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Comdex: Reporter's Notebook

Just Twist The KnobEven though Lotus CEO Jeff Papows has given many keynote speeches in Las Vegas, he still professes to be amazed at the city's excesses. He described his room at Caesar's Palace as being "truly on the far end of bizarre" because of its faux Greco-Roman decor. Said Papows, "My hotel suite is the only room I've ever slept in where the lamps are fashioned in such a way that you have to reach out and fondle a body part to turn off the light."

Low-Tech Comedy, High-Tech Crowd Lotus enlisted comedian Paula Poundstone for some keynote comic relief. A self-described technophobe, Poundstone says she once had to call tech support because she couldn't get out of Big Bird's nest on her Sesame Street CD-ROM. Poundstone, introduced to the crowd as Jeff Papows' research assistant, did phony broadcasts from places like Paris, where she mocked E-mail: "The stupidest questions I've ever received have been through E-mail, like, 'Is this your E-mail address?' Nothing like that has ever come through the U.S. mail." She came out at the end of the keynote and did a short stand-up routine, but seemed genuinely baffled about playing to a high-tech crowd. "There's a guy there talking to his computer," she said. "This is such a weird dynamic. It's a different kind of heckling."

All Microsoft, All The Time With the absence of noted Comdex defectors IBM and Intel from the show floor, Microsoft's gargantuan presence is felt all the more. Just when you think Microsoft's booth (positioned at the main entrance, of course) stretches as far as the eye can see, you come upon the Microsoft Partner Pavilion-which has more than 200 companies at 370 tiny "boothlets" buzzing around the Queen Bee from Redmond.

Talking Heads, Closer To The Floor With a new convention center hall completed and the Aladdin Hotel torn down, keynotes this year have finally been centralized in the Hilton Convention Center, which once had to be used for show floor space. That saves attendees a lot of shuttling around between keynotes and the exhibition floor since the keynotes are only 100 yards from the Comdex floor. It seemed to help attendance at some of the addresses, with attendees lining up well in advance for Compaq CEO Eckhard Pfeiffer and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. Not so many people showed up for the morning keynote by Lotus CEO Jeff Papows, but that was probably because of his 8:30 a.m. starting time. After all, anyone wanting to hear Papows' speech after waiting for a taxi and fighting Las Vegas traffic would probably have had to leave their hotels around 6:30 a.m.

Did I Just Repeat Myself? If Microsoft president Steve Ballmer's SQL Server 7.0 launch address at the packed Bellagio Hotel Grand Ballroom seemed like d?j? vu to him, that's because it was. Ballmer had given the exact same presentation earlier in the morning for SQL Server's European launch. The only difference? People. "Every seat in this ballroom was absolutely empty," he said. The European customers dialed in.

Quote Of Note "If that's not overhyped, we haven't found a good definition." --Lotus CEO Jeff Papows, commenting on E-Bay's recent $97-per-share initial public offering, which happened even though the Internet company is losing money.

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