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Las Vegas Back To Normal After Comdex

November 17, 2000

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ Now that the Comdex technology show is over, the Strip can settle back into the sleepy rituals of a glittering casino resort.

More than 200,000 people, mostly men, converged on Las Vegas for this year’s convention, which ran from Sunday night through Friday afternoon, clogging the city’s roads and cellular networks with gridlock.

But in more ways than size, Comdex wasn’t you’re typical Las Vegas convention.

Instead of slot players armed with coin buckets, it was swarms of cell-phone toting techies who don’t care much for gambling. When they were feeling lucky, or maybe trying to forget Wall Street’s party-pooping tech slump, many indulged in the neon city’s strip clubs and related specialties.

``I guess because they’re all in the industry they know computer chips control the machines. They figure they can’t beat them,″ said Chris Schneider, manager of the Olympic Garden, a strip club on the Strip.

Show attendees waited in 30-minute taxi and bus lines each day at the show, and again at night as they hopped from one bash to another in search of free food, free booze and free entertainment. When the exhibits closed each afternoon, the lines grew so long that thousands chose to walk back to their hotels, clogging the sidewalks. At one intersection, a group of pedestrians debated whether jaywalking is a crime in Las Vegas. (It is.)

Traffic was so dense _ as bad as on New Year’s Eve, according to cab driver Kevin Burns _ that crossing the Strip often took more than a half hour, twice as long compared to non-Comdex weeks.

With so much time to kill waiting at a show increasingly dominated by wireless gadgets, the only natural thing to do was whip out a mobile phone and wait for a connection. Cell phone use was so heavy that it took several tries to place or receive a call, only to lose the connection in mid-conversation. Even those who took a break for a massage at the Las Vegas Convention Center kept their phones pressed to their ears.

Comdex visitors were expected to spend at least $250 million on non-gambling activities during the show, and the competition for those dollars was everywhere, beckoning from marquees and taxi-top ads. One company even wrapped the huge MGM Grand resort with a 15,000-square-foot red vinyl banner to promote its anti-virus software. In all, there were about 2,100 exhibitors sprawled across more than 1 million square feet of convention halls.

It’s all a far cry from the very first Comdex in 1979, when there were only 160 exhibitors and 4,000 attendees. Then again, this event bears little resemblance to a show originally named Computer Dealer Expo.

While Microsoft made sure to claim a prime location with a huge pavilion just inside the entrance to the main exhibit hall, the king of computer software put far more energy into showing off its PocketPC platform for handheld devices than ``Windows Me,″ the more recently introduced update to the company’s bread-and-butter operating system for personal computers.

Not far away, of course, was an entire pavilion devoted to Palm, the handheld computer which dominates that fast-growing market.

Naturally, since no mobile computer is worth its salt anymore without access to the Internet, Comdex was also teeming with exhibits devoted to wireless modems, turbocharged cell phones and various services for delivering information and entertainment to those devices.

There was also plenty more space devoted to the latest and greatest in digital audio and video, as well as short-range wireless technologies like Bluetooth, ″802.11b,″ and HomeRF for direct communications between all these different devices.

But even as the enthusiastic throng of technology professionals scurried around the floor in search of free pens, candy and T-shirts, it was hard to forget the troubles still brewing on Wall Street, where technology stocks simply refused to oblige the optimism in Las Vegas with a strong showing throughout the week.

With so many young Internet ventures dead and gone, the flow of spending on the ``new economy″ has grown rather skimpy.

``What’s happening is that people are looking for products that have meaning. It’s not just because you’re a dot-com that people show interest,″ said Paul Gulbransen, national sales manager for iVista Software, a company displaying a ``personal Webcasting″ system for streaming live video from a standard computer.

Likewise, while the ``New Economy″ was still a hip topic this year at Comdex, it was the old economy and its old money that threw the most lavish parties.

One of the biggest spectacles, thrown by the veteran computer services company EDS, was in an airplane hangar at McCarron Airport featuring performers Macy Gray and Barenaked Ladies.

And at the Stratosphere, an 1,100-foot structure towering above the city, Xerox held a party in a 104th floor suite looking out over the glittering Las Vegas Strip.

On the same floor, but facing the opposite way toward the nondescript side of town, was a party sponsored by a group backing Linux, an alternative operating system that’s still popular among programmers, but less so with investors during these lean times.

But despite the uncertain backdrop, some remnants of the Internet gold rush persist. One exhibitor on the Comdex floor, a company named Virtual Money, was passing out plastic cards with a one-in-five chance to win up to $100 in cash just for showing up at the booth.

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