Comdex cozies up to the workplace

This year's trade show will forgo a golf shirt in favor of a business suit and focus more on corporate information-technology products than consumer electronics.

CNET News staff
4 min read
Next week's Comdex gets back to business.

The technology trade show in recent years has served as a showcase for consumer items like Internet appliances, but this year, it will focus on technology for the working world. Themes will include mobile computing, security and utility computing.

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Dan Farber, editor in chief, ZDNet, and Michael Kanellos, senior department editor, CNET News.com
Sun Microsystems, for instance, plans to discuss new 64-bit servers, and Hewlett-Packard will talk about future business desktops. Even Gateway will chip in, with storage systems aimed at businesses.

This year's change in focus is due to a shift by MediaLive International, Comdex's organizer. The company, in a move it says responds to customer requests, has engineered a smaller show that concentrates more on information technology.

An estimated 50,000 people are expected to attend the show, down from a high in previous years of about 200,000. Panel discussions, populated by executives from companies such as IBM and Sun, will tackle subjects such as utility computing.

The trade show will be held Nov. 17-20 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Still, not everyone will play by the new rules. Dell is expected to mix the launch of a new digital television and at least one printer with discussions about the Dell Professional Services group.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates will use his traditional Sunday night keynote address to open the show with a look at the future of the technology industry. This year, however, Gates' venue has been downsized. It will take place at the 7,000-seat Aladdin Theatre, part of the Aladdin Casino & Resort, rather than at its usual venue, the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino's 17,000-seat arena.

Gates is expected to discuss Microsoft's Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system, which would mark the tablet's third appearance in his keynote. He is likely to show off a number of improvements the company has made to the device, sources said. Tablet PCs are essentially small notebooks that can be operated with a pen and can capture handwriting.

A new version of the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition OS, code-named Lonestar, is slated to arrive in the first half of next year, Microsoft Group Vice President Jim Allchin said at a developer conference last month. Allchin said the device would offer "dramatically better" handwriting recognition, among other improvements. Microsoft is also trying to make it easier for developers to write programs and create Web sites that can take advantage of the Tablet PC's handwriting abilities.

Tablet sales have increased, thanks to a push from Microsoft. Worldwide tablet sales reached nearly 72,000 units in the fourth quarter of 2002, following the November launch of the Microsoft tablet OS, and are expected to grow to 500,000 in 2004, IDC has said. But that figure is relatively small when compared with the total worldwide notebook market, which reached about 30.5 million units in 2002, according to IDC.

Companies such as HP, Toshiba and Gateway are sticking with the tablet, however. Toshiba is expected to show off its latest at the show.

From spam to SAN
Meanwhile, Microsoft's Exchange team will highlight new spam-filtering tools in the latest edition of the e-mail server. The software giant's real-time communications group will also tell where recent company investments in Web conferencing are leading.

Dell will also return to the show floor with several retail kiosks, which will allow attendees to try out and buy its products.

Gateway, which has loosed an avalanche of new consumer electronics and business IT products this year, reserved three storage systems for Comdex. The company will detail a network attached storage system, a storage area network (SAN) and an updated disk storage system that uses drives with Serial Advanced Technology Attachment. Gateway executives said this week that the disk storage system will use the Serial ATA drive interface standard and provide up to 2 terabytes of data storage capacity. Gateway will produce the SAN in a partnership with another company.

Gateway is also expected to announce that it will make the Linux operating system a standard offering on its servers. Previously, it had been available only as a special order.

As part of an effort to expand its imaging and printing business into new areas, HP will take aim at the high end of the copier market. The company is expected on Nov. 18 to unveil several high-end products and to discuss document and form automation.

HP will also discuss Troy, a new concept for a modular business PC similar in function to its Athens business desktop concept from earlier this year. The company is also likely to announce at least one Athlon 64 desktop for consumers.

Also at the show:

• IBM's Personal Computing Division will launch a new 19-inch ThinkVision flat-panel display, priced under $800.

• Graphics chip maker Nvidia is scheduled to unveil new graphics chips for notebook PCs, which are expected to incorporate technology from its desktop GeForce FX 5900 chip, launched earlier this year.

• Sun Microsystems is expected to announce plans to sell a server based on Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron processor.

• Data storage company Iomega plans to discuss its REV Drive, a forthcoming removable disk drive aimed partly at replacing tape drives. The device will hold as 35GB of data--or 90GB of compressed data--per cartridge. The drives are scheduled to ship in early 2004, Iomega has said.