Network: Canned Hamlet

Cliff Joseph looked on as celebrities and multimedia moguls wheeled and dealed on the French Riviera
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Hollywood has the Cannes Film Festival, the music industry has Midem. Not to be outdone, the computer industry has its own Cannes shindig - the Milia multimedia festival. Milia has only been running for four years, but it is growing rapidly. This year, there were 1,100 companies at the show, representing 47 countries.

Milia had its share of star names. Kenneth Branagh, Pamela Anderson and Wallace and Gromit all put in appearances. Or, rather, they put in virtual appearances in the form of Ken's Hamlet CD-Rom, the Pamela Anderson screensaver, and BBC's Wallace and Gromit Cracking Compendium. Even the Pope had a CD-Rom title on show.

The Walt Disney organisation added a bit of glamour by granting audiences to journalists on their yacht. They also announced plans for two Hunchback of Notre Dame CD-Roms and one to accompany Hercules, their big film for next Christmas.

A genuine flesh-and-blood celebrity appeared on the third day when George Michael had a party to launch his Web site. If you managed to get an invitation, you will have seen a demo of the new RealVideo system that is running on the site. Developed by Progressive Networks, the company that produced the RealAudio sound system for the Internet, RealVideo aims to deliver high-quality video over the Internet. The demos were impressive, though it remains to be seen how well RealVideo will work using an ordinary modem and a dial-up connection from your back bedroom.

As often happens at computer shows, some of the best new products came from small companies, while the big boys went around shooting themselves in the feet. America Online held the most boring press conference of the week, but a new Internet game system called Corazon Online proved to be one of the most interesting exhibits.

Corazon is a multi-user game system designed by the British company Pepper's Ghost. It is set within a virtual city that can hold up to 100,000 players, and its size and realistic graphics make it larger and more complex than other virtual worlds on the Internet. The system is under trial, with alaunch planned for this summer.

Katz Media, little known outside France, gave the first European showing of Pippin, a combination of games console, low-cost home computer and Internet terminal based on technology licensed from Apple Computer.

Apple itself made a strong showing, taking over an entire floor of the main hall. Despite financial troubles, Apple still has a strong following among multimedia developers.

"It's nice to go to a show where Apple is still popular," said one Apple executive. At least, it was popular until it invited too many people to the unveiling of Spartacus, an ultra-trendy designer computer developed in conjunction with Bose. Dozens of journalists were turned away from the launch party, and the words "piss-up" and "brewery" were heard at frequent intervals during the rest of the show.

In between parties, there were even a few deals being made. Like the film festival, Milia is a marketplace for companies hoping to tie up licensing or distribution deals. "There are a lot of big deals being done," one British developer told us. "All the Americans are here and they spend all day on the show floor signing people up."

Britain's Vektor Multimedia signed a pounds 1.5m deal to distribute its training software in Singapore and Japan, while Dorling Kindersley signed up the Glaswegian design company Inner Workings to help it to develop educational software.

ITN and Pathe Television of France agreed to distribute each other's multimedia archives, and Apple made a big fuss over the fact that it had got Disney to produce Mac versions of some of its new titles. An Apple executive was spotted deep in conversation on the BBC stand, but clammed up at the first sight of a journalist.

Of course, no Cannes event is complete without an awards ceremony, and the Milia d'Or awards were presented on the last night. America and France cleaned up, winning all individual categories between them. However, Peter Gabriel made a last-minute appearance, just in time to win the overall Grand Prix with his Eve CD-Rom. Watch out, cyberspace - the British are coming.

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