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Eye Catching Products
Report from COMDEX

The annual COMDEX fall trade show held in Las Vegas is somewhat akin to a state fair: one part meeting place for the industry elite, one part showcase for upcoming technological innovations and one part squandermania. The squandermania part is attributed to the handing out of thousands of give-aways to those wandering down the vast aisles of the gigantic halls of the Las Vegas and Sands convention centers — the vendors without a clue whether the giveaway might lead to the sale of their product or make an impression on the aisle walker.

Behind the glitz, there were some interesting trends that are already showing up in the corporate world. These trends were easily detected by watching the young IT men and women who were staffing the booths and the business tools they were using at the show: mobile phones, handheld PCS and the latest generation of two-way pagers. Even Microsoft is recognizing a mobile trend with its Tablet PC which was unveiled at COMDEX (read more about the Tablet PC below).

An underlying theme at the show appeared to be: you can never be too rich, too thin, or have too much bandwidth. Furthermore, the future of broadband may also fit another old aphorism: with a newly purchased hammer, everything looks like a nail! Let me put broadband in perspective. How many readers of this magazine have clicked out of a Website for slowness in the past 24 hours? Internet users are not a patient group. It’s like watching a blank TV channel for 15 seconds while channel surfing. Bandwidth is the answer.

An interesting trend will be ASPs (Application Service Providers) using technology from companies such as BmyPC or Viair to integrate tablet devices. Soon, people will have the ability to manipulate and manage files from various devices, regardless of whether that application resides on a Windows PC or a handheld running PalmOS. Eventually all this will get to the point where you will not need to carry anything larger than a wallet-size device that can be used to manipulate any and all data — regardless of its location. Well, these are the industry’s expectations down the road. For new products that are here or will be here early in 2001, keep reading.

Tablet PC
Bill Gates, the man himself, demonstrated Microsoft’s newest development, albeit a prototype, a one-inch thick Tablet PC. The unit, which looks like a fat legal pad, uses an ink-like technology that basically combines a notepad with a word processor. Users can search and manipulate, cut, paste and reformat text as if it were data. Gates wrote on the tablet in cursive, the text was immediately reformatted, words seeming to flow onto the LCD screen as quickly as they were written, creating bold or italic paragraphs and even added space between paragraphs. Another demonstrated feature of the Tablet PC was called Direct Manipulation. The user points to an element, moves it across files and then passes it off to other devices such as a whiteboard display. Gates envisions the tablet as a fully functioning PC with a 500 MHZ processor, 128MB or RAM, several GB of storage with an 8.5X11 inch screen that will include Microsoft’s e-book file technology. Microsoft is developing the operating system but will not put its name on the hardware product. When comparing the Tablet with the Pocket PC, spokesmen say it will not be a reference platform like Windows CE but rather the Tablet will be a full version of Windows. The Tablet PC is not expected to be built in volume until the end of 2001.

Gates promotes .NET
.NET (dotNET) is Microsoft’s vision for the next generation of the Internet, comparing today’s Internet as mirroring the old mainframe model with the browser as the “dumb terminal.” It’s easy to browse information but difficult to edit or manipulate it, claims Microsoft. The company says .NET, based upon XML standards, will help create a collaborative and interactive environment. For instance, .NET would not only allow you to view the schedule of your favorite basketball team but also to interact with that schedule. As an example, you could easily take the data from the Spur’s Web site and overlay it onto your own personal calendar to determine which home games you would be able to attend. Next, you could purchase tickets automatically and have them sent to you. In a nutshell, Microsoft says .NET enables the world of PC applications and devices, and the world of Web sites — which today are separate entities — to collaborate seamlessly. In an interview, Bill Gates said that by utilizing .NET, he expects the majority of Microsoft’s applications to evolve into subscription services over time. Is this a clue that Microsoft intends to become an Application Service Provider?

Sony flat panel monitor
Sony Flat MonitorAt the Sony booth, I spied a new 18" Multiscan LCD flat panel monitor that is to lust for. The N80 monitor  will hit the retail market in February with a SRP of $2,499, still a bit pricey for my budget but I can wish can’t I?  Measuring one inch thick at the edge, this is the first Sony LCD display to include both DV1-1 and VGA inputs. Resolution of 1280X1024 at 85Hz is supported. Stereo speakers are designed into the front bezel and a two port USB hub is built in the base for fast connection of peripheral equipment.  I encountered a new term looking at this monitor: Gigabit Video Interface (GVIF) reduces desktop clutter by using only one cable to carry audio, video and power between the display panel and the PC. 

Robot dog
Robot dogs are the hit toy this holiday season but the star of all robot dogs has to be the $1,500 robot dog on display at the Sony booth. The AIBO Entertainment Robot is able to recognize up to 50 spoken words. The dog’s full range of features includes multi-colored LED lamps on the robots face and tail to simulate a variety of “emotions” Robot Dogthrough independent blinking; touch senors on its chin and back with the sensor on the head allowing varying degrees of response to human contact. The thing that makes this robot dog different from the $39 model seen in most toy stores is the Sony model is fully autonomous, making independent decisions about its own actions and behavior. The AIBO “grows up” by interacting with its environment, communicating with people and learning its owner’s behavioral preferences. Say the words “Take a photo”, the dog takes a snapshot of whatever is in its range of vision. You can then view the photograph on a home PC by using special AIBO Fun Pack software. Furthermore, commands can be sent to the robot dog wirelessly from your PC. What won’t they think of next?

I want one of these
eMarker solves a problem we've all had while listening to the radio. Do you remember the last time you heard a great song on the radio but you couldn't figure out what the song was? Or have you ever gone to a record store to buy CDs and walked out empty-handed because you couldn't find the song you were looking for? eMarker is a new service that makes your radio answer to you. The device is a key-chain size device that, whenever you hear a song on the radio that you like, you push the button on your eMarker. Then, when you plug your eMarker into your PC, the eMarker.com website tells you what song you were listening to. You will never again have to root through your pocket for a scrap of paper just to write down a song title. You'll never have to guess at a song title or artist. And, best of all, you'll never be embarrassed by trying to sing a few bars of your new favorite song to the guy at the music store in hopes that he knows the name of the album you're looking for. You can listen to a preview of the song, find out more about the artist, or even buy the album directly from an online music retailer. Finding your music was never this easy! You can log onto www.eMarker.com to check out the specs. Priced at $19.99, eMarker is available at the Amazon Electronic Store and will also be available through www.SonyStyle.com.

Take a jukebox on the road
At the Creative Technology booth, I checked out the NOMAD Jukebox, a hand-held portable music player. Using your PC, you rip songs from your favorite CDs, download music over the Internet — and store it all on this device. Its 6GB of storage will hold up to 150 CDs of digital MP3 music! Minimum system requirements: Win98/2000, 200MHz or higher Pentium II or better, Internet connection to download, 64MB RAM, USB port, 12MB free HD space (more required for MP3 file storage), CD-ROM drive with digital audio extraction support. 
Go to: www.nomadworld.com.

Another multi-function digital jukebox caught my eye at CMC Magnetics booth. The Cyberboy CB-200 is an audio recorder and jukebox which can hold up to 240 hours of MP3 music on its 20GB hard drive. The internal CD drive in the CB-200 allows CD music to be recorded directly to the internal HD. You can also convert CD songs to MP3 format. The CD-ROM drive in the CB-200 can read CD-R and CD-RW disks which makes playing various CDs much simpler, whether you’re playing them in your living room or in your car. Managing a massive music collection becomes easier with the tree/folder menu system allowing you to categorize selections by artist, musical style or any other system you choose. Track names can be edited for easy recognition and the menu is very visible in the backlit LCD display. The CMC Magnetics says the CB-200 will be available by May, 2001 at a SRP of $499. 

Running out of CD storage?
Dacal Technology introduced a nifty CD storage device: the CD-101 CD Library which combines software and hardware to store, search for and retrieve up to 150 CDs utilizing a USB connection with your PC. Software and a database locker are included. The rounded exterior unit can also be used as a stand-alone storage device without a link to a PC. I couldn’t determine a price for the DC-101 but if you’re interested.

Portable MP3 players
These devices have matured — and have been miniaturized even more, based upon the many vendors displaying their MP3 player models at COMDEX. I spent some time looking for the Rio display, one of the more pricier MP3 players on the market, but was unable to locate the company’s booth.

Linux show of strength
Linux — the open source, multitasking, UNIX-like operating system — has emerged as a focal point of the technology industry. Linux is now being used for a wide variety of purposes including networking, software development, and as an end-user platform. A separate area of one of the COMDEX exhibit halls was reserved for Linux vendors and partners to display an increasing array of Linux-based products. Caldera Systems had an impressive Linux Learning Center to teach Linux commands and how to incorporate new graphical user interfaces plus show some new business applications. In this interactive education area, Caldera offers free introductory training sessions that helped the visitor learn to install, configure and manage Linux-based solutions. They also demo’d Samba to integrate Linux and Windows.

The Embedded Solutions Hot Spot focused on the use of Linux in devices that automate people's lives. While Linux vendors claim the O/S is an excellent alternative solution for desktops and servers, it also can be made small enough to be used in devices such as cell phones and PDAs, gaming consoles and car information systems, thermostats and alarm systems. Linux spokesmen claim the Embedded market has quickly become a focal point within the Linux space. There was a complete line of products, tools, hardware and software displayed to help developers and businesses create solutions to their embedded needs.

New video camera
Orange Micro introduced its iBOT FireWire desktop video camera which offers the advantage of the 400Mbps bandwidth inherent in IEEE 1394 FireWire. That makes this camera 16 times better than other USB video cameras. Because USB is capable of transferring data at only 12Mbps, they are limited to 640X480 resolution and 30 fps — but never both simultaneously. Usually, 640X480 is limited to 7fps and 176X144 resolution (postage stamp size) at 30fps. FireWire based cameras such as the iBOT have access to three times the bandwidth available to USB cameras. Video input of 640X480 and simultaneous 30fps becomes standard. Orange Micro says typical applications for the iBOT are video conferencing, surveillance/home security, video chat rooms (I didn’t know there was such a thing!) and affordable movie making. The SRP of the iBOT is $119 for PC users already having a microphone. A Pro version will sell for $149 complete with a microphone and additional software. 

Wireless earpiece
Sybersay EarpieceA company named SyberSay showed off an ear piece that makes use of wireless technology and voice reduction algorithms to control various personal devices. Eventually these capabilities will be provided in cars so that drivers can interact with the Web without having to worry about whether a passing truck will block out what they are saying (or hearing). And, for the fashion conscious, they will be available in colors by mid-2001. 

Bluetooth arrives
I’ve been reading about the term Bluetooth for awhile and finally found out what it is/does at COMDEX. Bluetooth is a short-range wireless technology standard developed by Ericsson, the Swedish cell phone company, that will allow users to connect peripherals. Visualize a short range radio on a chip that can transmit voice and data.  For example, if you had both a Bluetooth-enabled handheld PC and a cell phone, you could use the cell phone as a wireless connection to send files from your handheld PC. In other words, Bluetooth almost gives us an all-purpose device that you can take and use everywhere. Bluetooth was originally conceived as a way to eliminate cables connecting a phone with a headset or other device. The name is from an ancient king who united Scandinavia — for awhile.

It operates at up to 720K bit/sec at a typical distance of up to 30 feet. One variation can reach about 100 feet. Unlike infrared links, you don’t have to line up Bluetooth ports and you don’t need an unobstructed space between them.

Applications? They are just beginning to evolve. For example, at home, your phone functions as a portable phone (fixed line charge). When you're on the move, it functions as a mobile phone (cellular charge). And when your phone comes within range of another mobile phone with built-in Bluetooth wireless technology it can function as a walkie talkie (no telephony charge).

Motorola is reported to be working with automakers to build Bluetooth into a new generation of cars. When you get into the car, your PDA will transfer an updated contact file to your cell phone. Using voice commands, you can select a name, dial it and talk, keeping both hands on the steering wheel. At least, that’s the idea anyway. 

Sneak peek at WordPerfect 10
Corel opened the curtain for invited editors to get a peek at WordPerfect Office 2002 which is expected to be released sometime later this year. The upcoming release will include four tightly integrated core applications: the user-loyal word processor, WordPerfect10 (yes, reveal codes is still there!); the powerful spreadsheet program, Quattro Pro 10; the slide show program Corel Presentations 10; and the personal information manager (actually a mini-suite of applications) CorelCENTRAL 10.

WordPerfect users will finally be able to use multiple undo/redoes. There is an enhanced merge feature. There is also a Tables-to-Text and Text -to-Tables feature. Corel has now partnered with Oxford University Press to provide WordPerfect users with fast access to one of the world’s best known references. Users  will be able to search more than thirty thousand words that come with the Pocket Oxford Dictionary — with the possibility of accessing over seventy thousand words in the Concise Oxford Dictionary. Presentations 10 users will now be able to embed fonts into slide shows and add MP3 sounds or animated GIF images to slide shows for publishing on the Web. New utilities such as Corel Application Recovery Manager and the Location Manager have been included to ensure applications can be opened even if files have been damaged. A company spokesman said  “As a result of customer feedback and from the work we’ve done to date, we believe that this will be the best upgrade to the applications since the release of WordPerfect 5.1.”  Corel says this latest version will allow current WordPerfect users to remain technologically current and compatible. WordPerfect 10 will be available in the first half of 2001. Several versions of the suite will be announced in the months to come.

Capture, edit video
Dazzle Multimedia introduced DV-Editor SE (for desktop) and DV-Editor (for notebook PCs) to its product line of video editing and publishing solutions. Priced at $69 to $99 for novice users, the products include everything desktop and laptop users need to capture video from a DV camcorder, edit it, add subtitles/transitions, record it and share completed TV-quality videos at home or on the road. The DV-Editor and Dazzle MultimediaDV-Editor SE includes a IEEE 1394/FireWire connectivity card enabling highspeed transfers of video captured by a DV camcorder directly to your PC. Also included in the package is customized Ulead VideoStudio 4.0SE video editing software for editing fruitions including special effects, scrolling titles, and transitions. Compression technology offers the choice of converting your video to MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 format to conserve valuable storage capacity. You can then send your edited video back to the DV camcorder, burn a CD-R disc, add to a PowerPoint presentation, stream to a Web site or e-mail to a friend. For more information, call 510/360-2300 or visit the company’s Website.

Photo enhancement studio
Nuwave introduced PicturePrep Deluxe 2000, photo enhancement software allowing one-touch digital enhancement to improve texture and contrast in digital photos and videos — while at the same time, reducing graininess up to 70%. With an SRP of only $29.95, PicturePrep allows you to acquire photos from your digital camera, view thumbnails, adjust shows and highlights, remove red-eye and other photo enhancement techniques. With your purchase of PicturePrep, you get membership in PicturePrepClub.com wherein you can mass upload and store your digital photos for family and friends to view. 

E-mail at 30,000 feet
At Connexion’s booth, I got a birds-eye view of how an airline passenger will soon send and receive e-mail without having to unbuckle your seatbelt. There was a mock-up of a Boeing cabin seat that the booth visitor viewed through a cabin window from outside the plane. There was a live booth worker sitting in the seat typing on a laptop. For those bored with the in-flight movie, this is the solution. 

Home networking
SimpleDevices, one of over 40 companies showing networking technologies to link up homes and small business, announced three new wireless Internet appliances, the SimplePad, the Simple Fi and the SimpleClock.. Their angle is to deliver Web content in wireless mode to devices within a 150-foot radius.

At other booths, power line, phone line networking and wireless Ethernet, all the way to Home RF (Radio Frequency). Home networking is here now, big time.

Cost effective video capture
Stream Machine introduced USB-TV. a video capture kit which allows viewing, editing and time-shifting on PC, all at a very affordable cost. USB-TV includes a TV tuner allowing the ability to view TV in a window on a PC monitor and to record TV programming at near-DVD-quality levels on the PCS hard drive. The Stream Machine single-chip SM2210 MPEG-2 video codec used on the USB-TV enables near DVD-quality recording at just 2Mbps allowing more hours of programming can be compressed and  recorded on a hard drive. Currently, a PC requires two Gigabytes of disk storage per hour of recording while Stream Machines MPEG-2 encoding technology requires less than one Gigabyte. Stream Machine develops and produces semiconductor chips which are sold to manufacturers for use in consumer products.

PC cheat sheets
I’ve seen this vendor at COMDEX before but never reported about them. Our loss.  BarCharts introduced 29 totally new Quick Study guides at fall COMDEX. Visualize a one page, four color, plastic laminated sheet, front and back, full of steps, tips and screen captures of that new software program with which you’re having trouble getting up to speed. I call them “cheat sheets” — to have near your PC when you are trying to figure out certain steps in a new software program. Trying to figure out how to do layers in Photoshop? QuickStudy can help. Trying to figure out how to use all the tools in CorelDRAW 9? Try a CorelDRAW QuickStudy. Visual Basic have you stumped? Are you puzzled about Windows 2000 or ME?  QuickBooks have you over a barrel? BarCharts offers over 100 different software titles in their series of QuickStudy help guides. Priced an affordable average cost of $3.95 per Quick Study guide (some guides, labeled Tutorials,  are three-panel presentations that go for $5.95 each). Questions? Call Dan Taylor at 800/226-7799 or e-mail him at: [dtaylor@barcharts.com]. If you want to see the entire list of Quick Study guides, go to <www.barcharts.com>, click on Browse Our Chart titles, to Quick Study Computer and look for the software title you need..

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