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Comdex: Reporter's Notebook

Your Call Can't Go Through--Ever
Comdex may be the place to be for IT, but it isn't the place for communications. Woe unto the techie who foolishly hoped to make cellular phone calls from the show floor or, for that matter, within five miles of it--the circuits were so overburdened that almost every call attempt was greeted with a fast busy signal. The same thing went for 800 numbers; during peak hours, the 800 exchange basically collapsed under the weight of attendees trying to dial into their E-mail simultaneously. Yet another argument against dumping 200,000 geeks in one place for a week.

The Cows Take Over
The pullout of IBM from Comdex has changed the landscape of the show in unforeseen ways. For years, the most common sight at Comdex was blue IBM tote boxes, packed tight with fliers, mouse pads, T-shirts, and other freebies. This year, instead of IBM's blue boxes, there were black-and-white Gateway cow boxes everywhere. Fitting, considering the evening stampede for cabs.

That's Entertainment
Who needs to shell out $65 for a Vegas show? At the Philips Electronics booth there was a live song-and-dance stage production with a nine-member cast that combined Broadway style, multimedia Vegas glitz, and a splash of Cirque du Soleil acrobatics. The show is loosely woven around Philips' "Let's make things better" ad theme, but it's nice to see a vendor give up the pretense of cheesy product demos and just entertain.

The runner-up? Xerox's booth
"The document company" re-created the Greek theater motif from its TV ads, complete with columns, statues, and that huge sculpted head lying on its side. And that toga-clad guy from Seinfeld (actor John O'Hurley) is slated to appear at Xerox CEO Richard Thoman's keynote address today.

Want To Win?
Use Your Head Reaching new lows in the "people will do anything for a freebie" department, dozens of show-goers are walking the floor with Agfa boxes on their heads. That's just for the chance to win a free scanner and digital camera. The company's slogan on the side of the box: "Your Agfa scanner becomes part of you." Wait, it gets worse. One young engineering-minded type attached boxes together so he could wear three at one time. Muttered one show-goer from Britain as a couple of boxheads walked by: "I just hope they're not English."

A Technology Home Run
Baseball superstar Barry Bonds' favorite product at Comdex is Sony's device that embeds a digital camera inside a small notebook computer. Barry's no tech neophyte; he's at the show plugging Digital Interiors, a fast-growing home networking company that he co-founded. "I was impressed," the San Francisco Giant slugger said of the Sony device, "but I couldn't get one. I should have gone to Japan." Bonds had to skip the U.S. all-stars' current Japanese tour because of recent off-season knee surgery.

Swinging Microsoft
After Microsoft launched SQL Server 7, it did what any self-respecting software giant would do if it had just pushed one of the most anticipated enterprise software products out the door: It partied. Of course, when Microsoft parties it tends to bring along half the industry. The company sent hundreds of partners and press to Cirque du Soleil's new show, O, at roughly $100 a pop, then hosted about 3,000 people at the Bellagio Hotel. It hired hot swing band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy to keep people dancing, and dance they did. When Microsoft was planning the party, someone originally suggested hiring Jackson Browne, an idea that was quickly shot down. "We thought he might have been a downer," an executive said. Besides, who knows what the politically active Browne would have sung for a multibillion-dollar software company that owns a big chunk of the operating-system market?

No Avoiding Tech At Comdex
It's no surprise that Comdex has a supersaturation of tech-savvy visitors, but the tech knowledge goes beyond the people paying to get in. Two orange-vested employees manning the Hilton parking lot entrance were engrossed in conversation about microprocessors. "I hear the new Pentium IIs are really smoking," said one. "Yeah, but you should check out the Xeons," the other replied. "They're like Pentium IIs with this high-performance twist." Many a Comdex attendee would have been hard-pressed to make that distinction.

**************************************************** Quotes Of Note:

"You [Comdex attendees in Las Vegas] are this town's worst nightmare--people who don't like girls and understand math."
--Comedian Bill Maher, hosting "Technically Incorrect," a Comdex keynote panel featuring Intel president and CEO Craig Barrett

"My job is to point out obvious violations of common sense."
--US West CIO David Laube at the IT Executive Symposium at Comdex

"You never want to confuse brains with a bull market."
--Charlie Finnie, managing director of Volpe Brown Whelan & Co.

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