As I write this article, a major Windows NT trade show is about to get under way in London--lots of stands with people demonstrating their products. What's so fascinating about this show is its poor attendance record. Despite NT 4.0's storming success, I don't hold out any high hopes that attendance at this year's show will be any better. Of course, major players such as Microsoft, Digital Equipment, and Oracle will make strong showings because these companies recognize they have to be seen to be present. Microsoft is currently touring the UK to demonstrate NT 4.0 and preview Office 97, so a lot of focus will be on these products.

What is strange, however, is how a lot of NT end users perceive the show. Few of my clients attended last year's show, so I asked around to test the temperature of the water--the response was fascinating. They all have several reasons to visit the trade shows: They all want to see what's new, they want to meet with the product managers, and they want to locate new products to evaluate. However, in the NT marketplace, most of my clients simply buy or obtain evaluation copies of any software they need. My clients place a lot of emphasis on what they read in the specialist and informed press, such as Windows NT Magazine. And they have regular contact with the product managers of the companies they're betting their business on. After all, keeping in contact with Oracle, Microsoft, and Digital is a fine idea if you have big Oracle databases running under NT on Digital symmetrical multiprocessing (SMP) Alphas.

Hence, my clients have little need to tread the trade show floors. Compare this belief with the riot that typifies a standard computer show, where anyone with acne and a desire to set a record for plastic carrier bag collecting descends on the show. But my clients perceive that little real corporate selling takes place at such events and that these shows are public-focused PR events.

The upcoming four-day NT show in London will be a clear testing of the temperature for NT 4.0. If a significant number of the general public shows up, then NT is making a clear breakthrough into the hearts and minds of the power Windows 95 users. My bet, however, is that the show will be filled with men in suits. They'll have stands full of mouthwatering UPS systems and RAID arrays, and NT-hosted games will be noticeable by their absence. I'll report back on the slew of new products being promised at the show and on whether my hunch about the visitor mix is correct.

Builds of Office 97
One of my spies inside Redmond, Washington, tells me that Microsoft is building Office 97 and other major products in national-language versions on the same daily or two-daily basis as the US English versions. These versions are limited primarily to French, German, and Spanish, but this approach signals Microsoft's clear commitment to make the national versions available at the same time as the US English versions. Discovering that the national-language version that one requires is "merely 90 days" away can be extremely frustrating, especially if the delay affects one's own product roll-out plans.

Tech Support on the Web
With the common availability of email and Web servers, getting technical support has become a seamless international issue. Many US companies see no need to have an office in a remote land such as Europe, as long as their customers have clear channels of communication.

This way of doing business became a reality to me when I upgraded my desktop system from an Asus dual Pentium 120 board to a storming new Tyan dual Pentium Pro 200 board. To be honest, I wasn't much impressed with the speedup. Yes, of course, some operations clearly showed that the new processors were chewing through computations at a most amazing rate. But other complex tasks just didn't seem as quick as I'd expected.

My good friend, Mark Atkinson, did some serious benchmarking on the board and discovered that it had very poor main memory access speed. Mark is a graphics wire-head. As the developer of Organic Art, he knows Windows graphics, rendering, and Direct 3D inside out. (As an aside, Microsoft commissioned a special version of Organic Art to celebrate the first anniversary of Windows 95--check out www.microsoft.com/windows/anniversary/favor.htm for the free download.)

We emailed Tyan via the Internet and discovered that the board's standard BIOS settings were completely wrong. Email flew back and forth, and finally Tyan recommended some new BIOS settings. A quick reboot later, and the machine felt much more lively. Mark's benchmark tests showed a dramatic improvement in main memory accessing, and we were both most happy with the resultant systems.

Indeed, with the rise in the Web's importance, custom closed communities such as CompuServe are under real threat, especially in the arena of computer technical support. I can send an email to an Internet address by simply filling in the right items in my Microsoft Outlook email client--sending files to a user on CompuServe is harder.