Geeks go for gold in Atlanta

Comdex The tech Olympics open in steamy Atlanta next week, where 100,000 laptop lovers are expected to hear the latest in consumer products, IT, and telecommunications.

Jeff Pelline Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Jeff Pelline is editor of CNET News.com. Jeff promises to buy a Toyota Prius once hybrid cars are allowed in the carpool lane with solo drivers.
Jeff Pelline
2 min read
Comdex The technology Olympics open in steamy Atlanta next week, where 100,000 laptop lovers are expected to converge to hear the latest in consumer products, information technology, and telecommunications.

Four trade shows will be wrapped up into one: Spring Comdex, Windows World, Spring CES, and Expo Comm. The combo shows how consumer technology is starting to blend with IT, attracting a wide range of attendees and companies.

DVD, the next generation of digital cameras from the likes of Kodak and Hitachi, a new line of notebooks from Toshiba, and handheld PCs from Hewlett-Packard and Philips will be among the products featured.

Microsoft will show off its upgrade to Windows 95, code-named Memphis, at its exhibit booth, according to the company. Internet companies, such as MindSpring, Talk City, and EarthLink, will roll out upgrades, new features, or partnerships.

Many big-name technology companies are passing up making any major announcements at the shows. Netscape Communications, for example, is gearing up for a developer's show in San Jose, California, in two weeks, a trend that dampens the clout of big shows such as Comdex, according to many industry executives. Others are holding out for PC Expo in New York and E3 in Atlanta, both of which will be held in June. Others are simply not participating at all, opting for a lower-cost alternative to communicate with customers: the Web.

But don't count some surprises out at next week's shows. Microsoft chief executive Bill Gates will give a keynote on Tuesday. And what show in Atlanta would be complete without an appearance by Ted Turner, founder of CNN? Turner will appear onstage on Wednesday with Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison.

Oracle technology will be used on a souped-up CNN Interactive news site. The products provided will include the Oracle 7 database, ConText text search and summary tools, and possibly the Oracle Video Server for streaming video images. This week, CNN said it would use VXtreme's Web Theater 2.0 to deliver video and audio streaming on the CNN site.

The battle of news Web sites is getting intense with ABCNews.com, MSNBC, and CBS. But as the networks learned in the TV broadcasting arena, it's not wise to underestimate CNN.

On the hardware front, attendees will get to do some comparative shopping of network computers, one of the first such displays, at a forum on Monday. The stripped-down PC concept has gained widespread publicity, with even PC stalwart Microsoft announcing plans recently to offer a "Windows terminal."

Some new set-top boxes are likely to spring up at the show as well, but most are still in the "creative stage." Microsoft's pending buyout of WebTV has attracted attention, but in the long run, the software giant will face increasing competition from companies such as Packard Bell and Compaq, which are pushing the price of PCs to below $1,000, according to Jim Penhune, an analyst with Yankee Group.

Reporters Jim Davis and Ben Heskett and Intranets editor Mike Ricciuti contributed to this report.