Once again Cebit, the beast of IT trade shows in the belly of Germany, has thrown open its cavernous halls to hundreds of thousands of visitors. While the show's organisers insisted that business users remain the focus of the show, new treats for consumers have created much of the buzz so far.
Stretched from the Camel cigarette stand in one building to the beer hall in another, attendees could find anything from enterprise software to personal digital assistant (PDA) accessories, copy machines and even an automatic coin sorter. And proving perhaps that variety really is the spice of life, the mood among exhibitors and attendees was buoyant.
Some might consider the bratwurst with curry sauce served in the Cebit cafeterias here in Hanover as anything but progress, but a slight turnaround in the economy from last year - giving consumers a bit more shopping money - and a mouth-watering array of new consumer electronics fare was enough to set the conference floor buzzing.
Traditionally a marketplace for enterprises and telecommunications firms, the show this year has a decidedly more consumer focus.
President of electronics and entertainment giant Sony, Kunitake Ando, set the tone for the conference in a speech during the opening ceremony. His presence reflected the growing attendance by Asian companies at Cebit, organisers said, as well as the ongoing convergence of IT, consumer electronics and entertainment.
Wireless data services delivered to a coming wave of multimedia-ready handsets were the way of the future, he said.
Sony teamed with mobile operator, TeliaSonera, to launch a streaming service that lets users listen to music and news from handsets based on the Symbian OS.
It also said it would open its first online music store for Europe by the middle of the year.
On the gadget front, Nokia launched its first megapixel camera phone, the 7610, for Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) networks, which will be available in the second quarter for $US613 (AUD$816.70).
For enterprises, the zeitgeist is "get real," according to Brian Kardon, chief strategy officer at Forrester Research. Businesses are laser- focused on growth and would buy products that helped them to achieve that goal, he said.
But the days of madcap spending on "the next big thing" were gone.
Motorola's president and chief operating officer, Michael Zafirovski, seemed to agree: "There's not the exuberance of 1999, but there is optimism, and a sense of realism about what it's going to take to move our companies forward," he said, speaking at the ICT World Forum, a Cebit sister event.
Several enterprise vendors trotted out new wares at the show here.
SAP launched a revamped edition of its middleware suite, NetWeaver 2004, which includes an application server, portal software and business intelligence tools.
The German software maker woulddeliver the parts in a single package on a regular, annual release cycle, it said, mimicking Sun Microsystems' strategy with its Java Enterprise System.
The goal was to make life easier for customers who had to configure the plethora of applications and tools comprising the suite.
SAP also beefed up its mySAP Business Suite, adding customisable software agents that could pull data from multiple sources and feed it automatically to a customer file.
Businesses would be able to search more quickly for information about, for example, the most profitable customers for a particular product area, according to SAP.
Its new software is due at the end of the month.
Novell also flaunted new software, offering upgrades to the desktop operating system from SuSE Linux, which Novell acquired last year. Based on the Linux 2.6 kernel, SuSE Linux 9.1 Professional includes the latest GNOME 2.4.2 and KDE 3.2.1 desktop interfaces and is priced at $US89.96.
The English language version was due on May 6, the company said.
Meanwhile, PeopleSoft announced that the next edition of EnterpriseOne, the product line it acquired through its J.D. Edwards & Co. merger, would be available in May, with improvements for manufacturing and automotive customers.
PeopleSoft would also upgrade its World "greenscreen" software by the end of the month with Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) support, providing access over the Web.
From enterprise software to camera phones, there's a little bit of everything on show at Cebit this year. While it's too early in the week to tell if this beastly trade fair still has its bite, it certainly has a bark.