Comdex Notebook

Comdex notebook – shagadelic tech, toys and freebies

The first impression on walking into Comdex Toronto is that of a banner war between Novell and Microsoft, both fighting for eyeballs and mindshare at this, the biggest IT trade show in Canada.

The next impression, though, is that Novell has already won on another front – the battle of the most popular freebie. Almost everyone is carrying big, red Novell umbrellas, and those without one are actively in search of the Novell booth.

Never mind that those who waited in the umbrella line for only 40 minutes considered themselves lucky or that loot bags are not the primary reason companies pay a lot of money to send employees to this event. Free stuff is the lifeblood of trade shows, and Novell was the clear winner.

By comparison, Microsoft didn’t seem to have Windows 2000 stuff on offer. Microsoft drew good crowds, but without any obvious giveaways many did not linger.

Entertainment of a different sort was provided by Creative Labs. On stage, an actor playing an Austin Powers look-alike hammed it up with a generic fembot, presenting the latest cool stuff on offer from Creative. (The vendor, with one eye on the legal community, called its mouthpiece Houston Powers, but no one missed the point.)

While the concept was clever and timely, nobody seems to have considered the irony of using a flower child to hawk new technology. Remember in the first movie when Austin tries to play a CD on a conventional record player? Clearly, he’s no tech whiz. Still, the spectacle was fun and it drew people like crazy, baby. (Sorry.)

And then there was the Xerox desert-motif booth. Surrounded by photos of palm trees and bleached bricks, two booth personnel sported white, flowing, quasi-desert garb. Note to Xerox: the costumes really didn’t work.

Viewsonic went one further. Keeping with tradition it dressed up three poor souls in stuffy bird outfits, mimicking the vendor’s corporate logo. One can only hope that, unlike last year, the costumed figures won’t end up on the cover of any IT trade magazines.

But Comdex wasn’t all people-sized birds and free umbrellas. In contrast to the shiny-new glitziness all around it, the Linux Pavilion was a low-key hotbed of technical discussion. No frivolous freebies exchanged hands and no Hollywood knock-offs dressed-up the aisles, but there were crowds of people engaged in serious technical discussions.

For those walking over from Microsoft’s booth – replete with muscle-machines pushing Windows 2000 beta code – the sight of an old 386 running Linux may have been strange indeed.

But even in Penguin Land there is one sought-after freebie: Caldera’s latest build on CD. Open Linux 2.2 is said to be easier to install, and it’s all GUI based: the install, the login and the desktop environment are all graphical.

Caldera brought more than 3,500 copies of 2.2 to give away, and by Friday morning they were gone. I know because I bagged one of the last ones.

Open Linux 2.2 will offer me scant protection during a downpour, but I’ll certainly learn more from Caldera’s give-away than from Novell’s. Perhaps there’s a moral in there somewhere.