Sneak peek at Comdex99's hottest trends

Seeds planted in the fertile ground of Comdex98 will finally begin to flower at this year's Comdex. Last year we saw lots of new initiatives and new directions, and this year those new capabilities will start really hitting home.

Seeds planted in the fertile ground of Comdex98 will finally begin to flower at this year's Comdex. Last year we saw lots of new initiatives and new directions, and this year those new capabilities will start really hitting home.

Take a look at Internet appliances. ZDTV showed you the first reference design, from Cyrix, last year. Even though National Semiconductor sold their Cyrix division, they kept the chip that powered that Webpad. And this year, we expect to see upwards of 40 devices featuring the new Geode chip. The Webpad, Internet terminal, smart phone and connected refrigerator are all right around the corner, and we'll see the first sets this year.

Wireless networking was also in its infancy last year. Sure, we've had high-cost wireless networking for a while, but it's been proprietary and best left to corporations with big bucks. This year will highlight an exciting catfight, as two industry groups try to build their own standards. Intel and Motorola stand on one side, pushing their Home RF. The other side is anchored by Lucent and Apple, and features the 802.11 wireless networking standard. At first blush, the Home RF group would seem to have the upper hand, given that they're attempting to follow onto the successful HomePNA phone line standard. But my money is on the 802.11 group, because it's broader, and they've upped the speed to 11 megabits per second. At any rate, it'll be an interesting fight.

Another type of wireless networking will make its debut at Comdex, and ought to be a big player at Comdex 2000. Named Bluetooth, this is an RF based low-power network designed to connect all the peripherals in your life together. You've heard of Local Area Networks (LANs) and Wide Area Networks (WANs). Well Bluetooth is a Personal Area Network (PAN). With it your cell-phone, notebook, Palm Pilot, Auto PC and home PC will continuously synchronize together, whenever they're within about 10 feet of each other. Technology demos this year at the Bluetooth pavilion, and real products by next fall.

Another emerging category last year, the rise of non-Windows operating systems, ought to reach a fever pitch this year. Last year Linux and Be were attracting raves because they were different -- this year they'll become really useful. Expect to see amazing video editing systems for the Be Operating System, and real work-a-day applications and servers for Linux.

Microsoft, of course, won't take this incursion lightly. This ought to be the coming out party for Microsoft's new Windows 2000 -- their next generation of Windows NT. We'll see Windows 2000 demos, partners and prospects trumpeted all over the floor. Microsoft is also setting up a Windows 2000 demonstration booth in the back of the South Hall, where anyone can get some face time with the new OS. And behind closed doors, expect Microsoft to be talking about the follow-on to Windows 98, Millennium.

The digital still camera should also truly emerge this year. Although high-priced cameras have been available for years, the lower-end of the market is only just now being served. We'll see new advances on the high-end, while interesting new lower end consumer models will be on display. And we'll also see new ways to store, print, edit and store all those digital images.

For years monitors have been one of the more boring categories of computer products. But this year, they should become somewhat more interesting -- all due to the flat-panel LCD monitor. Comdex 1999 will feature hybrid digital/analog flat panels, wall-sized panels, hanging panels and all-in-one computers that look like LCD panels. Designs, too, should move the flat panel from the office to the loft and den. Prices are still high, but capacity is ramping up, so those prices should start falling next year.

And of course, there's bound to be some wacky stuff at Comdex too. Some no-name vendor will introduce an amazing new product that everyone's talking about. Another vendor will have an amazingly tacky booth or press conference. One of the keynoters will suffer through the embarrassment of a full-system crash. And bizarre products galore will be found in the back corners of the Sands. But one thing is for sure -- whether you go to Comdex or stay home, we'll have all the details, good and bad, right here on ZDTV and on ZDTV.Com. See you in Vegas!