Comdex Fall 1996 was crowded. Like anything in the IT industry (such as the source code of Microsoft Word), it seems to obey Moore's Law, and gets twice as big every 18 months. Unfortunately, it doesn't get any cheaper if you opt for the same old size. One blessing for those of us with rental cars is that they've demolished the old Landmark casino opposite the convention centre, and turned it into a multi-acre parking lot. The cost for a full day of parking in the heart of Comdex is a staggering $2. Oh, and $4 in petrol in the traffic jam outside.
I shouldn't be surprised at this, but everyone here seems to have a barrow to push, and a well-rehearsed explanation of why they're on the right track and everyone else isn't. I had an IBM OS/2 evangelist explaining the wonders of OS/2 to me on Sunday night (we were both wearing togas at the time, but that's another story). I twenty per cent believed him until I got to the IBM-sponsored press room on Monday only to find the same, old, infuriating applications loaded on the press PCs. For instance, the only Web browser installed is IBM's WebExplorer, which not only refuses to show most graphics from Web sites, but bombs every time it sees anything that looks vaguely like a Java applet.
Standing at the Gates
Then I went to Bill Gates' keynote speech, and of course, everything smacked of thick-client, with little recognition of the groundswell towards NC. Gates took a completely different tack this year and didn't have any displays or gimmicks or guests onstage with him. His only aids were various video presentations showing what predictions had been made over the past 10 years, leaving it to the audience to guess which were conceivable over the next few years, or if perhaps they'd already been delivered.
In answer to a question about the uptake of the DVD, Gates said he expected it would be a few years before most machines came equipped with one, but predicted that by then the DVD would also record, and would take the place of, most storage formats. Answering a question about the parallel use of Win95 and NT Desktop, he said that by the time NT 5.0 (Memphis) has been released, the two operating systems will share drivers.
Gates also spent a lot of time talking about electronic delivery of software, often automatically, via the Web and networks. In answer to a question about how this affects the reseller channel, he said Microsoft would always use the channel, expecting them to be the supplier of original software and, to a certain extent, add-ons. But, he also predicted that resellers themselves will move towards on-line selling, in an effort to reach a bigger customer base, reduce costs and improve response times.
Another theme that is obvious from the "one flavour" vendors is differentiation. Artisoft, for instance, is doing what Quarterdeck did a year or two back. Realising that it could no longer rely on its core business (Lantastic networking) to bring in an income, Artisoft has been urgently buying-in new software-based technologies in an aim to survive the change. It now has a wide range of telephony-related software products, and these had more prominence on the show floor.
There's more to come. Next issue we'll conclude our coverage of Comdex Fall '96 with more stories and photos. If you have experiences you'd like to share with the readers, please e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org by Sunday 1st December, limiting your thoughts to 100 words. But for me, it's still the middle of last week and the show is calling me. Catch you later.