Network: Comdex does the biz

Portable computing power and the 'year 2000' puzzle were major themes at an IT trade show aimed at business users, says Ian Grayson

As UK businesses grapple with the latest developments in computing, telecommunications and the Internet, an event in London last week attempted to provide some answers. More than 260 IT companies converged on the Earls Court exhibition centre to take part in the second Comdex UK trade show. For three days the venue filled with people keen to see, hear and handle the latest in computing and IT. Total attendance figures have yet to be released, but are expected to exceed last year's total of 24,000.

The show had been designed for people looking at IT from a business rather than purely technical perspective. Computers, software, electrical components, furniture, books and services - Comdex had something for virtually every taste. Major themes included mobile computing, the Internet, and the much-publicised "year 2000" problem.

Vying for the interest of people hunting for the latest in portable computing power was Casio Electronics, with its new Cassiopeia hand-held PC. The device uses Microsoft's Windows CE software - an operating system specifically designed for such machines. It includes "pocket" versions of popular software applications such as Microsoft Word and Excel, with fax and e-mail capabilities.

Using two AA-sized batteries, giving up to 20 hours' use, the computer can be connected to external devices such as a digital camera, a mobile telephone or a desktop PC. It is expected to go on sale in the UK this year.

Continuing the mobile theme, Compaq featured its new low-cost notebook computer, the Armada 1500. Compaq is hoping the new machine will lure buyers who have so far been put off portables by their high price, limited features and restricted performance.

Digital photography is a rapidly developing area and several companies demonstrated products at the show. Ricoh has developed an innovative multimedia camera that can record a 10-second audio message with each photograph. The camera uses interchangeable PC memory cards to store images and sound. These can be removed and inserted into a personal computer for easy data transfer.

Casio, also keen to capture a slice of the digital market, showed its new QV-300 camera. This can store up to 192 images and is equipped with a colour screen enabling users to see what they are taking and review recorded images.

Internet growth shows no signs of slowing, and many exhibitors had products designed to enable Web access or produce content for sites.

Microsoft set up a 40-PC test-drive facility to give users first-hand experience of the latest version of its Internet Explorer browser software. The yet-to-be-released version 4 has a range of new features which, the company claims, will boost the productivity of users. These include better access to favourite sites, faster search, and the integration of new software to take advantage of the growing number of content delivery services on the Web.

An innovative product that allows wrap-around images to be manipulated on a Web page was shown by Domino Systems. Called Panormania, it allows users to view a 360-degree scene as though standing within it. Potential users include property companies, travel and tourism operators and retailers.

BT, keen to show itself as more than just a telephone company, exhibited a range of Internet and intranet business services. The company's dial- up Web access service, BT Internet, was demonstrated, together with BT WebWorld. WebWorld is a site-hosting service that allows small companies to have a presence on the Web without the expense of setting up a dedicated server and Internet link.

Capitalising on concern about the year 2000 date change problem facing many companies, a number of vendors exhibited solutions and suggested approaches. These ranged from low-cost software fixes for PCs from companies such as Eurosoft, to broader approaches customised for individual organisations by companies such as Unisys and Software AG.

Comdex also offered a range of innovative products for commercial applications. The CompuPhone 2000 is a PC keyboard with an in-built telephone. The keyboard rings on incoming calls and is compatible with a variety of call-centre software. Users no longer need a telephone on their desk.

In fact, there was something for everyone. Next year's show will be held from 28 April at the Olympia exhibition centre in Londonn

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