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Clowning around at Computex

Computex isn't all about motherboards and cooling fans. It's also about companies accusing rivals of cutting down their logo-laden balloons and about UFO-shaped mice.

    TAIPEI, Taiwan--The war of words between Via Technologies and rival Intel has been fast and furious as usual, but the most heated comments at Computex are not about which deals were cut, but rather which balloons.

    Both chipmakers wanted to show the support that exists for their processors and chipsets by having companies that use their products display balloons with the chipmakers' respective logos at this week's trade show here.

    However, Via claims that Intel strong-armed some motherboard makers into taking down Via's balloons. In one case, Via said a balloon was cut down shortly after an Intel representative put up an Intel balloon.

    President Wen-chi Chen referenced the issue at a Tuesday press conference launching the C3 processor and showing off Via's new chipset designed to accompany the Pentium 4--a product not yet licensed by Intel.

    Computex should be about making friends, Chen told reporters. "It's not (about) trying to undercut each other or cut each other's balloon."

    Chen expressed hope that the balloon controversy would blow over rather than blow up. "I hope it won't be precedent-setting," Chen told CNET News.com.

    Howard High, a spokesman at Intel's Santa Clara, Calif., headquarters, said Wednesday that Intel wouldn't resort to cutting down competitors' balloons. "I'm sure if anything was taken down at Computex, it was done by the management of the show," he said.

    More than motherboards
    Although the bulk of the booths at Computex are pitching the mundane, there are some offbeat spots amid the vast stretches of companies pitching computer cases, connection cords and cooling fans.

    Taking the dance video game craze a step further, Front Fareast Industrial is pitching a game with electronic maracas that must be shaken to the beat of the Village People's "YMCA," among other titles. The company is still looking for a U.S. distributor but said the game should sell for around $30, digital maracas included.

    And even the humdrum mouse can be fun. Taipei-based Allspirit has several computer rodents of unusual size. One mouse was designed to act as an FM radio antenna, delivering audio to the PC that could be easily converted to MP3 files. Another, the e-mail mouse, comes disguised as either a frog or a UFO, with a light that glows when the owner has new messages.

    Macs scarce
    Although Mac-related products are scarce at Computex, the Apple Computer flagship has a place in the Taiwanese computer world.

    Several of Apple's contractors are here, including Alpha Top, the iBook maker that recently ruffled Apple's feathers by telling reporters that it is working on color versions of the Apple laptop.

    Although most of Taipei's computer stores focus on the Wintel market, there are Macs to be found. At one store, not only were genuine Macs available, but also such dubiously authentic items as socks, mugs and laptop bags bearing the Apple logo.

    Although most of the new Macs are available here, one ad in a Taipei subway station curiously pitched the fruit-flavored iMacs that have been discontinued since last July. "Collect all Five" beckons the billboard at the Kuting subway station.

    News.com's Natalie Weinstein contributed to this report from San Francisco.