The exhibit hall at this week's, a conference for Visual Studio programmers, is filled with an eclectic bunch, from developer-training companies to hardware makers showing off their latest wares. Even database rival Oracle was there to say that choosing .Net doesn't mean that you have to use Microsoft's database software, too.
One thing that many of the exhibitors had in common was the raffle prize item they used to lure people to their booths: Apple Computer's.
Although the iPod has little connection to Microsoft's, there is no question it is hot, hot, hot.
"I actually said to everyone, 'Do we have to give away an iPod?'" said John McIntyre, vice president of marketing for programmer training company InnerWorkings. But in the end, he said, it is tough to beat the Apple icon. Still, he added, at least his company requires people who want to enter to go to the InnerWorkings Web site and write some code in order to win the device.
And despite the sign at the Kinitos booth, the company actually had to give away an Xbox instead.
"We intended on getting an iPod," said Andrew Radin, Kinitos' director of customer service. But company staff found the product out of stock when they went to get one.
Speaking of iPods, one of the more interesting booths was that of Fort Collins, Colo.-based Otterbox, which offers waterproof and water-resistant cases for a variety of tech gadgets including Apple's popular music players.
The 12-person company began in 1996 with a basic plastic box for carrying goods underwater. They expanded to offer a line of cigar humidors before finding a niche making weatherproof cases for tech gadgets.
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The company started selling a water-resistant (but not underwater-safe) iPod case last August, and in January it started selling a waterproof case for the Mini, with a waterproof case for iPods due out in April. Although the waterproof cases should protect iPods that are submerged, the company only guarantees the case--not the cost of the iPod inside. Nonetheless, sales and marketing director Brian Thomas said that the company is selling the iPod cases 6,000 at a time to resellers.
"iPod right now is just going nuts," he said.
HP takes it up a notch
Although clearly not as chic as iPods, were also in abundance in the exhibit hall, with Fujitsu and Motion Computing among the companies showing their wares. Hewlett-Packard also had a booth, showing off its and other business notebooks and accessories introduced last week.
I must say, the laptops looked cooler than those I've seen in the past from Fiorina-land. I asked the booth workers whether HP had hired some new folks with an eye for style, but was told the devices are the work of the same people just putting a little more effort in on the industrial design.
In addition to just making its notebooks look snazzier overall, HP has added some neat little touches. For example, the hard drive on the company's new business laptop is screwed tightly to the interior of the machine's outer case. Kevin Wentzel, a technical marketing manager for HP, said the new feature keeps the drive from vibrating independently from the case after a sudden jostling. That, he notes, can be more damaging than an initial jolt. While rivals have focused on accelerometers that can detect a fall, Wentzel notes that the other approach only protects from a big fall of several feet.
"Small drops are more common than big drops," he said.
Another nifty feat is the optional second battery that attaches to the new Tablet PC. The U-shaped battery serves as a stand for the notebook when it is mobile, but the device and its two batteries also fit neatly into a new HP docking station.