November 10, 2000 4:00 AM PST

Gadgets, Pentium 4, Barenaked Ladies on display at Comdex

PC manufacturers, software developers and consumer electronics companies will gather at the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas next week to show off their new products, discuss the economic outlook for 2001, and pass out a lot of key chains.

Although the 20-year-old convention has faced increasing competition from other trade shows in recent years, Comdex, as well as a concurrent sister show called the Linux Business Expo, remains one of the premier events on the high-tech calendar.

Approximately 2,300 exhibitors will display products over 1 million square feet of convention hall floor space. More than 100,000 people will attend. The show runs from Monday through Friday, Nov. 17, but the festivities informally kick off Sunday with a keynote from Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.

Portable computing will be the underlying theme of many products and strategies. The major handheld manufacturers will detail how they plan to bring wireless connections to their personal digital assistants (PDAs).

Cell phone manufacturers will demonstrate how calendars and other PDA applications can be squeezed into cell phones. Ericsson will also reveal it has licensed technology to create a pen containing a wireless Bluetooth chip that allows written notes to be beamed into computer networks.

Similarly, Intel and Transmeta will tout chips that conserve battery life. Intel will demonstrate an ultra-low voltage version of the Pentium III, which will compete directly against Transmeta's Crusoe, according to sources.

The chip, first revealed at the Microprocessor Forum in October, will come out in 2001. Crusoe-based products will also be on display, according to Transmeta.

Advanced Micro Devices is also likely to discuss a mobile version of its Athlon chip coming early next year.

Public demonstrations of the Pentium 4, arriving the following week, will also occur.

As in most years, Gates will open the convention with a keynote speech outlining the software giant's future plans. This year, Gates will show off a Web tablet, sort of an Etch A Sketch that connects to the Internet.

On Monday, Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Dell CEO Michael Dell and Oracle's Larry Ellison will deliver keynote speeches. Kurt Hellstrom, president of Ericsson, will deliver Tuesday's morning keynote, and Dan Carp, CEO of Kodak, will speak in the afternoon. Electronic Data Systems CEO Dick Brown will give Wednesday's speech.

Historically, the show has been the site of numerous technology hits--and of a number of misses.

A year ago, for example, Compaq and HP showed off off, respectively, the iPaq and ePC, small, relatively inexpensive business PCs. Both computers have succeeded in the corporate market. Compaq at the time also unveiled a strategy for moving into consumer devices.

In 1998, direct-sales PC manufacturers such as Dell, Micron and Gateway discussed how they were becoming a conduit for a wider array of third-party products and services. Soon afterward, Dell opened Gigabuys, an online store, while Gateway's revenue from Internet service provider services and training began to accelerate.

Last year's show also emphasized Sony's Memory Stick, e-books, the Microsoft Internet Companion and the first Rambus-based PCs--none of which went on to become overnight sensations. In 1997, the Rex, an electronic organizer the size of a credit card, and "thin client" computing were active topics.

Following are other highlights expected to be included at the show:

 PC companies are coming back, slightly. In the past two years, several major companies, including IBM, Compaq, Intel and Dell, have been absent from the show floor.

While these companies aren't renting massive amounts of floor space, they are participating more actively in Comdex.

Two years ago, Michael Dell pulled out as a keynote speaker, opting instead to deliver a speech at a private party at the Las Vegas Country Club. This year, he will speak at the show, while the company will show off a model electronic home rigged with consumer devices, such as Dell PCs and the company's Digital Audio Receiver for MP3 files.

Intel, meanwhile, is returning to the floor with a Pentium 4 pavilion.

 Compaq, by contrast, will hole up at the Treasure Island Hotel and show off products at Mobile Focus and ShowStoppers, two concurrent events focused on upcoming portable computing and consumer electronics items.

 The main attractions on the show floor will be the Microsoft pavilion; booths from overseas manufacturers such as Sony and Nokia, which use the convention as a vehicle for marketing in the United States; and booths from smaller manufacturers such as Crestron, maker of the Crestron Isys TPS-6000L touch-panel control system.

 The Croissan'wich will dominate buffet offerings. Lunch meats and decorative lettuce are almost as ubiquitous as flat-panel monitors. Although once prevalent, shrimp have become of secondary importance.

 The wearable computer returns. Once again, a smattering of companies will display both prototypes and released versions of computers that fit on belts or serve as hats. Xybernaut, for instance, will show of its Mobile Assistant IV, a full-function computer that can be worn on the head and that can run Windows 98, Windows 2000 and other operating systems. Customers include Boeing and General Electric.

In addition, Burnsville, Minn.-based Via will show off belt computers featuring chips from Transmeta. For the past few years, Via has become a Comdex fixture. Company representatives and models stand on pedestals in front of the convention center, usually near the person in the Sausage Software outfit; this year they'll be showing how the belt works.

 Press releases will bend the rules of punctuation, grammar and comprehension. For example, conceptware (no caps) and INTERNOLIX (all caps) will demonstrate eBusiness solutions that support COM, CORBA and XML.

 Parties will take over when the convention floor shuts down. The town will be littered with tipsy copier sales representatives scavenging for free finger food. EDS is holding a concert featuring Macy Gray and the Barenaked Ladies on Tuesday, and AMD has rented the Hard Rock Cafe for three hours on the same night.

See more CNET content tagged:
COMDEX, Transmeta Corp., Transmeta Crusoe, PC company, trade show

 

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