Comdex Canada West 2001

Comdex has come and gone for another year. Originally the Pacific Rim Exhibition, it morphed into Comdex/PacRim a few years ago, and finally to just Comdex. Every yearís show presents the Latest and Greatest of anything to do with computers. Yet each year also carries a unique theme.

For perhaps the first time the venerable PC seemed to defer to another attraction this year, namely, wireless communication. Intel showed the (scorching!) hot Pentium-IVs, but the buzz this year was cutting the cord, specifically the one that attaches your computer to a wall. Several vendors showed off wireless networking, and cellular providers displayed notebook computers with cute cellí phones sitting atop them, happily surfing the ëNet.

Palm handheld computers, which stole the show last year, now have even more ways to connect without wires. ZeroGravity, a company from Winnipeg, makes a Palm Pilot kit with everything you need to use your Palm on the ëNet. I tried it with a standard homepage. It works! Like any new technology, this one comes with a price tag. The kit itself sells for about the price of the Palm alone elsewhere. Itís the monthly access fee at $50 for unlimited use that could add up. At that price itís not (yet) for the casual user, but if youíre on the road even a few days a month youíll use this one.

For laptops and notebooks, there was a variety of PC-Cards and other gadgets to connect with etherspace. The wireless homebase I saw was a 3Com eleven megabit per second unit (the standard seems to be 11 Mb/s on a 2.4 GHz carrier), capable of supporting up to sixty-three users. It worked well. With multiple homebase stations working like cellular repeater towers, these systems can support amazing coverage. Seamless network security, a concern widely voiced at Comdex, is being integrated into many of these products too. Add the latest wireless print server from Axis Communications, an industry first announced today, and youíre printing through thin air!

Vendors are increasingly aware of the knowledge chasm between developers and users, and several of them are bridging that chasm with offerings like ZeroGravityís turnkey packages, and technologies such as Bluetooth, the wireless standard for enabling devices to identify each other to all the rest on the network. Software makers are getting better at this too, as attendees could see in Microsoftís latest Office XP offerings, and Corelís graphical packages.

Speaking of Corel, the quiet big news is that Corel has been cooking up WordPerfect Office for Mac, and should have that ready by summer. Itíll be dubbed WordPerfect Office 2002 by the looks of it. Yes, it retains the venerable Reveal Codes feature that to this day still makes WordPerfect stand out from the rest. Many of Corelís other packages, particularly the graphical ones, are available for Mac as well as Linux and Windows. It looks like Corel is making a great comeback after a couple of tough years.

One notable vendor omission from this yearís show was Apple. Appleís AirPort arguably brought the entire wireless networking issue to front and centre, yet there wasnít an airborne iBook or iMac to be seen anywhere. For clean and simple wireless networking, nothing at the show could beat the simple elegance of AirPort. Apple launches Mac OS X and formally debuts its new models next weekend, March 24 and 25, nation-wide at Apple dealers.

The ìbigî Comdex happens in Las Vegas annually. Thatís something to see. If you canít get to that one, get to this one here in Vancouver next year.