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NY tech show: Who let the air out?

When TechXNY was called PC Expo, the floor brimmed with companies. This time, scaffolding and forklifts occupied empty space. And the FBI was hiring.

    NEW YORK--At the TechXNY Expo, handhelds were a major part of the show, but so was vacant floor space.

    Peeking behind the curtain after the last row of booths revealed that half the floor space lay empty, not counting some scaffolding and forklifts. In years past, when the show was called PC Expo, this area was brimming with tech companies hawking their newest wares.

    Apart from the usual stalwart technology companies such as Microsoft, Intel, Sony and Hewlett-Packard, many of the company booths were downright low-tech, featuring massagers, kits for refilling color inkjet cartridges, and hoods for laptop screens.

    Finding jobs rather than new technologies was on the mind of many of the conventioneers. The representatives for the FBI finally just scrawled "www.fbijobs.com" on a sheet of paper, folding it upright at the front of the booth to ward off the inevitable question.

    "Oh, yeah, there're plenty of computer specialist jobs available," the FBI representative shouted in front of the pressing throng. "No, it's a desk job--you won't get to run around with a gun."

    Most of the people hanging around that booth thought they at least had a shot at a job with the investigative agency.

    "At least they are hiring," said one techie who was looking for greater job security. "With their budget increases and needs, you wouldn't have to get so stressed about losing your job."

    One person tried to snatch the FBI mug that was going to be given away later to one of the people who dropped their business cards in the bowl at the agency's booth. (Surprisingly, everyone was forking over their personal information to the FBI without hesitation.)

    "Not so fast," the FBI representative said to the person caught in the act. "And now we got your fingerprints!"

    WorldCom shockwaves
    Over at the Metropolitan Telecommunications booth, the company found few people interested in information about its data and voice services for residential and small-business customers.

    "First of all, everyone looks like they are just going through the motions, walking around in a daze," said Dexter Mojica, a sales manager at the company, referring to the general atmosphere of the convention. "And today, I am just getting WorldCom questions: 'How does it feel to be in the telecom industry when most of the big players are under investigation?'"

    WorldCom is just one of a string of telecommunications companies facing charges of accounting irregularities.

    Where the execs are
    In a lot of ways, the weeklong convention ended Tuesday. Although palpable excitement existed on the opening day, it ended then, too. Walking from the press room out to the street just past 5 p.m. was like strolling down the sidewalk in Manhattan. Where were all the crowds? In years past, it was a madhouse, with cab lines extending a block.

    The action, it seems, is elsewhere. One PC company executive who recently attended Computex in Taipei, Taiwan, in June said that in comparing the two shows, TechXNY was a "huge letdown."

    At Computex, contract manufacturers such as Quanta display notebook prototypes and other devices. Years ago, this was a sideshow to the main technology business. But with the growth of contract manufacturing, these companies have increased in prominence.

    Intel, AMD, Microsoft and others all now prominently attend. Computex looked like "Comdex five years ago," the executive said.

    To help boost the New York convention's popularity, CMP Media, which runs the show, and the The Javits Center, which hosts it, decided to move TechXNY out of its annual June time slot, according to a CMP Media representative.

    Beginning next year, an installment of CeBit--which at its German home base is one of the world's largest tech conventions--will take its place, and TechXNY will instead run in mid-September.

    Christina Condos, show director for CMP Media, said Javits executives "thought CeBit would be something new, so they would give it a try."

    Condos said TechXNY will benefit from the time-slot change because many companies launch new product cycles in the fall.

    She added that attendance won't suffer from the move. "Attendees are loyal," Condos said.

    News.com's John G. Spooner and Tiffany Kary contributed to this report.