Economic woes strike annual show

The economic downturn played its part in reducing the number of vendors, show attendees and maybe even the freebies at Comdex Chicago this week.

Keynote speakers talked about the turbulent economic times and the Wall Street roller-coaster many IT companies are on as a result. Fewer vendors and fewer marquee names, such as Microsoft Corp., were on the show floor at McCormick Place.

"Smaller" is the single word used to describe the show by attendee Stephen Bogaerts, the master instructional technologist for Proviso Township High Schools in Maywood, Illinois.

"I think Microsoft has a lot of nerve not coming here," Bogaerts said, adding that he had hoped to get more information on Microsoft's forthcoming operating system, Windows XP, which is scheduled to be out in the second half of the year. "A lot of the big players are not here. Still, we always find something interesting here."

In the past, top Microsoft officials, including Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates have made appearances at the show. In recent years, Gates gave the opening keynote speech. Prior to the show, Microsoft declined to comment on why it had pulled out of Comdex Chicago this year.

The number of vendors for the show is down this year compared to years past, said Bob Bierman, vice president and general manager of Comdex Chicago, run by Key3Media Events Inc. Bierman declined to comment on attendance figures, but several show attendees who have attended in years past suggested that attendance was down this year.

"It is a reflection of the industry," Bierman said. "People are having a tough time ... We are in a tech ebb right now. Hopefully, we'll be flowing again soon."

As the IT world continues to evolve, Comdex Chicago also is expected to change in 2002, Bierman said. The show will focus more on wireless connectivity. Efforts also will be made to woo back some larger IT names like Microsoft and others, he said.

"I believe the e-mobility message is very strong and we'll have announcements in the next months of companies that will be participating (in Comdex Chicago in 2002)," Bierman said.

While vendor and attendance numbers appeared down, The Chicago Tribune also suggested on Wednesday that the number of freebies was also on the decline. No longer is Comdex Chicago the place to grab a free cappuccino. Rather, it is now the place to grab free peppermints and plenty of brochures, the Tribune suggested.

Nevertheless, show attendees still said they saw new and interesting products, while vendors said they were getting the message out about their latest and greatest software, hardware, gadgets and services. Traffic was healthy at the booth of ATC Computer Trading Post Inc., a Houston, Texas-based computer dealer-to-dealer trading company, said Peter Kapetan, who was stationed at the booth and works for the company out of its Park Ridge, Illinois office.

Some of the new products that were on display this week include:

-- Agenda Computing launched its Pure Linux PDA, the Agenda VR3. The handheld comes with 16M bytes of flash memory, supports seven spoken languages, is e-mail compatible and offers printing through infrared wireless transfer. The Linux-based Agenda VR3 starts at US$249, the company said.

-- Electronic Data Systems Corp. announced that it has added Microsoft's Windows 2000 Datacenter Server to its Web hosting service portfolio.

-- Biocentric Solutions Inc., based in Madison, Wisconsin, announced its Biosentry fingerprint reader product for the Compaq Computer Corp. iPAQ Pocket PC. It also announced its BioHub fingerprint reader for Compaq, Hewlett-Packard Co. and Casio Computer Co. Ltd. handheld devices. The fingerprint reader technology is available now.

-- Compaq gave a brief glimpse of a forthcoming member of the TaskSmart C Series family servers. The server is aimed at the corporate WAN (Wide Area Network) or the data center, said John Young, Compaq's vice president of TaskSmart Servers Industry Standard Server Group. Compaq will partner with Inktomi Corp., which will provide content management software on the new servers, he said. Young said the new server would be out in "several months."

-- Software developer DataViz Inc. introduced its Add-on Kit for Documents on the Go, which allows Palm Inc. operating system devices to view PDF (Portable Document Format) files and receive e-mail and e-mail attachments. The professional edition of Documents on the Go, which has the Add-on Kit, costs $49.95 for a single user, while the standard edition sells for $29.95, according to the Trumbull, Connecticut, company's Web site.

Comdex Chicago closes on Thursday.

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