Comdex: A look toward 2004

CNET News.com's Michael Kanellos reports back from the floor that despite the light turnout, show-goers can catch glimpses of tech's future.

Michael Kanellos
Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
4 min read
LAS VEGAS--Comdex has had its annual run and, naturally, so did the complaining.

People love to gripe about this show. In the glory years of the information technology boom, attendees whined about hour-long lines for cabs, unruly crowds, and the incessant pushing and shoving required to get a squishy globe souvenir.

This year, only 50,000 people--at most--flew in for the five-day conference. Lines were nonexistent. So what was everyone talking about? The low attendance. In some parts of the hall, retirees-turned-security guards outnumbered visitors. Parties were scaled way back and, because of the lack of bodies, the odds of sneaking into an event without getting hit up to watch a demonstration of the performance of the J23FXi printer/fax/copier were pretty low.

Even the woman who dresses up every year in the silver hot-dog outfit for Sausage Software was not here.

In some parts of the hall, retirees-turned-security guards outnumbered visitors.
The complaints largely seemed to stem from foiled expectations. Trade shows always appear more compelling before they happen. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates will unveil a new software application that will revolutionize the workplace. Some start-up will emerge from the rabble to inspire a new industry.

Then the moment arrives, and you find yourself stuck listening to a pitch on the many virtues of retractable USB cables.

Still, despite the whining, people can catch glimpses of the future at Comdex. It's a phenomenon seen throughout history. Merchants from medieval Northern Europe once dismissed an Italian culinary fad as too expensive and effeminate to ever take seriously. However, the fork did catch on eventually.

What's coming in 2004
Monitors: Glass is in. In years past, computer makers talked of increasing performance inside PCs or hooking up to the Internet wirelessly. This year, everyone wanted to talk about the "viewing experience."

Notebook and desktop screens continue to get larger and sharper. Dell and Gateway are selling LCD TVs, and Hewlett-Packard is likely to do so soon, too. Analysts predict that a glut of factory capacity will force prices down in the coming 18 months.

Next year, flat-panel sales representatives will be relentless.

Sun and Microsoft will emerge as inadvertent allies: Yes, it sounds strange, but the parallels are too frequent to dismiss.
Sun Microsystems and Microsoft will emerge as inadvertent allies: Yes, it sounds strange, but the parallels are too frequent to dismiss. Both Sun and Microsoft are actively warning corporate buyers about the potential legal liability of Linux. The two companies position themselves as the underdog alternative to IBM. Both will port their operating systems to the Opteron chip from Advanced Micro Devices. And the chairman of each company likes to show comical videos during keynote speeches.

True, there is that mutual history of loathing, but in a weird way they will help each other.

Samsung will be impossible to ignore: The Korean electronics giant believes its moment of destiny is at hand and is pursuing the opportunity with an aggressive barrage of advertisements, promotions and products. "We have put a brand-new cell phone out in the U.S. market every two weeks since mid-October," said Peter Weedfald, senior vice president of strategic marketing at Samsung Electronics North America.

Special coverage
Comdex gets down to business
Complete News.com coverage of
the technology trade show.

The conglomerate is the world's largest memory manufacturer and the third-largest cell phone maker worldwide, and it has a massive presence in monitors and televisions. In the United States alone, Samsung is serving up a billion ads a month on 330 Web sites.

Everyone will get into the antispam market: This year, you couldn't walk 10 feet without running into someone hawking an antispam solution. Most spam is actually not for marketing purposes, said Matthew Moynahan, vice president of product management at Symantec. Instead, it largely comes from people selling counterfeit software or other questionable goods and from organizations trying to scam credit cards. After Symantec shut down one spammer in Maryland, support calls dropped from 1,500 a day to 800, Moynahan said.

Invite Michael Kanellos into your in-box
Senior department editor Michael Kanellos scrutinizes the hardware industry in a weekly column that ranges from chips to servers and other critical business systems. Enterprise Hardware every Wednesday.

Videoconferencing may finally take off: Videoconferencing is the gasohol of the PC business. It should be incredibly popular, but several failures show otherwise.

Software developers, however, seem to have finally uncovered some of the glaring problems. Start-up SightSpeed has come up with a software application that takes out most of the jitter and delay so that the video images match the sound track. The secret sauce in the application is that it concentrates on the moving object in the video frame--the person--and sends less detail about the static portions, the background. Less data goes down the pipe and, hence, gets there quicker, said Brad Treat, SightSpeed's CEO.

Meanwhile, Hewlett-Packard with its Troy concept PC has figured out an important rule: Keep the videoconferencing window fairly small.