The Hannover CeBIT computer trade fair will have its most glitzy cast ever this year when IBM's chairman and CEO Lou Gerstner's kicks off the world's biggest IT event with his keynote this evening.
Joining Gerstner will be VIPs such as Compaq president and CEO, Eckhard Pfeiffer, Netscape senior VP for products, Marc Andreessen and Iomega president and CEO, Kim Edwards as well as the chiefs from European powerhouses Groupe Bull, Olivetti Computers Worldwide and Siemens Nixdorf.
About 600,000 are expected to attend the German Messe (exhibition) to see approximately 6,800 exhibitors. Even when compared to US exposition monoliths such as Comdex, the scale can be bewildering, with hall after hall of warehouse-sized buildings and sprawling, towering stands such as the four-storey Siemens Nixdorf structure, with its elevators and designated areas for press research, eating and business discussions. Even Siemens Nixdorf may be trumped this year though; word is that Deutsche Telekom will show off an 8,000sq m stand, complete with 600 staff.
Bragging rights aside, it's difficult to make a case for CeBIT being seen as carrying any of the glamour associated with American show host cities such as Las Vegas or New York. The old part of Hannover has its attractions but for many, CeBIT remains a test of endurance.
The weather tends to be appalling, heavy rain, sleet or snow gusting and swirling as visitors attempt to yomp across the fair's open spaces. Accommodation is in short supply with many visitors having to share apartments with host families. CeBIT-time hotel rooms in Hannover are typically booked years ahead forcing visitors into towns up to two hours away.
Transport is another major hassle as trams are packed and taxi queues disorderly.
That said, CeBIT remains Europe's premier show. A truly global event, the exhibition is a showcase for every continent with a particularly thriving Asian contingent. Also, unlike some big name shows, it can be truly said to span computing and communications, as industrial automation equipment, super-servers, networking infrastructure, communications hubs and ticketing systems compete for attention with personal computing equipment.
Given the dire state of the UK's own events calendar, it would be churlish to pick too many holes in the vast CeBIT cape - Viva Hannover!