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The Trade Shows

Randolph Bentson

Arnold Robbins

Issue #16, August 1995

While Linux Journal went to DECUS in Washington DC, Randy Bentson attended the Internet World Show and Arnold Robbins took in the sights of the East Coast Comdex.

Comdex and Internet World

While Linux Journal went to DECUS in Washington, DC, Randy Bentson attended the Internet World Show and Arnold Robbins took in the sights at East Coast Comdex.

by Randolph Bentson and Arnold Robbins


East Coast Comdex is held annually, with the Windows World show, at the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta. This is one of the world’s largest convention centers. Tens of thousands of people attend, literally from all over the world, with a pretty high concentration of people from the Southeast US. The show lasts four days, from Monday through Thursday.

If you come, don’t attempt to drive to downtown Atlanta and park. Instead, take MARTA, the local rapid transit system, to the CNN-Omni station, and follow the crowds; it’s a short walk.

Getting free tickets to see the exhibits is usually pretty easy. Chances are, if you know a vendor displaying there, they can get you tickets. Later in the week, you may even find free passes on the tables when you walk in. I had a press pass, courtesy of Linux Journal, although both my company and my wife’s company had booths.

It definitely pays to go on a day other than the first day. The lines to get your badge are almost non-existent, which speeds up the process enormously.

Comdex is just enormous. Imagine two huge halls, each of which is bigger than several football fields, packed end to end with display booths and people wandering through trying to see everything. Imagine, if you will, thousands of techno-nerds. Not just any nerds, but PC and Windows nerds. Along with the size and the crowd comes the noise. The vendors often put on little stage shows and demos. They all have microphones. They all have sound effects. They all have music. It’s almost impossible to think while wondering around Comdex, much less have a conversation with your wife (particularly if your wife is like mine, and talks softly).

It also pays to bring your lunch; the food is expensive there. The new owners of Comdex gave out coupons for a free (small) drink, which was a nice touch.

What’s Hot

There were very few, if any, really new or interesting items to be seen this year. Comdex was more of the same old thing; Intel-based systems of various sorts being predominant.

Some cute things: Panasonic had a laptop with a keyboard that raised up to reveal a CD-ROM drive. There was another company showing a “remote” mouse that could be used from up to 40 feet away.

The “hot” items were: 1) Windows 95. I’d say that over 95% of the vendors were showing their product(s) working on Windows 95. Not too suprising at the “Windows World” show, but discouraging to an old Unix hacker like myself. 2) Internet. If a product could even be remotely tied into the Internet somehow, it was. The BellSouth ISDN booth was jumping like hotcakes. IBM’s booth had a picture of a nun saying “I’m dying to surf the net.” The Internet has arrived, and the masses are diving in. America Online even had a group of about 20 workstations all lined up so people could “test drive the Internet”. Gack. 3) CD-ROM. You name it, somebody’s got it on CD-ROM.

Fortunately, Comdex made a lot of the vendors clean up their acts; there weren’t any pornographic CD-ROMs visible (unlike last year, which generated a lot of complaints).

It was also pretty clear that OS/2-Warp is an also-ran. I don’t think I saw more than 5% of the vendors touting their product running on OS/2.

Perhaps suprisingly, there were almost no PowerPC products. The ones I saw were in the Apple booth, and there were PowerPC systems in the IBM booth.

There was some Linux at the show, but not much. A few vendors with Linux CD-ROMs and such. The most visible Linux was at the bookstore in the lobby, with several Linux books prominently displayed when you walked in, and on the shelves. The O’Reilly books were the nicest looking.


Comdex has changed over the years. It used to be a show for the entire computing industry. Once upon a time, you could find mainframe and mini-computer vendors showing (anyone remember Vax VMS? DG AOS?). You could find Unix vendors showing, like Sun. You also used to get lots of nice freebies.

It has changed. First of all, very few people were giving out toys, much less nice ones. :-(. Secondly, it’s a PC and Microsoft world out there. There were fewer Macintoshs than I’ve ever seen, and much less Unix than usual.

Those companies who were trying to sell server based systems were selling Windows NT, with Unix “also” available. This included companies like Pyramid, and even DEC was pushing NT on the Alpha. It is no wonder that the Unix vendors formed COSE, there really is something to be afraid of. It’s a terrible shame that Marketing Hype can sell so much Mediocrity to the public, but that seems to be the reality.

The conclusion I’d draw for the Linux world is that if WINE is going to go anywhere, it ought to concentrate on Windows 95 compatibility; i.e., some way to run a Win32 binary under Linux. Skip the Win16 stuff; it’ll be dead within a year.

All in all, this year’s Comdex was a disappointment. I usually enjoy it, but this year I didn’t. It was also a bit depressing to see so much Microsoft stuff everywhere. I have high hopes for the free software world, but it’s sobering to see what a small part of the “industry” consists of free software.

On the other hand, there was some Linux. Great things can come from small beginnings, and we’re just at the beginning of the growth curve for self-contained, reliable, usable, free software based systems. I hope that in five years, my report from Comdex will tell a much different story.(Arnold Robbins)


Depending on your measure, Spring Internet World 95 was a great success or a slight disappointment. With respect to its stated goal of presenting what is happening on the Internet, it was excellent. While it can’t yet boast the attendence numbers of Comdex, 20,000 visitors and 190 exhibitors made this a respectable conference and may well justify the claim of being the “world’s largest Internet conference.” It was held April 10-13 at the heart of Silicon Valley in the San Jose Convention Center, thus it should come as no surprise to learn that the registration was flooded with people who just took some time off from work to check out the show.

Many of the major hardware and software vendors were there. Present were the the traditional vendors: Apple, Dell, DEC, IBM, Microsoft, NCD, Silicon Graphics, Sun, and Tandem. In addition, there were also strictly network product vendors: 3Com, FTP Software, Rockwell, Telebit, Wollongong, and ZyXEL. (I know I’m going to catch flak for this—I’m sure to have missed someone in my list—but I’ll press on.)

What made this different from other trade shows I’ve attended was the focus on user-level access the Internet and the newly discovered World Wide Web.

Everyone was touting some feature of their product that allowed one to compose, access, view, process, or control access to the web. I was amazed by the number of hypertext and HTML text preparation tools that were being displayed. I’ll refrain from citing who did what, but some of the low end products were far from magic—I keep seeing the guy behind the curtain. If I were a cynic I would claim the pencil manufacturers were there to show how pencils could be used to prepare hypertext, but that would be an exaggeration.

Since I’ve worked with mark-up languages such as troff and TeX, I don’t find HTML at all difficult. In fact, I find it is missing many of the features I’ve come to expect of such a language. (Apparently so do others. The proposed HTML 3.0 is a move in the right direction.) This viewpoint renders a lot of the HTML preparation tools rather ho-hum.

Still, there were some products which were close to magic and some other products which will have increased importance in our lives. Specifically, I found the integration of database searches with a web server to be a most natural outcome. Most applications have two elements: the user interface and solving the problem itself. The Common Gateway Interface is an elegent method of using the http daemon and the WWW browser to implement a GUI interface for user application. There were a number of vendors who offered WWW integrated database products.

Another class of products were security related. As we become more thoroughly connected to the network we also become more exposed to malicious intrusions on our systems. By my count there were eight vendors whose sole product was firewall or other security hardware or software. In addition, products such as Secure HTTP, will be integrated by Netscape to give secure interactions over the network.

Of course, since this was a networking exhibition, there were plenty of representation by Internet service providors. There were a number of nation-wide and international vendors present: America Online, BBN Planet, Netcom, Prodigy Services, PSInet, SPRY, and UUNET. It was also interesting to note the number of local providers at the show. If this is any indication, you should have lots of choices for Internet service in any major city.

Finally, I was gratified to see the number of traditional publishers who have recognized that the Internet is a marketplace that they should serve. Present were divisions of Dun & Bradstreet, MacMillan Publishing, San Jose Mecury News, O’Reilly & Associates, Random House, Van Nostrand Reinhold, and John Wiley & Sons.

So what was the disappointment? The poor Linux visibility. I guess this is a side effect of the commercial nature of the show. After all, how can the developers of Linux, TCP/IP, Lynx and Mosaic justify the expense of renting booth space?

This led me on a quest—that I didn’t complete—looking for Linux inside. I started at one end of the exhibition hall and went from booth to booth asking about Linux support. I found some solace in the responses. A number of vendors said it wouldn’t be long before a Linux version of the product would be available — after all, that’s what the developers inside the companies were using at work or at home. There’s a chance that next year even more products will have “Linux” in their list of supported systems, Randolph Bentson

Randolph Bentson (bentson@grieg.seaslug.org) has been programming for money since 1969-writing more tasking kernels in assembly code than he wants to admit. His first high-level language operating system was the UCSD P-system. For nearly 14 years he has been working with Unix and for the last year he’s been enjoying Linux. Randy is the author of the Linux driver for the Cyclades serial I/O card.

Arnold Robbins (arnold@gnu.ai.mit.edu) is a professional programmer and semi-professional author. He has been doing volunteer work for the GNU project since 1987 and working with Unix and Unix-like systems since 1981.


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