COMDEX Chicago?, Part 2

by Wayne M. Krakau - Chicago Computer Guide, June, 2001
Now we move from the overview level of Chicago's own preshrunk exposition, COMDEX Chicago (formerly Spring COMDEX) to the detail level, culling the tasty computing smorgasbord from the electronic road kill.

First, let's start with something that I have been searching for since I first became enamored with the concept of using independent NAS (Network Attached Storage) devices not just as adjuncts to existing servers, but as simple, stand-alone servers in their own right. One off the weaknesses of using NAS devices without conventional servers is their almost universal lack of shared serial communications (with modems) capabilities.

As primitive as plain, old modems may seem in these days of high-speed broadband communications, modems still have their uses. If your broadband line goes down (not an infrequent occurrence with DSL and cable lines), one or more modems can be used for dial-up access to the Internet and e-mail. If you want to tap into your network or remote control your desktop computer from either home or out in the field, a modem is still the lowest common denominator. That remote control function is also helpful in getting technical assistance, too.

Equinox ( has come up with a simple, single-port solution, their MDS-10 Managed Device Server. It is a stand-alone device, in that it doesn't need a server to control it, so it is eligible for NAS-only networks. It has a 10Base-T connection on one end and a serial port on the other. Like NAS devices, it is controlled via a browser-based interface. With it, you can add a shared modem anywhere you have a network socket and a direct phone socket in the same vicinity. In case you need it, it will also control just about any other non-modem serial device. The MDS-10 neatly takes care of my clients' needs for dial-in, dial-out, and potentially even network-based fax applications.

Next, the folks at Sprint ( (as in long distance service, cell phones, etc.) have introduced their Broadband Direct service to the area. As long as you can place an antenna in direct line of sight with their antenna on the Sears Tower (or whatever they are calling it lately), you are eligible to connect at from 512kbps to 1.5Mbps for downloads and a maximum of 256kbps for uploads.

As they say in car ads, your mileage may vary by distance, atmospheric conditions (including, I presume, sunspot activity), and, I suspect, over time. There is no bandwidth guarantee, and, the more subscribers they get in a given area will probably mean a tendency toward a lower bandwidth. Sprint also warns that there is an inherent latency in their system that makes it inappropriate for many interactive games. Because of this, I suspect that interactive video as used in video conferencing and in some types of online training might also have problems.

Even with the limitations of their technology, which Sprint seems quite willing to honestly discuss, this service could be just the thing for the many who can't get cable or DSL broadband connections.

On the software side of the show, ReadSoft ( has made a major push in the area of forms processing, a field currently just about owned by an old favorite of mine, Cardiff Software, Inc. ( they have not specifically used the phrase, ReadSoft seems to be making a "We're number 2, so we try harder" appeal, similar to the old Avis versus Hertz ad campaign.

In a way, this campaign is working, since, prior to this show, I would have happily referred all inquiries in this field to Cardiff, while now, I would have to at least consider ReadSoft as an option. I can't say, given my limited research at and subsequent to the show, that ReadSoft would win any specific product competition, but, in providing at least a potential alternative, it will at least keep Cardiff on its toes. (No offense meant to Cardiff's fine products. It's just that I have become an anti-monopolist at heart! I get nervous when one company dominates a niche so thoroughly.)

On the extreme low-tech side of things is the QuickStudy line of products by BarCharts Inc. ( and This is a series of large, laminated helper charts for various applications and operating systems. I know it's not as flashy as some new software or hardware product, but their charts are very well thought out and organized, and would be very handy for both beginners and experienced users, in that they separate charts for basic and advanced issues.

Finally, another old favorite of mine, The National Christina Foundation ( was at the show. They accept donations of old computers and peripherals and give them new, useful lives in public agencies, schools, hospitals, and other organizations. They have new links with similar state and local organizations to improve their ability to distribute these computers where they are most needed. If your computers are not complete junk (assuming there must be some age and usability limits), you can be sure that your computer will be put to good use, and maybe even get yourself a tax deduction in the process.

I have one additional note in defense of Chicago COMDEX. I hear that this year's Networld + Interop Show only had about 60% of the attendees of last year's show. I guess that Chicago COMDEX isn't the only show that is having problems.

©2001, Wayne M. Krakau