Comdex report: 18 November 1999

By: J.D. Hildebrand

Abstract: What's new at Comdex and Linux Business Expo. By J.D. Hildebrand.

Comdex report: 18 November 1999

By J.D. Hildebrand

Las Vegas is the perfect site for Comdex. It is here that hardware manufacturers and software publishers gather up a stake, put on their poker faces, and dream of drawing a winning hand. Some bet on lavish parties for market analysts. Some ante up for a bigger booth near the front of the hall. They repair to smoke-filled rooms to roll the dice on deals with new partners. They play PR roulette with reporters, hoping to collect a jackpot in the form of favorable coverage. Vendors count cards and play hunches, double-down on R&D or spin the marketing wheel. If success were a sure thing it wouldn't be a game anymore. No one would play.

Another cog on the wheel

Essential Surfing Gear Inc. intends nothing less than to change the way the Web works. The company's esgear is a browser enhancement that adds a series of self-activating "gear" applications to the screen whenever your browser is active. The current set of gear applications includes services that range from useful to amusing.

The e-trail gear, for instance, is an annotated collection of Web sites about a particular subject. Users of esgear discover and travel e-trails related to the pages they visit. They can create, share, and publish their own e-trails. According to esgear, more than 400,000 sites are currently on e-trails.

The searchasite gear searches for keywords within any site, while the translate gear translates Web pages to English, French, Portuguese, German, Spanish, or Italian. The dictionary gear offers a "define" button that pops up the definition of any word. The discussion gear allows users to participate in ongoing discussions about the sites they are visiting.

Also included are gears named ICQ, sendit, bn.com (which automatically launches a barnes&noble.com search for books related to any site), mySimon, stockticker, graffiti, magic8ball, sportscore, weather, and tunes.

"Gear appliations act as continuous, nonintrusive, private assistants that actively bring users relevant information so that they will have what they need when and where they want it without having to go somewhere else to get it," says esgear's press kit. But don't take our word for it. Visit the company's Web site and download a copy for yourself.

The thirsty panhandler continues to occupy his stake-out on the corner outside my hotel. He loves to taunt Comdex attendees. "Mr. Gates, Mr. Gates," he called out to me as I passed. "Spare a billion for a six-pack, Mr. Gates?" His voice pursued me through the streets of this sad, hopeful city. "Give my regards to Janet Reno!"

Hyperbole watch

Some companies get a little carried away in their efforts to impress the media.

Neologisms are common. VentureSurf.com, for instance, describes itself as "an entrepreneurcentric interactive Web community for high-tech startups." The little "TM" next to entrepreneurcentric reveals the company is so excited about the word it's coined that it wants to restrict how others use it.

Greenwich Mean Time describes its new J Box MP3 tool as "oozing with nifty features."

GigaPixel Corp. announced an algorithmic approach to 3D graphics with these words from president George Haber: "We have made an incredible breakthrough with innovations in 3D architecture." The breakthrough is so incredible the company sought the assistance of a superhero -- Giga Dude -- to help tell the story. In the comic book that accompanies GigaPixel's press materials, Giga Dude breaks into the Polygonal Dungeon and rescues the 3D Corps. "I am here to save you from this subrealistic polygonal hell," he tells the imprisoned programmers. Replies curvaceous Wanda, "Hey, big fella...has anybody ever told you you've got gorgeous technological underpinnings?"

For chutzpah, it's hard to beat the heading at the top of NoMatterWare's news release: "The Next Internet Giant. Period." But the rest of the release comes close. The NoMatterWare Web Wizard is described as "revolutionary" no fewer than three times on a single page.

In a bold jumble of inspiring imagery, the president and CEO of Efirms.com writes: "The Information Age is now upon us. The world now finds itself surrounded by a sea of knowledge. The questions now become, what star shall guide us to our proper destination, and what tools will we need when we get there?"

Finally, we must inform you that Microsphere Inc. has designed a new chair. Or, as the press kit says, "an innovative seating unit that creates a unique microenvironment that positions individual computer components and accessories in the most ergonomically effective, efficient, and comfortable locations."

I wonder what makes the panhandler so angry. Where did he come from? Did he lose his job to a computer? Did he crash and burn on the way to an Internet IPO? Why does he hate me? I resolve to draw him out after dinner, but his corner is unoccupied. Maybe he's buying that six-pack. Maybe he's the new director of channel marketing for a Taiwanese maker of flat-panel displays. Maybe he's contributing open source enhancements to sendmail.

Hot gear for geeks

Looking to impress your Palm-toting comrades-at-code? Check out the Qbe Altus, a Pentium III-based "personal computing tablet" from Aqcess Technologies.

The Altus is a clipboard-shaped computer that's mostly screen -- a 13.3-inch active-matrix color LCD, to be exact, with resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels. The $4,495 Altus combines the true mobility of a wireless handheld device, Aqcess says, with the speed and capabilities of the newest desktop systems. With a 450MHz P-III processor, 128MB of RAM, a 9GB hard drive, CD-RW or DVD drive, 56K modem/Ethernet card, internal microphone and stereo speakers, Smartcard read and write capabilities, and magnetic-strip card reader, the system compares favorably with top-of-the line desktop systems. Also included are a hot-swappable device bay, USB and Firewire ports, and two PCMCIA slots. The case is constructed of magnesium, ABS plastic, and molded rubber.

The Windows 98-based Altus features a user interface that's based on "TouchPen" technology and handwriting recognition. Speech recognition at up to 140 words per minute is standard as well, thanks to audio hardware and Learnout & Hauspie's VoiceExpress speech recognition engine. A detachable digital camera and Internet access are standard as well.

Included with the Altus is the Porticle, a mobile docking station with compact keyboard, mouse, and additional interface ports.

Maybe if the panhandler had a Qbe Altus he would mellow out and leave Comdex attendees alone. Or maybe he'd really rather have that beer after all.

An award-winning writer and editor, J.D. Hildebrand is the content director and editor-in-chief of Inprise's developer community.


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