People often ask me: 'As a product columnist, do you recommend that I go to CeBIT (Germany's very large celebration of the computer business)?' And I say: 'I can rent you a broom cupboard in nearby Dortmund, that'll be #500 please.' However, as readers of this column, you will be saved the expense with my cut-price report from CeBIT 98.
Not that I actually went to Germany and visited the stands. You wouldn't catch me dead in dreary Hannover freezing my badge off so I could traipse round three halls of fibre optic cable. Oh no. Instead, I can pretend I visited the stands, and as a columnist, I can be honest and say I didn't go. Meanwhile, your work colleagues who went to CeBIT and pretended they did visit the stands are lying.
What they actually did was huddle next to the radiators waiting for the beer hall to open. It's very easy to make up porkies about what happened at CeBIT, because it's a combination of what happened at Comdex - but at a higher price, and six months later - and what happens at CeBIT every year. We have good information about Comdex, because you can look it up in back issues of PC Dealer. That's a show we actually visit. Germany offers cold weather, pickled cabbage and no distractions. Las Vegas has Roulette, cheap booze and lapdancing. You do the math, as they say in the US. So instead, I can offer you a news digest of CeBIT that you can cut out and keep. Use it next year.
1. In the 'multimedia of tomorrow' hall, DVD-Rom vendors were showing off the drives that even now are flooding Europe. 'I firmly believe this technology will be everywhere in the next six months,' said an industry executive who declined to be named because he's been saying the same thing for four years and he hasn't been right yet.
2. Videoconferencing took a major leap forward, with some vendors showing desktop systems that were slightly less stuttery than last year, in a slightly bigger window. An unnamed executive said that 'I firmly believe ...' - you get the idea.
3. A warm welcome to the latest batch of Windows CE machines, but if you think you're getting your hands on them, you must be kidding. Never mind! In October, we'll see the next release at Comdex, and that's a cracker.
4. All the cut-price PCs that big-name manufacturers said they'd never launch were there, but you didn't get to see them, because you went to the wrong Compaq/IBM/HP/whatever stand.
5. Hall 43 provoked intense interest among the more technically inclined visitors, who were fascinated to see some revolutionary PC components being offered, until it was discovered that someone had laid out the contents of his shed as a joke.
Well I hope that whets your appetite for CeBIT 1999. I gather there are several rooms left over in a small house 50 miles from the site, provided three of you are willing to share a cot in the garage. Book early. In Europe we know how to have fun.
Tim Phillips is a freelance IT journalist.
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