two other industry shows--is surprisingly dead. For the past several years, Spring Comdex has alternated between Atlanta and Chicago, but this year's show is Atlanta's last: Apparently, SoftBank signed a five year deal with Chicago, which has more convention space and better facilities. Another problem with Atlanta is that they schedule the show too close to PC Expo, which starts less than two weeks from now in New York City. The Chicago shows are always held in April, which makes more sense.

That said, Atlanta is a beautiful city. I welcomed the rain that came both Sunday night and Monday, though I may have been alone in that regard. The night before I left, I only got about four hours of sleep, and after a fairly uneventful flight and meeting up with Joel Diamond and Howard Sobel of Wugnet, I then proceeded to get only two hours of sleep Sunday night. Monday morning came early and ugly.

I picked up my press credentials after breakfast and headed to the show. As you might expect, Microsoft dominated with their "Windows World" pavilion: a virtual duplicate of their Fall Comdex setup with numerous business partners on hand to display their Windows software. Microsoft was showing off Memphis--the next version of Windows 95--especially the dual-monitor capability. I missed a Memphis preview, but hope to see it later in the week. I did catch shows on Visual Basic 5.0 (thankfully new and different from previous shows), Internet Explorer 4.0, and Visual InterDev. Microsoft was pushing NT, Memphis, IE4, WebTV, Windows CE, Office 97, and other products. There was no Macintosh software on hand, and I had the same sense at this show that I got from the Las Vegas show in November: if I didn't know any better and just attended this show, I would assume that Windows was the only operating system on the planet.

CompuServe, right next to Microsoft, had a surprisingly large booth with numerous people on hand and I was told that their PC Expo display would be even bigger. CompuServe, for all their problems, still has some great membership benefits. I heard a rumor that AOL would announce that they are purchasing CompuServe on June 23rd and found myself hoping it wasn't true. AOL was nowhere to be seen, however.

MetaTools, makers of the incredible Kai's Power Tools, had an excellent booth going. They were showing off a new 3D modeler that works in real time; very, very impressive. They also had KPT 2.0 and Photo Soap to show off. I'm not much of a graphics guy, but they had quite a setup. IBM and Lotus dominated the second hall, but I didn't have much reason to check out Domino or Notes. The IBM booth was devoid of OS/2, by the way, and I was interested to hear two IBM guys in their networking group gloat over the fact that they have the source code to Windows NT. I wasn't sure what the point of that was, exactly.

One interesting note: there were no Network Computers...again. As with the Fall show, I can't help but think that the NC invasion is just a figment of Larry's Ellison's imagination.

I went back to the hotel for an hour or two to nap in the late afternoon and then I headed off to a Chili!Soft party with the Wugnet guys. Sadly, the event was pretty lame and hampered by a rain shower (we were outside, and again I really enjoyed it) but this company is developing an amazing product: they are porting Active Server Pages (ASP) to non-Microsoft Web servers. It's called "Chili!ASP" and right now, they have a version working on Netscape's Web Server. In development are versions for Apache, O'Reilly and other Web servers, both Windows NT and UNIX-based. Very, very cool. I was surprised to see Microsoft Visual InterDev program manager Greg Leake there and asked him what he thought of Chili!ASP. "It's a great Trojan Horse," he said and he's right. I wish Chili!Soft all the success in the world.

We ate a late dinner at a fantastic Italian restaurant in Buckeye and then crashed. Next up: the Bill Gates keynote address on Tuesday and some more time at the show. Tuesday night, we'll probably attend the only decent party expected this week, but I'll know more tomorrow. Time for bed..

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