Technology buyers were drawn to this year's Cebit trade show by several emerging technologies that could help reinvigorate the tech sector after several years in the doldrums.
Many of the product announcements here suggested that VoIP (voice-over-IP) and RFID (radio frequency identification) are entering the mainstream, while Web-based CRM (customer relationship management) systems and open-source software have already hit their stride.
"Things are rushing by quickly these days, you have to be here to stay on top of everything," said David Kolochter, an IT administrator with German waste management company Umweltservice Bochum GmbH.
He was here to look at the new features in Microsoft's SQL Server 2005 database, released late last year, to decide whether it is worth his company upgrading its 20 or so servers from SQL Server 2000.
The buzz around new technologies contrasts with recent years, when businesses were focussed more on cutting costs than buying products that would help gain an edge over competitors, attendees said.
"The economy is getting better, there are more products coming -- I think things are getting interesting again," said Michael Rable, a technical marketing engineer with content management vendor Open Text, here for his 10th Cebit conference.
Boris Zuberbuhler was here to find an online sales system for his printer supplies company, Pelikan Hardcopy (International). He wants a "complete solution" from a single vendor that will plug into Pelikan's ERP (enterprise resource planning) system, from SSA Global Technologies' Baan division.
If new technologies are emerging, so too are new markets. Stefanos Mendonis came to Cebit looking for security partners that he can work with in Algeria, where his company, High Tech Systems, wants to help financial institutions beef up their security. IT is developing fast in Algeria, he said, but service providers are woefully short on security, leaving their customers exposed.
Change isn't everywhere, however. Desktop PCs haven't been exciting since the race to offer a 1GHz microprocessor ended a few years ago, said Marco Stiemert, PC purchasing manager for German retailer Media Markt. "Nothing is changing, that's the problem for us," he said.
Media Markt will try to entice PC buyers with the upcoming high-density DVD formats, Blu-ray and HD-DVD. Microsoft's Vista operating system will also give a big sales boost when it ships later this year, he predicted.
"Things from Microsoft always create a lot of interest," Stiemert said.
That's an understatement judging from the hype around Microsoft's ultramobile PC project. Samsung Electronics Co showed the first device here. It's a portable computer the size of a large paperback book with a touch-sensitive screen and wired and wireless connectivity. The quick-start multimedia capabilities and the games announced here suggest a younger audience.
But much of the talk is about business. RFID has been a showstopper, not only because of the products here but also thanks to the European Commission, which came to Cebit to announce a public inquiry to address privacy concerns about the technology.
IBM and DHL International kicked off a pilot project that uses RFID tags to let customers track packages more accurately and reduce the scanning process by 90 percent. RFID is "one of the key technical advancements in the future of supply chain management," according to Fred Beljaars, an executive vice president with DHL Americas.
Germany's Abas Software said it added an RFID interface to its suite of ERP software, allowing businesses to import RFID data directly into their supply chain applications. And Siemens Business Services showed a patient identification system that's supposed to help hospitals provide better care.
VoIP also made a strong showing, helped by the adoption of the SIP standard by some vendors, which helps ensure interoperability and reduces fears of vendor lock-in. Fluke Networks showed products for monitoring the performance of VoIP networks, while Netgear, Topcom NV and Ascalade Communications showed phones certified for use with Skype Technologies SA's service.