Small is big at Comdex

LAS VEGAS - With thousands upon thousands of products vying for the attention of those attending the Comdex Fall '98 conference here, some vendors managed to grab the spotlight by making their products smaller.

Handheld personal computer vendors competed to produce the smallest and most robust systems possible.

Comdex featured new products and demonstrations from the two main handheld computing camps: 3Com Corp.'s Palm Computing Inc. and its third-party supporters and vendors with products based on Microsoft Corp.'s Windows CE operating system.

Palm Computing, Mountain View, Calif., brought together dozens of vendors to demonstrate new products designed for the Palm Computing platform.

Mark Bonine, enterprise production group manager at Palm Computing, said the platform gives users a less complex way to use handheld PCs than handheld solutions running on Microsoft's CE operating system. Palm Computing demonstrated its Palm III device, which provides one-touch, instantaneous access to e-mail, calendar, notepad and other tools.

The device also slides into a cradle that connects to users' PCs to allow synchronization of desktop systems.

The Palm III, which began shipping earlier this year, measures less than 5 inches tall, weighs 6 ounces and can store up to 6000 addresses, five years of appointments and 200 e-mail messages. Its list price is $369. Bonine said the company has shipped some of the devices to users in the Army.

A 3Com spokeswoman said more than 10,000 companies have signed on to develop applications for the Palm Computing platform. One of those developers, Symbol Technologies Inc., demonstrated a ruggedized bar code scanner that stores bar codes

as data points in the operating system. Rob Whittle, senior product manager at Symbol, Holtsville, N.Y., said the company began shipping the device in September. Its retail price is $535, he said.

LandWare Inc. displayed its new 14-ounce GoType! keyboard, which attaches to the Palm III and is designed for users who want to enter notes into the device via a standard QWERTY keyboard. Larry Reich, vice president of sales and marketing at LandWare, Oradell, N.J., said GoType! draws the little power it needs directly from the Palm III and requires no batteries. The product began shipping this month with a list price of about $80, he said.

In the Windows CE camp, Philips Mobile Computing Group demonstrated its Nino 300 personal companion, its latest Windows CE device. Ric Mommer, senior quality lead at the Campbell, Calif.-based company, said the Nino allows users to enter data through an on-screen keyboard or by writing on the screen with a pen-based interface. Two versions of the Nino began shipping in June.

The Nino 301, priced at $350, includes 4M of RAM, while the Nino 312 sells for $399 and includes 8M of RAM.

Mommer said his company has received a lot of interest in Nino from federal agencies. Although some observers have raised questions about the security of using such devices, Mommer said similar products have been used securely by intelligence agencies. "They buy the device off the shelf and their programmers and cryptologists can tailor it to their specific needs," he said. "And we can put agencies together with third-party developers who can help them if security is a problem."

Other Windows CE-based handheld PCs on display at Comdex included the new MobilePro 800 from NEC Computer Systems Division, Mountain View, Calif. The MobilePro 800 weighs 2.5 pounds and includes 24M of ROM and 32M of RAM. It also boasts a 9.4-inch SVGA display and runs on NEC's new DR4121 MIPS microprocessor. Its list price is $999.

Hewlett-Packard Co., Palo Alto, Calif., demonstrated its new Jornada 820 handheld PC, which uses an Intel Corp. StrongARM 190 MHz processor. Like the NEC devices, the Jornada weighs 2.5 pounds and sells for a list price of $999.

In the server arena, Data General Corp. announced its Aviion AV8700, its first Windows NT servers designed specifically for clustering. David Flawn, vice president of NT marketing for Data General, Westboro, Mass., said the company would begin shipping the system late this month. Pricing will start at about $20,000 for a two-processor system with 512M of RAM.

Geoffrey Milstein, Data General's Defense Department sales representative, said the system will be available through the company's General Services Administration schedule as well as through other governmentwide contracts, such as NASA's Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement II.

Doug McKinney, a systems analyst at the Air Force Air Mobility Command and an attendee at Comdex, said he evaluated the systems and found they performed "smoothly and reliably."

Although Comdex has never been known for focusing specifically on the needs of the federal marketplace, vendors said federal users were there in substantial numbers. In fact, GSA was a Comdex exhibitor this year, sponsoring a pavilion in which it brought together vendors demonstrating solutions to the Year 2000 problem.

John Clark, senior policy analyst at GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy, said he wanted to use the largest IT conference in the country as a platform from which to remind users of the urgency of the Year 2000 problem. At least 2,000 people came by the first day, Clark said.

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