Gadgets and gasthaus at trade show

Germany's CeBit, a trade show as logistically complicated as a small-scale war, attracts three-quarters of a million attendees to 107 acres of technology displays.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
4 min read
HANOVER, Germany--CeBit, a trade show as logistically complicated as a small-scale war, is grinding to a start, attracting three-quarters of a million attendees to 107 acres of computer technology displays.

But at least I have priority bathroom access.

That access is granted through a quirk of history--the bombing of Hanover's hotels during World War II and the resulting postwar exhortation by the city government asking Hanover residents to put up convention visitors in their homes. The idea stuck, and today there are a third more beds available in private rooms than in Hanover's hotels, my guide book tells me.

The travel agent, who appears to have a lock on the lucrative market of setting up these lodgings, assures me I have first dibs on the shower. That's all well and good, but I'm more worried about being able to resist the insistence of my host, a sweet and somewhat elderly hausfrau, that I put butter, cheese and wurst on my breakfast rolls.

I'm one of the lucky ones, though. Some attendees are stuck in lodgings so remote they have to travel hours by train each day to reach the show. And private room hosts aren't necessarily the most generous.

"Sometimes you get into places where they have all these pastries," remarked CeBit veteran Tom Donnelly of Fujitsu. "Then there are other times when if you stay too long, the water gets cold."

CeBit is the Comdex of Europe--or as the Germans would have it, Comdex is the CeBit of America. Organizers proudly note this year's CeBit is the largest computer show ever, attracting 8,106 exhibitors spread across 26 different halls. About the only thing Comdex has over CeBit is a press room that can accommodate more than 20 reporters.

Wednesday, the day before the formal start of the show, hundreds of trucks jockeyed for parking spaces to disgorge tons of paneling, lights, power supplies, computers, banners and other staples of the trade show circuit. Amid the growling trucks and swarms of bicyclists weaved riders on fancy three-wheeled scooters, as exquisitely engineered as a Mercedes.

The hubbub led Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina to describe CeBit as "the world's largest and perhaps most chaotic trade show" at a press conference Wednesday.

Though the show is more German than not, nearly half of the exhibitors are from other countries, according to show organizer Deutsche Messe. Indeed, a shop in the middle of the convention grounds does a tidy business selling gadgets such as international power adapters, a service I appreciated after my RadioShack adapter exploded--melting and releasing a stench that nearly overpowered the cigarette fumes in the bursting-at-the-seams press room.

But there's no shortage of real news at the show, squirting out even before the show formally starts. Fiorina got things going with a dour prediction that the U.S. computer spending slump is spreading to Europe.

Gadgets galore
Though there's a healthy dose of servers and other high-end products on display, much of the show focuses on gadgets for consumers and other more ordinary electronics. For example, Nokia unveiled new cell phones and a digital music player.

Via Technologies will unveil prototypes for ultra-cheap PCs for cash-strapped markets such as China and India, plus a contract with China's largest computer maker, Legend Computer, to build them. They'll also have building blocks for set-top boxes.

In other demonstrations, Finnish outdoor clothing company Reima will show Smart Shout, a computer knitted into clothes. People in a group can use the clothes to send voice messages to each other by pulling a tag.

Sanyo will show its IDC-1000Z 1.5-megapixel digital camera using the iD Photo magneto-optical disk, which can hold 730MB of data.

Redmond, Wash.-based Conversay will show its voice control software running a Samsung cell phone built into a wristwatch.

Linux gadgets on parade
Transmeta will show several products based on its Midori version of Linux for mobile devices. Among them is PaceBlade, which will show its PaceBlade "tablet" PC with a separate wireless keyboard. The company claims a 6.5-hour battery life using Transmeta's Crusoe 5600 CPU and Lynx graphics chips.

Meanwhile, a German company called Lisa Systems will show its version of the iPaq handheld running Linux and the KDE graphical user interface. Lisa sells a Linux iPaq for about $620 in Germany.

Sharp Electronics on Wednesday announced a future handheld model the size of a Palm based on Linux.

Linux handhelds will move another step forward in the United States on April 3 when Agenda Computing will launch its $249 Linux-based VR3 model, the company said.