Comdex draws big crowds in Vegas

Last week's Comdex trade show in Las Vegas attracted almost 250,000 people to the stalls, halls and pavilions of 2,000-plus companies. Eighty per cent of them are reported to have visited the exhibits of Microsoft, which did not appear to be suffering adversely because of lawsuits brought against Microsoft by the Department of Justice and Sun Microsystems, or the anti-Microsoft rally held by consumer activist Ralph Nader two weeks ago.

"We don't look at the political battles of other companies as to what's best for us," said Scott Marks, a technology buyer for NationsBanc Montgomery Securities, of San Francisco. However, the producers of a parody version of Microsoft's delayed Windows 98 operating program, who had failed to book a booth, were thrown out of the exhibition and had to be content with standing on a street corner, waving boxes of spoof software and shouting "What does he [Bill Gates] want to own today?

Of the products being demonstrated, some should be available by next year, including hand-held devices such as the Web video phone from Samsung (which, incidentally, boasted out-of-this-world freebies at Comdex - packages of the ice cream astronauts eat during shuttle missions). Other products on display were at the experimental stage. IBM, Delco, Netscape and Sun had a satellite-linked Internet-enabled car with voice-activated technology and touch screens for surfing in traffic jams or on the move. Other products were selling poorly, such as increasingly sophisticated Web TV devices.

The show did not impact much on hi-tech stocks. "I don't think Comdex had any impact on [Nasdaq] stock price and movement," commented Bruce Lupatkin, research director for Hambrecht and Quist. Some companies, such as Iomega, which announced at Comdex that its Zip drive would play a key role in NECs PC line, saw their stocks rise by 10 per cent over the week.

Sun wins ISO approval for Java

Sun Microsystems has won approval to submit its Java technology to the International Standards Organization (ISO) as an open standard, while retaining full control over maintenance and development. The member nations voted 20-2 to approve Sun's application, with only the United States and China voting against.

As a Publicly Available Specifications (PAS) submitter, Sun will start submitting Java specifications to the ISO for approval. However, this is likely to be a complex process, involving detailed discussion of the Java virtual machine and the Java programming language. Jim Mitchell, JavaSoft vice-president, said the submission would take longer than three months.

Immediately after its success, Sun carried out an earlier threat made when it filed a court suit against Microsoft for allegedly infringing the Java standard, by requesting a US federal court to prevent Microsoft from using Sun's Java Compatible Logo to promote and distribute its Internet Explorer 4.0 and related products, until the products have passed its Java compatibility tests.

Rhapsody delivered to developers

Though conspicuous by its absence at Comdex, Apple used a three-day European Developer Forum in Brussels to release the full version of its next-generation operating system, Rhapsody. Those attending the forum for commercial hardware and software developers involved with the publishing and education markets are a key target for Apple.

Last week's announcement of the availability of Rhapsody with the so- called "Blue Box" is an important step as the company attempts to show that it will be able to roll out the new operating system on time and in workable form. The Blue Box is the component that allows users to run most older Mac OS programs on systems with the new PowerPC 750 processors that are being spoken of as Pentium II beaters.

Steve Jobs, interim CEO and co-founder of Apple, has said that the company will not replace the Mac OS with Rhapsody. It will be gradually phased in, in a similar way that Windows NT has slowly moved into the market for workstation and servers while Windows 95 generally remains on consumer PCs. "I think we will offer systems in the affordable, easy-to-use server space," said Phil Schiller, of Apple.

Britannica 98 CD-Rom arrives

Britannica CD 98, touted as the most comprehensive encyclopaedia available on CD-Rom, went on sale yesterday at pounds 125. The latest version, with a graphical interface built around Microsoft Explorer for Windows 95 and NT 4.0, has more than 72,000 articles. Contained in the price are online updates and trial access to Britannica Online, the Internet version of the reference work. The new version includes animation and video clips as well as interactive multimedia features. "Its unrivalled depth and ease of use mean it is the killer application for a multimedia PC in the home," said Tim Pethick, of Britannica.

Andy Oldfield