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Comdex 2002: Where's the party?

The party scene may have declined at the convention, but the beer is free flowing on the show floor. Meanwhile, one Microsoft attendee could be Comdex's biggest cheerleader.

LAS VEGAS--With all the pessimism surrounding Comdex Fall 2002 and its future, it's refreshing to meet a guy like Microsoft's Kevin Eagan.

This is Eagan's 15th year at the show. He's been a Microsoft employee for 14 years. The first year he attended the show to be close to technology. Comdex still gives him a jolt, he said.

"I like the energy in the computer industry," Eagan said. "There are few places where it is so concentrated" as it is at Comdex.

As a tech guy, "where else are you going to go?" he asked. Eagan, who is general manager of Microsoft's eHome unit, admits he's still riding high from the launch of eHome's first product, Windows XP Media Center.

"A lot of people are down because the business is down," Eagan said. "Our business just launched."

Comdex is special for another reason for Eagan--he got married in Las Vegas during Comdex five years ago. Eagan and his fiancee had been planning to wed at a big family affair in January. However, she was home feeling stressed about the wedding while he was at Comdex.

So, Eagan had his bride-to-be fly down to Vegas, and the two got hitched at the Excalibur--dressed as King Arthur and Lady Guinevere, no less. The family event took place in January, but it wasn't until years later that Eagan broke it to the guests that the real nuptials took place at a trade show.

In the bedroom
Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy's keynote speech at Comdex included a top 10 list of signs the economy is hurting tech trade shows. Among them: "IBM Global Services now caters weddings and bar mitzvahs," and "Your company asked you to bring back all the soap and shampoo from your hotel room."

But none of McNealy's jokes got as many laughs as Key3Media CEO Fredric Rosen's introduction of McNealy. Stumbling through his lines read from a prompter, Rosen praised McNealy's skills in the "corporate bedroom," blushed, then corrected himself to say "corporate boardroom."

On a similar note, those who say Comdex is indispensable make the case that you need the face time with people, as well as a place to touch and feel new technologies. That may be true in some cases, but there are definitely exceptions.

In a demonstration only slightly more riveting than watching paint dry, Xerox pitted its high-end color printers against rival machines from Ricoh and Lexmark. A crowd of about 80 gathered at a party atop the Stratosphere Tower around the three printers watching PowerPoint presentations and other print jobs emerge page by page. Comdex parties ain't what they used to be.

Of course, while the party scene has declined, the show floor was buzzing. No, it wasn't the products; it was the beer. In past years, alcohol wasn't allowed on the show floor until after the exhibit hall closed. This year, the booze was free flowing. There was even a Gordon Biersch brewpub on the show floor.

Put your cards on the table
Regardless of where you stand on the debate over whether Comdex and other big trade shows are relevant, it is indisputable that there are some things you only see at Comdex. One irresistible moment this year: the sight of Microsoft and Apple Computer execs playing blackjack Monday at the same table.

"Does (Apple software chief) Avie Tevanian still work there?" asked one Microsoft worker.

"Yeah. Do you know Avie?" asked one of the Apple workers.

"Just from his depositions," responded the Microsoft worker.

There were some other tense moments such as when the dealer said she didn't know much about computers. "Aren't they all basically the same?" she asked, causing the Apple crowd to see red. The Apple contingent was already smarting after having lost out for two PC Magazine awards for which the company had been named a finalist.