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Expo features MP3, recordable CDs, Net access

As it turns out, some of the hottest consumer products being shown this year at PC Expo in New York are not personal computers.

As it turns out, some of the hottest consumer products being shown this year at PC Expo are not PCs.

Although all of the major computer manufacturers will be showing off their newest wares, devices and peripherals of all manner and size will likely steal the spotlight this week on the show floor, in keynote speeches, and during expert roundtable discussions.

Devices playing music using the popular--and controversial--MP3 (MPEG-1, Layer 3) file format will proliferate. Creative Labs will be showing off its upcoming Nomad player, while Diamond Multimedia will be demonstrating its Rio device. MP3 music has generated both widespread consumer interest as well as criticism from the recording industry because of the ease with which consumers can download pirated--and also legal--songs.

Microsoft and some of its hardware partners will be showing off Windows CE palm-size devices capable of playing MP3 music and audio files, as well. OneStep is unveiling its JukeBox Xtreme software which gives users the ability to download, record, play, and organize music using multiple devices.

Another PC accessory likely to garner attention in New York this week is the CD-RW drive, a CD drive that lets users record, erase, and re-record disks on their computers. Removable storage maker Iomega, known for its Zip drive, announced its entry into the rewritable CD-ROM market, providing a glimpse at the company's future strategy. The announcement comes on the heels of the announcement of employee layoffs at Iomega and warnings about a slow second quarter.

Many computer makers are already offering CD-RW as an option in consumer desktops. One example is Hewlett-Packard, which will be demonstrating its new CD-RW-enabled Pavilions at the show.

HP will be showing the 8570c Pavilion PC, featuring an Intel Pentium III processor, 96MB of memory, 19GB hard drive, networking card, and 56-kbps modem, along with its own CD-RW drive.

The fully loaded Pavilion is priced at $1,499, which is indicative of the extent of the PC price declines over the last several years. This topic will be tackled at a panel discussion entitled "How Cheap Should a PC Be?" featuring Rick Latman, chief executive of Microworkz, which recently introduced a $199 stripped-down Internet access device, Webb McKinney, senior VP at Hewlett Packard, and Dennis Cline, CEO of DirectWeb, which has launched a free PC initiative.

Internet access services
Internet access will also be a hot topic at the New York show. The momentum behind devices offering wireless Internet access and services will continue this week. Last week, 3Com announced it was teaming up with Aether Technologies to form OpenSky, a company dedicated to wireless Net services for cell phones, PalmPilots, and other handheld devices.

3Com's Palm Computing will be showing off its Palm VII wireless handheld, which recently launched on a trial-basis in New York. The Palm VII offers limited Internet service through 3Com's Palm.net wireless service.

Sierra Wireless is announcing its AirCard 300 today at the show, a wireless network card for portable computers. The AirCard 300 works with both Windows CE devices and fully functioning notebooks, and it allows mobile users to access the Internet without a phone line.

The Wireless Data Forum is also sponsoring a series of seminars at the show, addressing mobile computing and wireless data issues. The forum is sponsored by Microsoft, Ericsson, and Bell Atlantic.

In addition to the devices and computers being demonstrated on the show floor, panel discussions and forums will feature industry heavyweights laying out their visions of the future. Marc Andreeson, chief technical officer of America Online, Bob Herbold, chief operating officer of Microsoft, and Charles Geschke, president of Adobe Systems, will each address the convention.

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