by Wayne M. Krakau - Chicago Computer Guide, May 1992

Operators are standing by! Have your credit card ready. We accept Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express. In addition, we even accept Amoco, Sears, Field's, and Carson's cards (we are squeegee equipped). Yes, it's just what you've been waiting for -- The Comdex Diet Plan.

Forget aerobics classes. We'll teach you a modified race-walking step with an added lesson on broken field running. This is perfect for getting past booths crowded with greedy freebies seekers, ready to kill for a 50-cent pair of sunglasses, a 10-cent luggage tag, or that most valued of items -- a free issue of an obscure 2-pound technical journal covering a field in which you have no involvement (or interest).

Forget pumping iron. We use the latest in graduated weight training techniques. We'll show you how to start with two simple plastic bags (furnished with sharp-edged handles to toughen those wimpy office-worker hands) and bit-by-bit fill them to Schwarzeneggerian poundage while keeping your tilt to less than five degrees.

We'll even throw in a guide to warmups and increased flexibility including instructions on removing and replacing your show badge with your teeth (leaving the hands free to gather more literature).

We have two versions of the Plan. The Four Day Plan is for sprinters who desire breaks between exercises to see entertainment and demonstration sessions complete with magicians, comedians, singers, and dancers. (Warning: This area has been declared a Mime Free Zone!) The Three Day Plan is for marathoners who need to go the distance in as short a time as possible. So call now, and tell the operator which version you want.

Yes, I inadvertently tried the Three Day version of the Comdex (originally the Computer Dealer Expo) Diet Plan. After nineteen and a half hours of walking the corridors of McCormick Place (combined show hours for Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, not including any pre-show walking) dragging more literature than I care to think about I really did lose six pounds!

I also obtained so much valuable information that will take months to fully digest it. For example, I have been searching (mostly in vain) for over five years for a software that could handle document and image management. I recently found a package that handles computer generated (normally with WordPerfect) documents quite well, PC DOCS (Tallahassee, Florida), but the selection in image-only management was sparse and products that handle both were quite rare and very limited in scope and useability.

At Comdex, I found LaserFiche from Compulink Management Center, Inc. (Torrance, California). It can organize pure images, transform images into documents via OCR (optical character recognition), logically linking the image with its corresponding document, and manage word-processor generated documents as well. They're even creating a Windows version to keep up with the latest trend in imaging and graphics. This is easily my pick for the highlight of the show.

Most of the other new and interesting products were in areas with more competition. Pen computing is an obvious example. Many firms demonstrated products with mostly similar features. I doubt that their enthusiasm will turn into sales for mainstream applications. While pen-based computing may be appropriate for certain niche markets (many examples of which were being demonstrated), none of the vendors present were able to provide convincing arguments to defend their claims of future near-universal acceptance of the pen as the perfect input device.

Random observation: How much money is being spent on screen-blankers for windows? I realize that flying toasters and the like are clever, but don't these people know how hard it is to burn out the phosphors (ostensibly what this software is designed to prevent -- they don't really push the security issue) on a color monitor, especially using a GUI (graphical user interface)?

Another random observation: I was telling a colleague that I had been pleased to discover only one booth with scantily clad models. We discussed the potential of such a display in directly offending women and indirectly offending men (by the assumption that they would fall for such a stunt). Just as I waxed poetically about the possibility that this industry may be maturing, the booth in question was overrun by hordes of show attendees (males, of course) jostling for position while attempting to get literature packets about an obscure (and somewhat lame) product from a tiny, even more obscure company. Our discussion ended at that point.

As to the Windows (Microsoft) versus OS/2 (IBM) battle, there was a split decision, but as with most professional fights, the champion cannot lose his title on a split decision. Microsoft gained mind-share through their brilliantly executed Windows World strategy. They showed their marketing savvy and, more importantly, the overall practicality of the Windows 3.1 (and future Windows NT) environment. IBM got points for pure technical excellence and for its improved interface (it out-MACs the MAC), but I doubt that most people were persuaded to abandon what is becoming an industry standard to accept OS/2 as a general purpose environment. IBM will certainly garner market share in specialty niches where OS/2's capabilities are absolutely required, but it doesn't look like it's ready to derail Bill Gates’ favorite train just yet.

Speaking of Bill Gates, I found him lurking on the sidelines of a WordPerfect for Windows demonstration accompanied by two stiff looking gents in very severe suits. There was some speculation amongst onlookers as to their identity, with opinions varying from Microsoft vice-presidents to personal bodyguards. Considering that we were observing, essentially, more than six billion dollars on-the-hoof, either theory could have been true.

I noticed that Gates was somewhat shorter and a lot scruffier (Bill, you can afford to hire someone to carry your comb!) than I had imagined. He was dressed informally, wearing a plain blue cardigan -- aha! -- BLUE! -- Perchance a secret attempt at diplomacy with IBM (Big Blue)? -- Naaaah! It's probably the first ratty sweater that he pulled out of his closet while packing.

I did miss a chance at a Mike Wallace merit badge by not interrogating Gates on the spot. I guess I don't have the killer instinct for in-your-face-journalism. Oh, well -- at least I've kept my day job.

Questions comments, topic suggestions, and complaints from irate billionaire/geniuses are always welcome.

1992, Wayne M. Krakau