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PC World

Converge on (and at) the 20th Comdex

November 15, 1999
Web posted at: 3:11 p.m. EST (2011 GMT)

by Cameron Crouch, Tom Mainelli, and Alexandra Krasne

(IDG) -- The giant computer show Comdex has always been about connecting. Originally, computer dealers connected with vendors. Big customers came to connect with developers. Now, everybody's connecting, even the products themselves.

Connectivity is the mantra emerging from the preshow buzz for Softbank's 20th Annual Fall Comdex, which opens Monday in Las Vegas. From home networks over phone lines to wirelessly linked handhelds to broadband pipes into homes, if the product doesn't connect to the Internet, leave it at home.

Communication and entertainment devices are getting smaller and more specialized, and tuning into the Web. Makers of mobile phones, such as Nokia, will show off smart devices that surf the Web wirelessly, while Acer and Ericsson will unveil new wireless technologies using the Bluetooth standard.

Intel is expected to announce the release of the delayed 820 chip set, which will open the floodgates for fast notebooks and systems from Dell Computer, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, and Toshiba, among others. Many vendors put their shipments on hold until Intel fixed some technical problems.

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Bigger is always better in Vegas, and Microsoft takes that theme to heart. This year the company is showcasing the unreleased Windows 2000 and a bevy of partner applications in a 20,000-square-foot pavilion.

Monopolizing Vegas?

Microsoft has long been a dominating presence at Comdex. Chair and Chief Operating Officer Bill Gates will again open the show with a keynote on Sunday. The running debate is on how much he'll say about the recent antitrust court finding that brands the company a monopoly.

You'll find Windows 2000 spread throughout the Microsoft pavilion, although the operating system itself is not expected to ship until February 17, 2000. While you're there, get your hands on a free Release Candidate 2 review kit.

Also expect announcements from Microsoft relating to its newly revamped MSN portal.

Windows won't be the only operating system developer in attendance. The upstart open-source OS Linux will be well represented at Comdex. Creator Linus Torvalds will give a keynote on Monday, and the Linux Business Expo offers a breakout show-within-a-show. Also expect announcements from major Linux supporters, including Corel's expected release of Corel Linux.

Cashing in the chips at Comdex

Intel is expected to launch its 820 chip set, delayed since September. With the 820 ready, expect major desktop vendors to announce systems that can finally take full advantage of Intel's recently announced Pentium III-733 processors. Because of the delay, analysts don't expect the Rambus-ready machines to impact holiday sales, but they'll likely be popular on the show floor.

Rumors that Advanced Micro Devices might try to steal Intel's thunder by officially announcing a 750-MHz Athlon processor aren't true, says an AMD spokesperson. However, AMD is expected to announce the chip before year end.

Intel's mobile offerings will also be showcased: Notebook vendors will trot out units running the new Mobile Pentium III processors. Boasting speeds up to 500 MHz and incorporating new power-saving technologies, the latest notebooks promise to compute faster and run longer than previous generations.

Connectivity or bust

Comdex continues to grow, but communication and entertainment devices are getting smaller. They're also becoming more specialized and tuning into the Web.

Expect to see some early support for the Bluetooth protocol, especially from Acer and Ericsson. Bluetooth is a wireless technology that enables high-speed connections between networked devices using low-powered radio transmissions. It was developed by Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Nokia, and Toshiba, which have since been joined by more than 800 companies globally in the Bluetooth Special Interest Group.

Theoretically, Bluetooth can support voice, video, and data transmissions up to 1 megabit per second. Realistically, connection speeds are expected to be in the 725-kilobytes-per-second range.

Wireless technologies for Palm devices and other handheld PCs will be unveiled from new players like OpenSky.

Meanwhile, Microsoft CE devices should rally with new wireless Web technologies. Microsoft continues to push its everyday Web initiative to get the Web on every possible device, so look for an abundance of Windows CE devices.

Hewlett-Packard will show off the multimedia functions of its Jornada handheld with digital audio and photo image display. It's even a costar in the latest James Bond movie, which is being screened at Comdex.

Comdex offers multiple multimedia options

MP3 and other music compression formats are all the rage for Web surfing, and like everything else, MP3 players are going mobile. Creative Labs, Diamond Multimedia, and Pine will demonstrate portable compressed music players. Security issues in downloadable music will be heavy on the agenda with Secure Digital Music Initiative-compliant devices slated for the holidays.

Pushing its Windows Media format, Microsoft just announced a secure music compression initiative; you can expect to see its device partners out in droves.

We can't have sound without images, and with the consumer enthusiasm over digital cameras, the latest in megapixel technology will be on hand. Industry leaders Nikon and Olympus will have new entries in the digital camera market.

Imaging software will also be a presence, with several small players vying for the imaging software markets. The Kodak pavilion will feature new imaging software from Sierra Imaging and others. Universal Serial Bus and FireWire connectivity tools will also be found in fair numbers.

Devices for the home, such as Web-enabled televisions and dedicated e-mail stations, may offer a peek at our totally connected future homes.

A glance back

Both Comdex and Las Vegas have grown explosively since the inaugural show 20 years ago.

"The first-ever Comdex was approximately 3500 people in one hotel," says Andy Olson, managing director of Team International, and a 20-year Comdex veteran. "Since that time, not only has there been an awesome change in Comdex, but an awesome change in Las Vegas."

More than 220,000 people are expected this year, keeping Fall Comdex '99 the biggest technology trade show in the U.S. And the evolution of town and show has brought new hassles.

It's harder to find the exciting new products quickly, Olson observes. The newer, smaller vendors used to exhibit in outlying hotels because there wasn't room on the show floor, he says. "We'd go there first because that's where all the new stuff was."

The Las Vegas Convention Center has grown to more than 1.9 million square feet, which keeps Comdex more or less centered there, in the Sands Convention Center, and the Las Vegas Hilton. "You have to do a bit more hunting to find fun stuff," Olson says.

The big companies don't need Comdex to make a splash, Olson notes. Still, expect a large presence from household names like Compaq, Intel, and, of course, Microsoft.

The IDG News Service contributed to this report.


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