Alan Zisman

Comdex computer show headache-free but lacking the buzz of previous years- Jan 28 1998

Let's start with a confession. I simply don't like big trade shows such as last week's PacRim Comdex, held January 20 - 22 at Canada Place. The noise, the lights, the crowds give me a head-ache. Too many of the booths seem earnest, but simply not very interesting. And the booths that are interesting to me are also interesting to lots of other people -- so they're crowded and it's hard to actually talk to anyone.

Despite my grumbling, in past years, I've found it worthwhile to visit the annual Vancouver edition of Comdex. There have been personal favourite moments. Two years ago, it was the booth that Vancouver multi-media distributor GMS Datalink sponsored in the lobby, demonstrating a plastic electric guitar that let non-musicians play along with loud, obnoxious rock 'n' roll. Last year, there was a buzz surrounding breakthrough technologies ranging from the Internet and handheld computers to digital photography and colour printing. I was able to make contacts that carried me through a half-year of column writing.

This year, though, my visit to Canada Place was a disappointment. The Com-
dex organizers, as at all their events, have banned attendees under 21, want-
ing to make it clear that this is a serious, business-oriented event. Perhaps as a result of this policy (which would have locked out young entrepreneur Bill Gates the year he co-founded Micro-
), there wasn't much fun. There simply didn't seem to be much of a buzz. Last year we had a life-sized "robot" wandering the aisles; this year the main interactive event was flat-panel display distributor Sceptre's booth, featuring a chance to shoot a hockey puck through the mouth of the company's lizard
mascot and hosted by a young woman in a very short, very tight skirt. Tacky, but it got a lineup.

I can't really blame the Comdex folks. They put on an efficient, well-managed show. In many ways, the computer industry has got a bit of the doldrums. Waiting for Win98. Waiting for NT 5.0. Not much challenge from Apple. (In fact, Apple, IBM and several other past-Comdex exhibitors stayed away this year.) Much of the Internet's excitement has stalled as users discover the reality of surfing the Net at modem speed. (And even BC Tel's big an-
nouncement of high-speed ADSL access to the Net seemed identical to BC Tel's big news last year about high-speed access to the Net.)

Despite Comdex's ex-
pectation of a record 35,000 visitors, the ex-
hibition floor seemed
quieter to me than in recent years. And while Comdex promised 225 exhibitors, the hall itself seemed smaller than last year, with fewer booths selling CD-ROMs, software, books or gadgets direct to the crowd.

The promise was that the show would be organized around four themes: Internet, Network Computing, Multimedia and the Microsoft Partner Pavilion. While Microsoft, as in past years, had its supporters tightly organized, and situated in the prime real estate at the main entrance, other exhibitors were scattered randomly throughout the hall, not leaving me with any sense of mini-themes.

Many of the exhibitors had booths that I recognized from past years. I hope that the show was a successful way for them to advertise their companies' activities.

More interesting to me than who was there, was who wasn't there. I've already mentioned missing biggies IBM and Apple. Also among the missing were Compaq, Hewlett-Packard and several others.

Less conspicuous, but among the missing were many B.C. companies. The list of the non-attendees ranged from many of the region's larger software producers such as Maximizer, Seagate Software, Prologic and Pivotal Systems, to most of the small shops doing often innovative work in Web hosting and design, multimedia, networking and more -- ironically, the show's purported themes.

But some local firms were present and accounted for, including:

* Seanix Technologies, the Richmond computer manufacturer boldly venturing into the competitive U.S. market

* The Electric Mail Company, providing an answer for businesses, both large and small, wanting to provide employees the benefits of Internet e-mail with-out the temptations of full Internet connectivity

* FirstClass Systems, who provide a range of computer-based training, with more than 700 instructional packages

* OpenRoad Communications, a division of Synergy Computer, focused on Web and Java development

* Dominion Blue Reprographics, demonstrating colour printing, including colour lasers, large-format BubbleJet prints, and other plotting, printing, and scanning technologies

Other local exhibitors covered the gamut from office furniture dealers and inkjet cartridge re-inkers to the B.C. Science Council's Computers for Schools Project.

While I was underwhelmed by this year's PacRim Comdex show, its lower-key nature did give me less of a head-
ache than the glitz of past years.*

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan