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Last week, Geoff and I went on a road trip last week to Vancouver for the Comdex/PacRim conference. Frankly, the trip was more an excuse to go to Vancouver (a three hour drive) with our friend Cary Lu and a friend of his, David Coder. Nevertheless, the show proved interesting in a few ways that I thought I’d share. The PC industry is tremendously fragmented. As much as I may complain that the Macintosh industry has become rife with niche markets and products only a professional could love, the PC market is an order of magnitude more complex. That’s appropriate, I suppose.

Probably the most interesting work being done in the PC hardware world is with laptops, with everyone and their corporate brother showing PC laptops with interesting and unique features. Despite the number of different PC laptops we looked at, none (in our eyes) beat the PowerBooks. Pointing devices in PC laptops still universally stink, and even an Epson laptop that used a trackpad was brought down by abysmal buttons and the fact that it wouldn’t work with just your fingertip: you had to lay your entire first finger joint on the pad for it to recognize your presence. I’m not too fond of the little joystick device IBM uses for its ThinkPads (and I far prefer Apple’s palmrest design for the keyboard), but otherwise, the ThinkPads were extremely nicely designed.

Every show has an undercurrent, and to give you an idea of the flavor of this one, the whispers we overheard dealt not with a cool new product or service, but with the fact that Robin Williams (the actor – you know, Mork), was present on the floor, just walking around like a normal person. Geoff was taken with a Dixieland trio playing at the Digital booth (we considered asking them for an evaluation copy of a DEC Alpha). After seeing PCMCIA cards for every function you could imagine, I decided the ultimate absurd peripheral would be a PCMCIA-based UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply), perhaps autographed by both Robin Williams the actor and Robin Williams the author.

Comdex/PacRim was definitely a Windows show. We were accosted by a nice woman at the Claris booth who wanted to give us entries for winning a copy of FileMaker Pro if we watched the demo, at which point we asked, "Mac or Windows version?" She was taken aback and said, "This is a Windows show," a bit huffily, to which we replied, "Yeah, so?" Despite the Windows emphasis, Apple’s booth was heavily trafficked, and judging by the informal surveys of the audience during demos, plenty of Mac users were present. Apple had a specific station dedicated to Macintosh Internet usage, and the Apple Canada guy there definitely knew his stuff.

Internet wannabes were out in full force, as they were at Macworld, and we decided that if a product has anything to do with networking, the word "Internet" will appear in its description. Similarly, if a piece of software isn’t entirely text-based, "multimedia" appears as if by magic in the description, and any game or program using animated graphics is now described as using "virtual reality." Now, I suppose, we only have to wait until some product’s description wins the gold ring by incorporating all three buzzwords. Right now, the closest product I can think of in those terms is Outland’s Internet-based game network, which has plenty of non-text games for the "multimedia" tag, but doesn’t quite yet have the level of animated graphics necessary to claim "virtual reality." Besides, the Outland folks are good Internet citizens and wouldn’t stoop to such tactics.

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