PC Expo opened in sultry New York City Tuesday at the apparently non-air conditioned Javitz Center, making a personal fan from Transmeta the give-away to have. But the good folks from Transmeta don't just win points for the fan, though it was certainly appreciated: The company was demonstrating devices based on the low power consumption Crusoe chip that just might offer a way to be transition away from PCs. The company's Linux-based tablet computer was particularly interesting, and it typified a theme of sorts for the show this year, where wireless Internet and LAN access was the hot topic and Microsoft's usual dominating presence, though still present, was less stifling.
The changes were apparent from the second we entered the show floor. Microsoft's massive booth was still there, but it was blocked by an equally huge Gateway booth that had to be navigated first, a brilliant maneuver if it was indeed done on purpose. Gateway was showing off its Profile 2 legacy-free PC and a new line of slim and small notebooks. Symantec and HP were nearby; HP has a new Brio BA410 mini-desktop and some Vectra 400 products that look interesting. Novell's huge booth was pushed off the third floor, but it still had the biggest crowds, thanks to a wacky set of give-aways, such as leather jackets, GPS devices, watches, and the like. Wireless Internet access companies were all over, with companies such as GoAmerica and Ricochet drawing big crowds. Even Casio was showing off a variety of wireless mobile products, along with its PocketPC-based Cassiopeia devices.
Once-mighty SGI is still hawking NT/2000 PCs, but they're starting to look at lot more like regular PCs; something tells me the proprietary system board route isn't working out for them. But their humongous flat panel displays are beautiful and they've got a nice product line of workstations and Internet servers. VMWare came out of nowhere with a nice presence: The company offers a virtual machine that lets you run Linux on Windows NT/2000 or vice versa. It's a pretty good solution for cross-platform software developers. Microsoft, of course, had a large booth with an associated Partner Pavilion. The company was hawking Windows 2000 and, finally, Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me). When I asked the Microsoft guys working the Windows Me booth why the product wasn't shipping until September, no one seemed to know, and they were as confused about the timing as I was. Products such as Commerce Server 2000, MSDN, Visual Studio 6, and FrontPage 2000 were represented, and I got a chuckle when a Microsoft rep tried to attach a "Freedom to Innovate" pin to my shirt. BackOffice 2000 Beta 1 was on display, as well as a bunch of PocketPC devices and add-ons.
IBM was showing off a variety of new devices, including its cool-looking NetVista PCs and new ThinkPads. I was drooling over the new ThinkPad T20 for so long that I had to be dragged away; I think I'm going to be buying one of those very, very soon (On a related note, my Toshiba laptop somehow survived a three-foot fall the night before. I swear I didn't push it). Speaking of Toshiba, the company had a massive booth, one of the biggest in the hall. The company was showing off new Tecra and Protégé laptops, a slew of desktop systems I never even knew they made, and a surprisingly nice portrait-style flat-panel display.
Intel and Palm had big presences as well, though Palm's booth was mostly filled with partners. Sony's nearby booth was huge too, but oddly filled with racks of nearly identical desktop system. The company is working hard to promote a "Sony lifestyle" which I find myself curiously drawn to. That I might be part of a Sony demographic is, of course, not surprising, but some of their products--like the too-small memory stick--are hard to fathom. Still, they make some killer PC/home entertainment crossover products.
Transmeta's Crusoe booth was done up in a South Seas/thatched hut style and, as I said, their personal fan give-away was a huge win. I was asked about the fan at least twenty times Tuesday, and I later found out that the company actually ran out. The fan, of course, is a play on the Crusoe processor, which keeps things cool by running on less power than a comparable Intel chip. IBM was in the Crusoe booth showing off a Windows 98-based ThinkPad 240 that was retrofitted with a Transmeta chip and the IBM reps I talked to were impressed to discover that it offered virtually identical performance to an Intel system while providing 7 hours of battery life. Transmeta was also showing off a stylus-enabled tablet PC running RedHat Linux that was just too sweet for words. While the company wouldn't offer up any OEM names, it said that we'd see this thing on the streets by the end of the year. It looked strangely like a Compaq device to me and not a few other people. I guess we'll have to wait and see.
Finally, Franklin was showing off its new eBookMan, which comes in a variety of iMacian colors and runs Microsoft Reader. The eBookMan, which will be available this fall, comes in three trim levels, will cost $130-$200, and offers a bigger screen than most PDAs, while still fitting in a pocket-sized form factor. It looks like a winner.
Overall, PC Expo is still the only heavyweight alternative to Comdex and, certainly, a better show than Spring Comdex. But the show, which has apparently been renamed PC Xpo, according to onsite advertisements, needs to lose the "PC" designation. Each year, the influence of a wider connected world is felt more and more and it's unlikely that the PC-based focus of the show can continue for much longer. In the same way that PC Week magazine was renamed to eWeek, PC Expo might consider the name eExpo: It's just that kind of world now