Computer & Technology Showcase Vancouver 2001

Today ended the Computer and Technology Showcase at the Convention Centre here in Vancouver, Canada. Aimed squarely at the business-to-business sector, the show was a resounding success amid tough economic times in tech.

Comdex, formerly known here as the Pacific Rim Exhibition, puts on a similar show annually, sometime early in the year. Its focus is clearly more general, and the tenor of the show can be measured by, among other things, the decibel level in the hall. Comdex is always deafening. While far from staid, ComTech was enjoyable, and conversation flowed easily. One year, Comdex had NEC and Toshiba booths kitty-corner to each other. Both were exhibiting competing products, and each out-did the other in fun, hard salesmanship, and hard decibels. So long as you had earplugs (I did), it was great fun to watch. That year, NEC gave away a four CD changer, made for a standard 5 1/4" PC slot. That was a mighty exciting prize in those days, and would still attract some attention today. While no-one pounded the drum today, the fun was present nevertheless, and often impromptu.

Exhibitors ran the gamut from Adobe Systems, whom you know well, to Zoolink Communications, a company that mixes it up a bit for the competition in Western Canada's commercial high-speed internet arena. Ever an increasing trend these days, several wireless firms showed, and not a few of them ran equipment and software from familiar outfits like Microsoft and Palm, but modified for wireless use. Though it was all great, the big wireless newsmaker of the month didn't show at ComTech, and that was Apple, who just introduced its next generation of AirPort hub. That product is hardly "just" a hub; it's an integrated NAT firewall, wireless hub with 128-bit encryption, Cisco LEAP, and RADIUS security, 10/100 wired ethernet, and modem. Oh, and it's totally compatible with any PC running a standard 802.11b Bluetooth wireless network card. I guess it's just easier to say, hub.

NEC showed, and I spent some time there. How could I not? They were showing not only some of their gorgeous displays, but an array of their digital telco equipment. (I'll bet you didn't even know they made the stuff.) Apart from their multi-line desksets and the like, it was the tiny NEC Dterm PSII wireless phone that caught my interest. Made for site-wide wireless talking, it fits in your pocket, into a purse, or on a small belt clip easily. The Dterm PSII handsets work with a network of transceivers either as part of an NEC NEAX private branch exchange setup or interfaced into your own PBX equipment. Transceivers are wired back to the phone closet with CAT5 (standard ethernet) cable. Whether or not you can tap into existing CAT5 wiring on your site is worth asking your NEC salesman. To drive home the size of the Dterm handset, NEC was giving away Snickers chocolate bars with a Dterm wrapper. Good marketing!

Iomega has gone through trial by fire over the years, and come up fighting. As an Iomega owner myself, I always look for an Iomega booth at these shows. And as always, Iomega had a booth filled with innovative backup gadgets and accessories. This time I particularly liked the Iomega Peerless removable backup drive. My presenter described it as an oversize ZIP drive. To be sure, to be sure! ZIPs top out at 250 MB per disk, a venerable feat in itself, when the package is not much larger than a diskette. Peerless disks start at 10 GB, and go up in 10 GB increments or so. Even at today's hard drive sizes, you have a chance to backup your entire computer onto one removable disk. Peerless is USB and Firewire, perfect for your Mac. Iomega also has entered the network backup market with its DataSafe rackmount product. A DataSafe unit contains at least one, and up to three, hard drives in a suitable RAID array and under the control of an embedded version of Windows NT. It is intended to be mounted in a network closet and supports gigabit ethernet. It can handle backups from most operating systems today, including Windows, Netware, Mac, Unix, and Linux. How far we've come from the original Iomega ZIP Drive! If you've been feeling the need for a cool gadget lately, buy anything Iomega. You won't be disappointed.

PowerQuest, the company that makes PartitionMagic, showed. I felt obligated to stop by, because I actually received an invitation from them. You see, I'm a registered owner of DriveCopy and DriveImage, which come in handy when I have disk upgrades to do. PowerQuest apparently have a company mission statement that says, in part, something like, In the arena of PC excellence, we strive to achieve and do what others assume to be impossible. Well, what did you think when you first heard about PartitionMagic? Magic, I suppose? I mean, they have the thing working under Windows NT! Well, I hypothesize by way of introduction to their newest product called In Place Migration. True to form, this product claims to do the impossible. You have to hear it from them. You'd never believe me if I told you.

In Place Migration combines the benefits of both the Windows OS upgrade and "clean install" methods by providing a proven process that ensures a standard Windows image can be deployed to hundreds of PCs, while preserving and maintaining user data, system settings, and the individual PC personality.

In other words, you can have a standard and custom installation simultaneously. And across your whole enterprise. Well, I did tell you, PowerQuest already has a precedent for performing the impossible. There you have it. You heard it here first. (Or not.)

Telus, the telco that runs things in Western Canada, had an extensive booth with multiple themes. I spent quite a bit of time there. If you read some of the technical publications, you'll have heard of voice-over-IP by now. It's a fairly cutting-edge technology. Telus showcased its newest VoIP service with a convincing display, a hands-free headset plugged into a PC of some sort, which was hidden. On the screen was a dialer interface. The Telus guy asked me to pop on the headset, then he dialed his own cellular number. For some reason, I got his answering service instead, but the point was made. Voice over IP is indistinguishable from voice over wire. I shouldn't have been quite so surprised, what with 1.6 GHz Pentium IVs coming as standard equipment these days, but I was. It felt very real-time, and sounded perfectly clear. Telus charges C$0.06/min for this service. For now, it's one direction only, calling out. You still need a land line or cellular phone in order for people to call you. Of course, you could do your own internet phone thing, but explain to me how you'd phone your mother with that?

One more on the wireless front. Sierra Wireless and Apex Communications (I see Apex's white Hummer tooling around Vancouver now and then) showed. I gathered that it was a team effort. Anyway, a very smart wireless guy was explaining to me and another fellow the virtues of his handy dandy Sierra AirCard300 wireless modem. It looked exactly like the standard PC-card network or modem adapters for laptops, except that it had an antenna. He had this one plugged into his Windows CE handheld. While he didn't advocate serious surfing such as digital video with it, he proved it was easily capable of uploading today's stats to home base in no time. Thinking it was a gadget for a wireless ethernet network such as Apple's AirPort, I asked him what kind of equipment it required at the "other end" in order to communicate with the home base server. He replied that it didn't need anything. That reply left the now sizable crowd believing they had just observed a miracle. As the conversation went on, two things became evident. First, this was a pseudo-cellular service for wireless devices; and he himself clearly kept high-tech company most of the time. Ahh, now we get it! If you're on the road and have to send almost-real-time data back to home base frequently, then this service is for you.

Corel had a nice booth. Showing several new products, it was good to see my favorite word processor doing better than ever. WordPerfect 2002 keeps its Reveal Codes feature too. Corel also supports Quattro Pro, originally made by Borland. Recently Borland came back from the dead, as Inprise evaporated back into the ether from which it came. I wonder what kind of relationship Corel and Borland have today? Good, I hope, as Quattro Pro was and is an excellent product. Corel's able presenter ran Quattro, WordPerfect, and Presentations through some paces, doing portions of his presentation on-the-fly in response to queries from the floor. Impressive. If it weren't for its huge market share, I'd say Microsoft might have cause to be worried. On the other hand, Office just gets better and better, and the latest versions of Office for Mac are wonderful. I asked a couple of Corel people about their plans for Mac OS. They are aggressively supporting the graphics market there, and Graphics Suite 10, which includes CorelDRAW 10, PhotoPaint 10, and the new CorelRAVE, is specifically designed to take full advantage of Apple's latest operating system, Mac OS X (on which I'm writing this article, incidentally). As for WordPerfect, both independently told me that Corel could not make a business case for continued WordPerfect support for Mac. Well, I understand that. You just can't do everything. It's still a pity, though. Obviously Corel agonized over that question for a while. They have the in-house Mac talent, the in-house WordPerfect talent, but not the resources to bring the two together. If you know WordPerfect, that's really a pity. Corel has also spun off its WordPerfect for Linux effort for the same reason.

One of the big breakthroughs for Corel products is the ability to publish files in PDF format, a feature built right into Mac OS X, I might add. That even includes animated Presentations files. Adobe, by providing the venerable Acrobat Reader on practically all platforms for free, surely succeeded in making their PDF format universal. Thank goodness they did, as it has made sense out of a document format hell. PDF documents look identical on any platform, any operating system. Now wait until you see a Corel Presentations session in a PDF version! You're going to love it. If you run Windows, you need Corel WordPerfect 2002.

There were plenty of other gadgets, particularly from Sony and Toshiba. Sony had a terrific display of presentation projectors and equipment. Flat panels were everywhere, and some were super-sized. Palm showed the latest M5-series (sounds like a BMW). The Vancouver NT Users Group showed, and had some helpful people there. Fluke had a nice booth of the latest and greatest in high-tech test equipment. Having a weakness for fancy test equipment, I checked that one out at a distance. CDI, EDS, USB, and North Beach Software all showed. And those were just the ones I visited.

More important than any of the great gadgetry are the people who make good use of it. Quite a few made use of the wayside seating to match wits and swap plans over a steaming espresso. One is always willing to pay another to provide a service that would not be cost effective for one to provide for oneself. A setting like this was just what it took to bring those parties together. Did I mention that, as hosting hotel, the Pan Pacific Hotel also showed? Nice booth. Nice hotel. New one at Whistler too. Five star. Wow. Ciao!