The bad news was that attendance at Comdex in Chicago was mighty sparse. The good news was that very few techies seemed inclined to jump headfirst into Lake Michigan as all the tech news continued to pile up in bad-news waves. Despite Web-based polling and instant news via the Web, technology shows are still a good place to get a feel for what is happening in the industry. Face-to-face meetings and quick conversations in the show aisles remain types of communication that the Internet cant match.
For example, youd think David Peterschmidt, chairman of Inktomi, would be hard pressed to come up with optimistic expectations. Two days before his keynote speech, the company joined the chorus of other infrastructure providers with warnings of reduced earnings and layoffs. But Peterschmidt did a good job arguing that the continued rapid adoption of technology and the need to create new levels of software integration mean that the Internet will lead the economy out of the bad times. This time, the leader will be enterprises finally capitalizing on the Webs promises, Peterschmidt said.
And Brian Halla, president of National Semiconductor, did a good job recasting the current California energy crisis as an opportunity. Toss out those CRTs for flat panels, use some of that massive bandwidth that has been laid in the ground over the past year and connect to a data center in an energy-rich area, Halla advised.
He claimed further that if Californians took his advice, the energy saved would equal two new power plants. That is asking a lot for a capital- investment-crunched economy, but Halla showed that you can still make a compelling argument for technology investment aligned to current economic conditions.
And if you got tired of hearing one more pitch for customer relationship management software, you could walk across the Comdex hall to the doorways of the Waste Expo. This was the source for way too many jokes about waste and high technology, as in venture capital wasted, business plans headed for the recycle bins and wasted-looking execs trying to figure out where all their money went. Of course, if all those Californians took Hallas advice, perhaps instead of tossing their CRTs into the ocean, they could convert the Morbark Model 1300 track-tub grinder into a CRT shredder.
Finally, the best part of trade shows is finding the little companies that few care about but that have products that seem to be at the right place at the right time—much like Apple being tucked away in the nether regions at the early Comdex shows. My favorite in Chicago was Agenda Computings Linux-based PDA. A fully Linux PDA with a 32-bit processor and 16MB of flash memory at about two-thirds the cost of its Palm and Windows competitors, the device made me think that maybe technology can climb out of the hole it has dug.