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Millennium Edition
Report from COMDEX

“There’s no place like home”, “There’s no place like home”. That saying has never had such a meaning as it does to someone returning from a week at COMDEX. Picture the Circus, the Rodeo and the Rolling Stones, being at the same place at the same time, and you will have a pretty good visual picture of what it is like at COMDEX. Each year, COMDEX touts as being the largest convention in the US, and I have no doubt that it is true. This year’s meet brought an estimated 225,000 attendees.

However, on the brighter side, this year’s COMDEX was very profitable in both knowledge and benefits to us as a leading PC User Group. I made a great many contacts with people in a position to provide us with things that we need, including presentations and software to keep us abreast on this ever-changing industry.

On the COMDEX floor this year, a couple of new (old?) buzzwords were making the rounds. Most prominently was connectivity. Many new strides are being made in the attempt to enter this realm of the industry. Just about anything that you can imagine can be had on the Internet. From information sources to complete home shopping can be found at the touch of a keyboard. 

Dot-Com websites are being developed for all types of things. One of the hottest genres of E-Commerce sites in the industry today are ones that deal with jobs in the industry. There is a distinct shortage of people to fill positions in the areas of web commerce and database programming. The days of going door-to-door looking for a job are gone. Now, you log onto one of these sites, fill out an application, submit your resume and watch the offer come in via e-mail. Sounds easy? According to one source at www.hotjobs.com, close to 75,000 jobs were secured in just this fashion. Some sites even aid you in re-locating to the new jobsite, by putting you in touch with moving companies, travel planning agencies, realtors and financial institutions to help with your new mortgage. 

Staying with the connectivity issue, wireless networks have been making great strides this year. Although, ( my opinion ) not quite ready for mainline corporate America, they will be shortly. Based on infra-red and UHF technology, wireless networks allow you to instantly connect any number of computers together and share information and output devices. Imagine walking into your office, turning on your laptop and immediately start working, and knowing that all of the information on the laptop has been synchronized with the rest of the computers on the network and is up to date. And if this is not fast enough for you, cellular technology has matured to the point that you can actually keep your system updated wherever and whenever you want.

Another of the new buzzwords that has made it to the top of the industry is MP3. For those readers that are not familiar with MP3, it is a compression format that was originally designed and used by hackers in the Internet arena, which allowed CD music to be compressed to a size that made it economical to transfer digitally. After compression, most MP3 files are approximately one-tenth the size of the original audio file. Lately, the MP3 format has been adopted for use in legitimate enterprises including, of all people, the music industry. Although not very popular yet, you will be able to “buy” your favorite songs direct from the record company in MP3 format and have them instantly. Or, you may purchase the right to listen to a particular song only once, for a very small fee. 

MP3 audio is also being used, in conjunction with MPEG-2 ( the same as MP3 but for  video) for new types of video conferencing. Originally, video conferencing was haphazard at best due to the enormous amount of audio and video data that needed to be transmitted between the users. Now, with the new technology, the transmitted data is only about 10% of the original size. This allows a much higher quality connection between the users, not to mention a much better picture and sound quality. I expect to see the “video-phone” to be commonplace in the next couple of years.

Along the same lines, I was present at a demonstration of some of the new cell phones that are being marketed. One really caught my eye. It is called the MP3 phone. Not only does it use MP3 in the transmission of the call, it also allows reception of MP3 music files so that when your phone is not in use, it can be used as a CD player. It doesn’t sound like much now, but, I think it is the writing on the wall as to how much the Internet will become a bigger and bigger part of our everyday lives.

Remember the part about the writing on the wall? Well, here is another example. There is a huge amount of time and money being invested in the area of Internet appliances. One example that I saw was a refrigerator that was programmed to know exactly what should be kept there at all times. Whenever something was used up, the refrigerator would log onto the Internet and place an order with the local store to replenish it. The store would then dispatch a delivery service to bring the order to your door. The refrigerator kept track of everything in it by the use of very small chips that were implanted in the label of the item. In addition, it continuously ran self checks on itself to optimize the temperature inside that depended on the total amount and type of items that it contained. It would also notify a repair service if it detected any type of a problem with itself.  This is just one example of the types of things to come in the near future. 

Another item of interest that I came across was something that practically eveyone can use. Zerox Corporation ( yes, the copier people) have introduced a consumer line of inkjet and laser printers. One of these, the PD950, really caught my eye. This is a printer, scanner, and fax machine, all in one. However, it has two major differences. First, it’s fast. A full page color scan took only 18 seconds and, it made a copy of the picture on the printer almost simultaneously. Second, it is a color fax machine. When the color standard is finally decided on, this machine will do the job. And most startling was the price. The MSRP of the printer is $399 and will probably be sold at the large computer stores for $300. This is something that I invite everyone to take a look at if you are considering a new printer in the near future. I was impressed.

Probably one of the biggest advances in the industry this year has been in the area of security. This has always been a very intense subject of discussion whenever the need to implement some types of applications on the Internet. There has been a big push in corporate America, to make the Internet more secure, with tools like high level bit encryption and multi-level password checking. Very soon, we will start seeing another level of security be introduced, called bio-metrics. As the name implies, your security key will be you yourself. This may take the form of fingerprints, retinal scan, voice recognition or even brainwave recognition. We have all seen these types of security devices in movies, but soon, you may see them in your home or workplace. 

There seemed to be a much larger presence of Linix based companies this year. Linix, as we all know, is a alternative to the Microsoft Windows environment. Based on an open source technology, Linix offers application developers a more robust environment in which to develop large scale applications. And in addition, all source code to the Linix OS is freely available. This reduces the costs of application development by not having to re-invent the wheel each time a program is written. Most of the leading software development companies like Corel and Adobe, are releasing versions of their products specifically written for the Linix Operating System. In addition, since Linix is based on the original Unix operating system, it is much easier to develop Internet based applications.

OK, enough of the esoteric stuff. One piece of advice that I came back with. If you are thinking of splurging on that new flat screen monitor, don’t. You might want to wait a little while. Flat panel monitor technology is changing. There have been quite a few new developments in this industry that are making the manufacture of flat panel and plasma screen monitors more economical to produce. This should relate to a somewhat lower end user price and added functionality in the near future. This also includes the new HD (High Definition) televisions. The price on these types of things basically dropped by 50% over the last year and I expect them to continue to drop. And, as the flat screen prices drop, so do the conventional tube type monitors. I will not be surprised to see 20” monitors under the $250 range by the middle of next year. I also heard a rumor that 15” monitors will be out of production soon, and 17” will be the entry level.

While we were attending COMDEX, we all attended the events that were hosted by APCUG (the Association of PC User Groups). The APCUG is a non-profit organization that is comprised of member user groups such as Alamo PC. Each year, the APCUG makes it possible for user groups to send representatives to COMDEX by negotiating special rates with the hotel and by enlisting major industry leaders into sponsoring meals and events. This helps keep the cost to the individual user groups to a minimum.

This year, as in the past, the APCUG also organized several round tables to help the officers of the user groups learn how to better benefit their members. >From subjects such as Managing the Finances to Give the Members What They Need, these roundtable discussions are one of the best methods for user group officers to share and exchange ideas, in an attempt to make each user group as beneficial to it’s members as it can possible be. The Alamo PC has been a long time sponsor of this fine organization and will continue to be so in the future. 

All in all, I felt that this year's COMDEX was a very satisfying experience. I thoroughly enjoyed touring all of the exhibits and learning of the new trends in the industry. I was very proud to have represented the Alamo PC Organization and to have heard of our reputation from many of the industry leaders. I urge anyone who is interested in the computer industry to make at least one trip to COMDEX. You will not be disappointed.

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Alamo PC Organization, Inc.
San Antonio, TX USA