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Apple's absence nibbles core at Macworld

Company chose not to come to Macworld Boston, but organizers think there's still much food for thought at confab.

BOSTON--Organizers and attendees remain upbeat about the Macworld conference being held here this week, despite Apple Computer's decision not to participate.

While some conference attendees harbored mild resentment toward Apple, most people at the show on Monday were looking forward to the next several days. The Macworld show floor officially opens Tuesday, but a number of individuals made the trek to the brand new Boston Convention and Exhibition Center on Monday to look around, while exhibitors erected conference displays.

The Macworld conference in Boston has been the subject of controversy since October 2002, when the show's organizers, Framingham, Mass.-based IDG World Expo, announced plans to move the event from New York. Almost immediately, Apple announced that it would not participate, punching a gaping hole in the conference's persona, which focuses on the computer maker's products and typically looks to Apple as the event's largest exhibitor and advertiser. Macworld was previously held in Boston with Apple's support, until moving to New York in 1998.

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In comparison, Apple used the San Francisco version of the show, held in January, to launch a smaller iPod music player, new multimedia software and an update to Microsoft's Office package. After briefly rethinking its plans, IDG committed to the Boston show, and company representatives said they still expect 10,000 attendees and 75 exhibitors to come to the conference over the next three days.

Warwick Davies, group vice president for IDG World Expo, said his company would have "loved for Apple to be here," but he indicated that he remains bullish about the event's prospects.

"People care about this show, and we know a lot of them still plan to be here," Davies said. "Macworld is a brand with two stops, San Francisco and Boston, and we have a great amount of respect for the companies that took the risk and spent the money to be here."

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Davies said the only major difference in the Boston conference's schedule, compared with San Francisco's, would be the lack of a keynote speech from an Apple executive. Steve Jobs, Apple's chief executive, traditionally delivers the speech and did so in San Francisco in January. Davies would not speculate as to how many companies decided not to buy exhibit space at the conference based on Apple's absence but said most companies that had concerns ended up coming anyway.

IDG also found that some 88 percent of attendees to its West Coast show reside in California, so Davies said the company was expecting a "solid turnout" of East Coast Apple devotees. Some end users were disappointed by Apple's decision, but the decision didn't keep them away.

"Honestly, it's sort of insulting that Apple isn't at least giving a speech or making an effort to show support to their East Coast users," said Mark Charbonneau, a computer programmer and self-described Mac lover who drove for more than an hour from Portland, Maine, to be at the conference. "It's very nice to have the show back in Boston though. New York was too expensive."

For the most part, exhibitors at Macworld seemed upbeat about the situation. Sara Strebe, director of marketing at Boulder, Colo.-based applications vendor @Last Software, said it was important to visit with local customers. Her company is launching new 3D design software at the show.

"We have a lot of users in the Northeast, so it's still a great place to see people, Apple or not," Strebe said.

Other exhibitors made similar remarks. Gary Paul-Prince, promotions manager for Berkeley, Calif.-based Peachpit Press, which publishes books related to Apple's products, said he was disappointed about the vendor's decision but still hopes to sell a sizable amount of inventory during the conference.

"Look, we love Apple, we wish they were here and think they should be, but we'll continue to put our best foot forward and try to do a good job for our customers," Paul-Prince said.

Macworld is the first conference being held in the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Organizers lauded the facility as being "built for trade shows of the 21st century," while exhibitors said they were still working out some kinks in the new building's infrastructure.