This year's COMDEX was a little different that the past events that I have
attended. Being on the Board of Advisors for APCUG and representing Alamo
PC at this event is a time consuming responsibility by itself. But, this
year I had been tasked to design and implement a user group newsletter
contest for all the publications that are produced by computer user groups
around the world. With the help of Susan Ives and Clark Bird as well as
some San Antonio publishing professionals, we designed what became the
first annual "Editors of Excellence" Awards for APCUG. So, a large part
of my time at the event was spent managing this new contest. As you have
seen elsewhere in this issue, our own "PC Alamode" won first place in all
three categories in which it was entered. Congratulations to Clarke!
Our purpose in attending the Fall COMDEX event is twofold. The Association of PC User Groups holds its annual meeting in conjunction with this event. At the meeting, various seminars are presented on user group management. Topics ranging from financial management to newsletter publishing, as well as many others, are presented. There are several presentations that are called "Birds of a Feather" where all of the attending user group officers meet with their peers and discuss common problems. Over the years, we have both gained and given much benefit at these meetings. Our group is often asked to present a seminar on some aspect of what Alamo PC is doing in a particular area.
For instance, last year John Gaddis was asked to hold a round table discussion on our educational programs, I gave one on recruiting recently and others in our organization have also contributed. COMDEX officially starts on Monday while the APCUG meetings start on the Friday before that. Over the weekend, some of the leading companies in the industry sponsor breakfast, lunch and dinner events where they present their latest technology and meet with our officers to discuss how they can better interact with our groups. Arrangements for review software and meeting presentations are confirmed at these events. We also get to meet the people that we usually deal with over the phone or through email and can put faces with the names that we know.
This year, as I have said, I spent most of my time organizing the newsletter contest. The entries had to be collected and entered into a database. Judges had to be selected and meeting times for the judging process had to be coordinated. Meetings with the various contest sponsors were held to confirm their prize donation. And finally, supervising the actual judging process and announcing the awards. Once that had been done, I was able to get to the convention facilities and begin to talk to some of the companies offering new and established technology. COMDEX was a little smaller this year – probably due to the economic decline in Asia. Quite a few of the Asian companies that are usually there in abundance opted out of this year's event.
However, as usual, each day there were one or more keynote speakers talking about the future of the industry. Such notables as Bill Gate of Microsoft, Jeff Papows of Lotus, Eckhard Pfeiffer of Compact, Graig Barrett of Intel, Rich Thoman of Xerox and several others offered their view of the future. A common theme throughout the presentations was the concept of a paperless world - one in which every common business transaction will no longer be confined to paper. Faster and faster access to the Internet will become the norm for communication – both for business and pleasure.
Jeff Papows called the Internet "the world's most over-hyped value and the most undervalued business tool." The concept of "e-commerce" got a lot of discussion. Many new tools to promote business on the Internet are beginning to appear on the market and more are certain to follow. Internet shopping and security trading are becoming very popular. Another topic of common interest was the discussion of how the Y2K problem will manifest itself as the new millennium begins. Opinions seemed to be all across the spectrum on that. Some felt that the impact would be minor while others predict dire effects. All of the companies are working on solutions for the problem.
One new technology that is beginning to get a lot of attention is the flat screen monitors that are now available. While the price of a 21 inch flat screen monitor might fall between three and four thousand dollars, there are already some available at much lower prices; and, as they become more common, the price is sure to fall to a more reasonable level. Of course, digital TV linked through your PC and displayed on a large format flat screen is a direction that home entertainment is headed.
Wireless Internet connection is also a major area of future development. Cell phones with Internet connection and email capabilities are already available. Faster connections are just around the corner. Another technology that will use this faster connection is "Wearable PC's." Having the world at your fingertips as you go about your daily routines is here now. A small PC on your belt with a wrist watch like input device and virtual reality eyepiece and a wireless connection to the Web and Intranet applications is being used in several industry applications like inventory control.
Some of the questions to ponder arise from these looks at the future and potential of technology. Will the Maytag Repairmen get an email from your dryer when it needs service? Will software rented over the Net ever be as easy to use as a rental car? Networked virtual reality will enable board meetings and chats with Grandma that look, feel and sound to the users as if they are actually in the same room.
According to Doug Barney, News Editor for "Network World", Three-Terabit/second LANs will be commercially available by 2004. Everyday devices and home appliances will become intelligent with imbedded technology. Imagine a kitchen that knows what food in currently on hand and is linked to you refrigerator and stove or microwave. It could provide menus and prepare the food and make orders from the markets to restock you pantry. Your car will be intelligent, giving you precise instructions on routes, vehicle performance and selecting entertainment and information during you trip. Every aspect of living will, in some way, be touched by this new technology.
Technology is expanding exponentially. As we approach the end of the millennium, the future looks very exciting. Some of the changes are subtle and others are major departures from the usual. Stay tuned, the best is yet to be.
Jerry Seiler is a past president of Alamo PC and curently our representative to the Association of PC User Groups (APCUG)