Martin Veitch's Weekend Comdex Analysis

The mothership of computing trade shows came to earth this Friday, less with a bang than a whimper.

That's not to say that Comdex Fall '97 was disappointing, just a reflection that most visitors are long gone by the end of Friday. Many representatives of national daily newspapers leave Monday night with potted opinion pieces that cover only the purest meat of this huge event. A précis of their articles: Microsoft's partners showed Windows CE 2.0 handhelds; Intel showed nothing; Iomega showed a tiny disk; SyQuest showed a Zip-killer.

Not a bad summary, really. Closer analysis reveals that - even without a new Intel chip or a new version of Windows - this was a great show full of stimulating new products and proof positive that computer R&D remains the most effervescent of business pursuits.

Fact: Windows CE is here to stay. Not just the array of handhelds, some with sparkling colour TFT screens, some with software modems, all packing very attractive feature sets, but also all sorts of vertical devices. Credit to Microsoft, if CE 1.0 was a dog, version 2.0 is much more impressive, although the odd realisation is that many of the HPC devices are more of a threat to sub-notebooks than to dear old Psion. If you want battery life get a Series 5 or a Pilot, if you want a feature-rich product for transporting PowerPoint slides, organiser tasks and e-mail, look at these fine new products.

Also clear, a new category is emerging in mobile computing, that of the mini-notebook. Toshiba's Libretto is being challenged by interesting designs from Mitsubishi, Fujitsu and others. Once again, mobile is the area from which the most innovative products are springing.

Storage sounds dull by comparison but here also, innovation is rife. The good news is that SyQuest is back in the ring. The 1Gb SparQ is a very interesting product; the 4.7Gb Quest too.

Iomega is the company SyQuest must chase down. The Clik! tiny format storage device looks good but it is perhaps a niche product and Iomega must develop Zip capacity too stay ahead of its rival.

Also neat and sure to be a very big feature of next year's Comdex are set-top boxes such as those shown at the Cyrix booth. By this time next year we'll know whether the $500 PC and the home entertainment hub are a real deal or just the old smoke and mirrors. The same can be said of Web-enabled devices such as the telephone showed at the Digital booth.

Just like this Comdex, at next year's Comdex there will be much hype, many lies and exaggerations, a little truth. Just like beautiful Las Vegas.

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