Comdex/Fall bigger, badder, more organised?

Organisers promise a larger, yet more accessible format for the Las Vegas trade show

Comdex/Fall will be bigger than ever this year.

The show will be about ten percent bigger than last year, with 2,100 companies participating and more than 1m square feet of exhibits. However, Comdex's organiser, Key3Media, promises it will also be more organised.

Key3Media, a recent spin-off from Ziff-Davis (former owner of ZDNet) promises a more approachable format for the 200,000 show goers it expects will turn out this year. Despite the increase in size, the company is looking to hold attendees to 200,000, as more proved too much in previous years, Key3Media officials said.

Comdex/Fall will be divided into a number of more approachable chunks, based on technologies. A number of smaller conference programs, including an ASP Summit, Small business strategies and a Linux Business Expo will also be offered. "We're trying to clarify Comdex by community," said Bill Sell, a Key3Media vice president and general manager for Comdex. "If you're a small business manager, we'll give you your version of it. You don't have to see the enterprise stuff."

The Las Vegas Convention Centre's North Hall, for example, will be dedicated to networking technology. This networking hall will include wireless technology, including a wireless e-Mobility pavilion, along with biometrics. The convention centre's south hall will become the platform hall.

Here, Microsoft will host its Partner Pavilion and show off Windows technologies and Intel will encourage attendees visit its Pentium 4 Pavilion. Show goers will also be able to find products such as cameras, scanners and Bluetooth cards in the north hall. Meanwhile, the Linux Business Expo will take place at the Sands Convention Centre.

Aside from its numerous exhibitors, pavilions and international showcases, Comdex will also offer a number of keynotes from industry leaders. This year's keynoters include Microsoft chairman and chief technology architect Bill Gates, Hewlett Packard chief executive and chair Carly Fiorina, Dell Computer chief executive and chairman Michael Dell, and Oracle chief executive and chairman Larry Ellison.

It's early to say what the themes might be, but Fiorina and Dell, who keynote on Monday of the show, are likely to emphasise the Internet in their keynotes. The Internet has the potential to become a major theme at the show as do as wireless technology and handheld devices.

Gates, as in other years, will kick off the show with a Sunday night keynote. Gates, during his keynote, is expected to demonstrate a tablet PC, for use in viewing content such as electronic books. Time will tell, but the tablet PC or one of Gateway's new Internet appliances, which will likely also be on display, has the potential to grab a good chunk of the buzz at the show.

HP, at Comdex/Fall, will also announce a new thin-and-light wireless-enabled Omnibook 500 notebook, which includes a bundled Bluetooth card, with availability in January. At the same time it will announce two new LaserJet printers, including one colour version, company officials said. At the same time, Compaq Computer, will come to the show to demonstrate its iPaq handhelds and wireless devices to show goers and reporters.

While wireless and the Internet will grab the most of the headlines, an underlying theme will be that the PC isn't dead yet. But that doesn't mean it's not changing, either.

HP will also offer a look inside its future vision for the PC by showing off, to reporters, a number of new PC concept designs. Though they may not all come to market, the demonstration is designed to show the direction in which the company could go with its PCs products.

Also bolstering the PCs, Intel's Pentium 4 pavilion, will tout the chips capabilities by showing it running a number of software applications. The chip will not ship officially until after Comdex.

Top PC makers, including Dell, Compaq, and IBM will also be present at the show, but will not have booths on the show floor. HP looks to be the only major PC with a booth, number L6446 in the south hall.

IBM will meet with customers to go over product changes and discuss new direct sales offerings in a hotel suite near the convention centre. Dell has taken meeting room space outside the show floor, where it will meet with reporters. Compaq will have only a few executives in town for Comdex.

Gateway also plans to be on the ground in Vegas. It will host off-the-show-floor meetings with customers and reporters. It's a good bet the company's new Internet appliances, developed with America Online and Transmeta, will be on display off the show floor.

Toshiba America, reports that it will scale back its presence on the floor as well, with a smaller booth. The company, two years ago, had one of the most flamboyant booths, which featured fishtanks filled with tropical fish.

NEC will focus on wireless technology at the show, demonstrating its use with Versa notebooks. Meanwhile it will show off its Simplem All-in-one PC. The company is now considering bringing the PC to North America. It is now available in Japan and also in Europe.

While PC makers will at the show in varying degrees, handheld and cell phone manufacturers will also make a bid for the Las Vegas spotlight. Kurt Hellström, president of cell phone maker Ericsson will also keynote at Comdex/Fall.

In addition to the usual proselytising about PDAs, manufacturers are expected to unveil wireless complements for PDAs to lure potential converts. Probably the most anticipated will be the already announced VisorPhone from Handspring, which should be available by show time for $299 (about £200).

Several other manufacturers from both the Palm and Pocket PC camps are expected to attempt to make PDA synonymous with cell phones but company officials were tight lipped leading up to the start of play.

Additional reporting by Richard Shim.

See full coverage at ZDNet UK's Comdex Fall 2000 Special Report.

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