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Techies Hit Comdex Trade Show

November 18, 2000

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ More than 200,000 techies _ mostly men_ converged on the glittering casino resort this week for the Comdex trade show.

The Fall 2000 convention, held from Sunday night through Friday afternoon, gridlocked the city’s motor and cellular pathways. But in more ways than size, Comdex was something other than a typical Las Vegas function.

Instead of slot players armed with coin buckets, the rush consisted of cell phone-toting computer nerds not easily snared by nickel-and-dime gambles.

Feeling lucky, perhaps, or trying to forget the industry’s recent Wall Street troubles, many indulged in the neon city’s strip clubs.

``They know computer chips control the machines. They figure they can’t beat them,″ said Chris Schneider, manager of the Olympic Garden strip club.

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.

The natural thing to do at a show dominated by wireless gadgets was to whip out a mobile phone and wait for a connection.

Cell phone use was so heavy 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 participants were expected to spend at least $250 million on activities other than gambling. Competition for that cash beckoned from marquees and taxi-top ads everywhere.

One company wrapped the MGM Grand resort with a 15,000-square-foot red vinyl banner to promote its antivirus software.

It’s all very different from what started in 1979 as the Computer Dealer Expo with 160 exhibitors and 4,000 attendees. This year’s event boasted 2,100 exhibitors sprawled across 1 million square feet of convention space.

Microsoft dominated the main exhibit hall with a huge pavilion just inside the entrance where the software king showed off ``Windows Me,″ a PocketPC platform for handheld devices.

Others promoted digital audio and video devices, as well as short-range wireless technologies like Bluetooth, ″802.11″ and HomeRF for direct communications between all these different devices.

But despite the enthusiastic throng, 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 offering technology for broadcasting live video from a home computer.

And, while the new economy was a hip topic, it seemed old money was footing the bill for lavish bashes.

One spectacle, thrown by veteran computer services company EDS, featured musicians Macy Gray and Barenaked Ladies in an airplane hangar at McCarron Airport.

And Xerox held a party at Stratosphere, a 1,100-foot tower overlooking the glittering Vegas strip.

Also on the 104th floor _ opposite the Xerox party _ was a bash sponsored by Linux, an alternative operating system that’s still popular among programmers but less so with investors.

Despite the uncertain backdrop, some remnants of the Internet gold rush persisted. One company exhibiting on the Comdex floor, Virtual Money, passed out plastic cards offering a one-in-five chance to win up to $100 just for visiting the booth.


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