COMDEX 98
Product Introductions
 
by Clarke Bird

COMDEX - Technology's Main EventAccording to COMDEX show officials, there were about 10,000 new product introductions this year at this gigantic trade show held in two huge convention halls — connected by shuttle buses. It's not an easy trade show to cover, due primarily to its shear size and crowded aisles. However, this reporter attempted to search out new products that I thought would interest PC Alamode readers and request a review copy, if available, for Product Review Coordinator, Larry Grosskopf. Here is what I found:
 
 

Microsoft Office 2000

I was impressed how thoroughly the Internet is integrated into all of Microsoft Office 2000 suite applications. With Office 2000, you can publish to the Internet with a single mouse click, save any document as an HTML file, and open Web pages inside your e-mail.
 
 

New features

Printing over the Web. According to Microsoft, this could be the end of the fax machine. Instead of giving out a fax number, you can share out your printer's Web address and have people send documents directly to your printer. 

They say you can publish documents to the Web with one mouse click as all Office 2000 applications make publishing documents to a Web server as easy as saving a file to a hard drive. You can open, browse and save files as you normally would, and then simply click the Web folder to publish to the Web server. 

You can also save to an HTML file from any format. Any Office 2000 document can be saved as an HTML file, enabling anyone with a Web browser to view it. Office 2000 makes sure the original file format isn't lost in the conversion. 

With the "Round Trip" feature you can edit in and out of HTML. If you're viewing a document in HTML format, you can still edit the document in its original format by clicking the Edit button on the toolbar. The document is converted back to its original format — Microsoft Word 2000, Microsoft Excel 2000 or one of the other Office tools — and can then be edited in its original format with all the corresponding tools. 

Neat feature: self-repairing applications let your computer fix itself. If an essential application file is corrupted or inadvertently deleted, Office 2000 will find and reinstall the program automatically. If the program was installed via a shared installation from the server, Office will retrieve the missing file from that server. If the program was originally installed via a CD, it will prompt the user to reinstall the CD.
 
 

Office 2000 Suites

Office 2000 is available in five different suites, each of which includes Microsoft Word, Excel, and Outlook. The suites follow a pyramid design, so you can upgrade easily to the next suite without giving up any applications. 

The Suites Include: 

  • Word 2000 
  • Excel 2000 
  • PowerPoint 2000 
  • Outlook 2000 
  • Publisher 2000 
  • Access 2000 
  • FrontPage 2000 
  • PhotoDraw 2000 
  • Office 2000 Standard 
  • Office 2000 Small Business 
  • Office 2000 
  • Professional 
  • Office 2000 Premium 
  • Office 2000 Developer (offers more than a dozen features for developers)

    Word 2000

    According to Microsoft spokesmen, Word 2000 lets you create your own personal stationary via e-mail with customized font settings, backgrounds and themes. You can also create personalized graphics to use as bullets. And you can turn off features that aren't compatible with older versions of Word.
     
     

    Excel 2000

    Excel 2000 makes cutting and pasting information into tables much easier. In fact, you can drag and drop tables published on the Internet directly into Excel. Excel 2000 also has many Word features, such as AutoFill, which will finish typing commonly used words once you begin typing them.
     
     

    PowerPoint 2000

    PowerPoint 2000 enables you to publish your work on the Internet with a mouse click in the same way Word 2000 and Excel 2000 do. And you can incorporate theme graphics in your presentations so they have the same look as your Web site and your e-mail, for example.
     
     

    Outlook 2000

    Outlook 2000 lets you open Web pages inside an e-mail message. Rather than having to click on a "hot" address or icon and launch your browser, it's all right there inside your e-mail. In the Outlook 2000 toolbar, you can post links to favorite Web pages, documents or applications. And with the new Internet Group Scheduling feature, you can schedule meetings over the Internet.
     
     

    Publisher 2000

    Publisher 2000 is tightly integrated with other Office features, so the feel will be very familiar. Shortcuts and toolbars are identical to those in other Office components, and typing and text editing mirrors Microsoft Word. If you're interested in mail merge, you'll be using the familiar Microsoft Outlook contact list. And if you've used Publisher before, you'll notice that improved zooming, scrolling and page navigation make it easier to maneuver through documents.
     
     

    Access 2000

    Access 2000 natively integrates with Microsoft SQL™ Server, Microsoft's relational database management system. You can take advantage of the easy-to-use Microsoft Access interface to create a database with the scalability of SQL Server.
     
     

    PhotoDraw 2000

    New to the MS Office suite, PhotoDraw 2000 combines photo editing and illustration in a single program to eliminate the need for multiple graphics programs. It has a complete set of graphic editing tools, more than 300 professionally designed business templates and 20,000 high-quality photos and backgrounds, as well as the complete Microsoft Clip Gallery. 

    FrontPage 2000

    FrontPage 2000 lets you use Web collaboration and information-sharing features. New themes-more than 60 have been added-offer professionally designed Web sites that can be customized and modified. FrontPage 2000 is also tightly integrated with Office 2000, offering views and editing features common to other Office applications. FrontPage 2000 also makes it easier to import files to HTML from other applications while preserving the original formatting-everything from capitalization to existing white space.
     
     

Corel WordPerfect Office 2000

Corel Corporation unveiled a world preview of the beta version of its latest office suite to be called WordPerfect Office 2000. The program will include four integrated core applications. WordPerfect 9, Quattro Pro 9 spreadsheet, Corel Presentations 9, plus CorelCENTRAL 9 personal information manager. Corel plans to announce several versions of the suite in the months to come. Certain versions will contain a variety of the following complementary applications: Paradox 9 relational database, Corel Print Office small business publishing solution, Dragon NaturallySpeaking Personal Edition version 3.x voice recognition technology, Trellix 2.x Web authoring and presentation tool (see review on page XX) and a powerful server-based Internet publishing tool, code-named NetDocs.

 Scheduled to begin shipping in the second quarter 1999, WordPerfect Office 2000 with Dragon NaturallySpeaking and Trellix, and cross-application compatibility with Microsoft VBA, the latest version will allow current and future WordPerfect users to enjoy their familiar environment while remaining technologically current and compatible, according to company officials.

 Dr. Michael Cowpland, president and chief executive officer of Corel Corporation, made the WordPerfect Office 2000 announcement in a special presentation to the Association of PC User Groups. "Since acquiring WordPerfect in 1996 we have redefined the power and scope of the word processor and transformed it into a universal communications tool. The addition of Trellix and Dragon NaturallySpeaking continue to strengthen our already powerful suite."

 The state-of-the-art Trellix 2.x Web-authoring and presentation application will provide users with the ability to easily import, create, maintain and update multi-page, linked Web documents intended for the corporate intranet or personal Web site. With the addition of WordPerfect import features and custom document templates, Trellix provides a wide variety of users, from home office to large corporations, with the tools they need to create their own intranet or Web site without knowing HTML coding or graphic design.

 According to Corel, the cost and complexity of relying on WebMasters or HTML specialists to maintain and update content for intranets and Web sites has become a real problem for companies of all sizes. With the inclusion of Trellix 2.x in WordPerfect Office 2000, everyday users can easily create new content and convert legacy documents for publishing to the Web, thereby greatly reducing the current WebMaster bottleneck. Dragon NaturallySpeaking 3.x lets users dictate directly into WordPerfect 9 at a rate of up to 160 words per minute. The inclusion of Dragon NaturallySpeaking, the first, and most popular, continuous speech recognition technology, greatly enhances the way users interact and communicate with their word processor (look for a review of this product in the July PC Alamode).

 Exciting server-side Web publishing technology, code-named NetDocs, will be available in some versions of WordPerfect Office 2000. NetDocs allows companies running multiple programs on multiple platforms to publish documents to the Web through a central server. Once established, NetDocs can be automated to update documents at any pre-programed time. Documents will be published as HTML, Corel Barista or Adobe PDF files allowing them to be viewed by a standard Web browser.

 Corel claims to offer customers greater compatibility features in WordPerfect Office 2000. The inclusion of Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), will make it easier than ever for developers to build their own customized business solutions to meet their corporate needs.
 
 

The finesse of flat

The largest crowds seemed to hover around the displays featuring flat panel displays. Doesn't anyone refer to them as monitors anymore? ViewSonic, Scepture Technologies, Princeton, Mitsubishi Electric, Computer Dynamics, Sampro Technology, Panasonic and Artmedia were some of the manufacturers featuring these crisp, high resolution digital monitors. 1024X768 resolution in a panel no more than 10 inches of depth and consuming less power than CRTs was very impressive to me. Of course, the cost for the largest of the flat panel displays equals the GNP of some third world countries but reportedly the price for some 14" panels has now dropped below $1,000.
 
 

Maxell SuperDisk

This could be the storage solution for the average home PC user. The SuperDisk drive comes as an internal drive (replacing your old floppy drive) or it can be added as an external drive and is totally read-and-write compatible with the floppies you're already using. Each SuperDisk diskette will store up to 120MB of data or 83 times the capacity of a 1.44 floppy disk. Maxell claims the SuperDisk is perfect for storing large files, data transfer, and multimedia presentations.
 
 

Sony introductions

A very impressive demo of Sony's new VAIO micro notebook has an integrated video camera in the lid. What can you do with this? Pop up the top and with the right connection, you can video conference. Or, you can use the camera to shoot and store still images. It had been on the market for five weeks (as of last November 15th) and will reach the U.S. sometime this year.

 Sony also had a large display of devices using their so-called "Memory Stick" flash ROM form factor. Smaller than a stick of chewing gum, these Memory Sticks can be used to capture digital photos, sound or data. Then the stick can be inserted in a PC, cell phone, headset — whatever — to play back. Reportedly Fujitsu, Sharp, Olympus and Aiwa are supporting this new storage medium.
 
 

DVD

Digital versatile disk technology is ideal for running high-quality video but, in my view, the ability to add high-capacity storage environment to your system will be a real plus. Rewritable DVDs with multigigabyte capacities are on the near horizon. DVD-ROM drives are creeping up in speed and down in price according to those I talked to. The only bottleneck appears to be a standards war, yet to be settled, among rewritable DVD drive manufacturers with four formats competing against one another. Rewritable DVDs also face steep competition from recordable CD drives which are starting to proliferate.
 
 

PC microphone headsets

With the proliferation of speech recognition software entering the market, numerous manufacturers were displaying microphone headsets for communicating to your PC. In fact, I was amazed at the number of models/configurations on display at each vendors booth. To meet the demands of speech recognition applications, all these units feature noise canceling technology to deliver clear, articulate speech input in noisy environments. Most units featured head-mounted microphones to position the mike in near proximity to the user's mouth to ensure the consistent input signal required for accurate speech recognition. These devices appear to be ultra-light weight for comfortable use for long periods of time. For practical use, I recommend a unit with an on/off switch located about hip level when sitting — which will allow you to quickly turn off the mike when answering the phone or other interruptions when dictating. Emkay demonstrated a neat RF wireless headset which allows the user to move around the office up to 25 feet away from your PC. 

OmniPage Pro 9.0

Caere's newest version of OmniPage Pro claims overall improved OCR accuracy (99 percent character accuracy on good quality original documents). New with version 9.0 is support for color documents, the ability to identify and maintain tables and save as tables in WordPerfect and MS Word documents, improved recognition of spreadsheets and enhanced format preservation.
 
 

Voice recognition software

A second major trend at this years COMDEX in addition to flat panel monitors was speech recognition software. Major displays with live performances demonstrating the products were software vendors Lernout & Hauspie, SoHo talk, Conversational Computing and Dragon Systems. No longer dictating. . .at. . .a. . .measured. . .pace. . .to. . .be. . .understood, today's voice recognition software allows the user to speak in a normal speech pattern. These products will require a lot of PC horsepower. Minimum requirements appear to be a Pentium 166MHz class chip with MMX. But the payoff is impressive.

 Say-Do, a product of SoHo Talk, was introduced at the show. Claiming it's aimed at the down-sized office or office person with no clerical help, Say-Do is built around an integrated scheduler, information manager and project manager. A demo showed it responding to queries like, "Find the fax number of Les Burkett." It would then speak the answer. Another query was, "What is the first name of Callan at Pacific Science and Engineering?" Such command processing, says SoHo Talk, pushes the hardware requirements to 300MHz or better. Look for reviews of several voice recognition programs in an upcoming PC Alamode.
 
 

Videos saved on CDS

Adaptec introduced VideOh!, a video-capture package that inexpensively edits home moves and videos and saves them onto CDS. Costing less than $300, the package is bundled with all required cables and software, including Easy CD Creator Deluxe. With the package, users need only an appropriately configured PC and a CD-R drive. A palm-sized device snaps onto a PC's parallel port, compressing incoming video from a camcorder, TV or VCR and converting it into high-resolution TV-quality MPEG 1 video. Users can then add titles, glue clips together and send video e-mail and create multimedia postcards. Easy CD Creator Deluxe puts the file on a CD.
 
 

PhotoRecall Deluxe

G&A Imaging introduced PhotoRecall Deluxe 2.0 which lets users build a complete image library that is easily managed in a sophisticated database. Suggested users are realtors, medical personnel, marketing personnel and most anyone with a large inventory of photos that need to be categorized and retrieved quickly. Version 2.0 is reported to have over 50 new features including a new dynamic interface with improved organizational capabilities and additional album styles, addition of sound files, custom printing, six user-definable data fields and a web publishing utility. Look for a review in a future issue of PC Alamode.
 
 

Video publisher

MGI Software announced VideoWave II, the latest version of its video publishing software. This software allows the user to capture, edit, and produce videos on a PC. The software has an intuitive interface and a story line approach to production. The product is designed for home and business and output can be sent to PCS, the Internet, or to tape.
 
 

Internet telephon

y Talk to family/friends over the Internet? No more long distance phone bills? We may see resistance to this looming technology by the ever-proliferating long distance companies — but I did speak to someone in San Francisco over the Internet using the Internet LineJACK at Quicknet Technologies booth. I was asked who I wanted to call and the only phone number I could remember was my own home phone but I knew that my wife was away that day. Instead the Quicknet representative dialed, using a regular phone, his company headquarters in San Francisco and I talked (using a regular phone handset) to a bored tech service man who had obviously been assigned to take calls, on his regular desk phone, for the demonstration. The sound was clear with no echo or sentence clipping as in the past. How it works: a Quicknet Technologies Internet LineJACK is a one-half size, single slot Plug & Play ISA card that is installed in your PC. According to the company representative, most software based Internet phones use a PC's sound card for conversations, Unfortunately most sound cards are not designed for two-way conversations. Users get problems like echo or half-duplex where you cannot speak and listen at the same time. I was impressed. PC Alamode will watch Internet telephony technology for a later report.
 
 

New Zip drive

Iomega announced a 250MB version of its Zip disk, increasing media capacity by 150 percent. The new drive, called the Zip 250 is designed to read and write to Zip 100MB disks — however, existing 100MB Zip drives cannot read Zip 250 disks. Targeted to be sold for $199, the units will be available in SCSI and parallel port models. USB will be available sometime this year.
 
 

RF devices

An exciting demonstration conducted by Bluetooth on how to interconnect your cellular phone and PC. Besides transferring files, the PC used a cell phone as a modem — all with no wires. An awesome demo that showed integration of these products using standard protocols.
 
 

DVD-RAM packs 5GB on dis

k Panasonic introduced its model LF-D101 DVD-RAM which offers a whopping 5.2GB of rewriteable capacity on a single digital video disc (DVD) cartridge. In addition, the unit reads CD-ROMs and plays DVD video with an optional DVD/MPEG decoder card. The drive appears as tow drives on your Windows desktop. One drive is a standard CD drive, used when standard CDS are inserted into the DVD-RAM. The second was a removable media drive, used when the drive contains a DVD. The unit has a stiff price tag of $799 although the fact that it does not write to CDS prevents it from being a "must have" tool for your desktop.
 
 

New from Polaroid

Polaroid introduced a new less-than-$300 digital camera for the consumer market. The PDC 640 is an affordable digital camera providing point and shoot simplicity and offers 640X480 resolution. Both an optical viewfinder and a LCD monitor allows users to record, playback and delete unwanted images. Bundled with PhotoMAX Image Maker software CD, the suggested retail price is $299.

 In addition, Polaroid unveiled the world's fastest consumer digital photo printer at the show, printing real photographs in only 30 seconds. This new PhotoMAX printer eliminates the need for toner, special paper and expensive inks. Using a ten-exposure Polaroid Spectra film pack and plugging the printer into the parallel port of your PC, you create an instant "digital darkroom." Bundled with PhototMAX Pro software, users can edit, enhance and manipulate photos. The SRP for the printer is $299.
 
 

Feel it!

Immersion Corp. and Logitech have teamed up to develop new force feedback products for consumer markets. In addition to gaming devices, how about a mouse that allow users to "feel" their onscreen actions? The goal for these products is to allow users to physically interact with anything the cursor touches — adding the sense of touch to all aspects of user interaction. Imagine a variety of textures, surfaces and other physical sensations on a web page (this puts a whole different dimension on visiting the Playboy web page). How about tactile button clicking, or a sense of weight associated with dragging an icon in Windows or big files feeling heavier than small files? Imagine each choice of a pull-down menu could register as a distinct physical snap to inform and assist selections.

 In adventure gaming, imagine your hand on your mouse able to feel clues hidden in the darkness. Company spokesmen claim the potential of "feel" is significant, from making e-commerce a "hands-on" experience that rivals real shopping, to making educational software more physically intuitive, to making gaming more realistic and enjoyable. Immersion's I-FORCE is the technology behind the "feel." I-FORCE works by incorporating motors and sophisticated electronics into gaming devices such as joysticks, steering wheels and flight yokes. Under command of the software, the motors push back against the user, simulating the feel of surfaces, liquids, textures, explosions and countless other sensations.
 
 

Gaming devices

A new line of gaming devices was introduced by Mustek, best known for its high-quality scanners. Two new digital joysticks, one featuring a standard 15-pin connector for a PC; the other hooks up using a USB connector. This top-of-the-line joystick features eight fire or control buttons, an eight-way "point -of-view" hat switch, a throttle control, on a sturdy base with suction-cups. A new analog joystick, a gamepad and a steering wheel rounds out this new line of gaming devices.
 
 

Clipart for a lifetime

IMSI introduced MasterClips 1,000,001 and MasterClips 500,000+at the show. Just recently Corel introduced Corel Gallery 1,000,000 clipart that comes on 14 CDS (look for a review of this product soon in PC Alamode). Now IMSI raises the one-up-man-ship clipart wars by one clipart. The difference between the two products: with MasterClips 1,000,001, you get half the images on CD and other half is accessible to you online for one year after registering the product. I think I prefer the 14 CDS.
 
 

Do it yourself montage

ArcSoft gave an impressive demonstration of its PhotoMontage software that allows you to create a "montage" of your photos from thousands of micro-images. You can use the included ArcSoft Mega Collection by itself (there are over 20,000 micro-images included on the CD) or personalize your creation by adding hundreds of your own photos to the micro-images database. Once created, the montage can be printed out on a color inkjet or laser printer. ArcSoft even has a PhotoMontage web service where you can send your image to be made into a full-sized poster. This is a neat program — look for a montage result on a future PC Alamode cover. 

Web tool

A new web-page creation tool was shown by IXLA, a producer of PC photography software. IxlaWeb Easy is a web-page creation and publishing software package for home and small business use. Families can share photos and stories over the web and small businesses can quickly create a web presence. The program features wizards for loading photos from a digital camera or a scanner directly into web page designs. Web Easy features simple editing tools to help enhance photos with special effects such as contrast control and creative picture frames. Numerous professionally-designed web page templates are included in the program for quickly designing both home and business web pages. A library of 50,000 digital images, web animations and graphics will help the user add creativity to the web page. In addition, a free-form designer allows overlap of images and text, a feature, according to the company, that otherwise requires advanced graphics management and technical web programming skills. Ixla Web will retail for about $49.

 Clarke Bird is the editor of the PC Alamode