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Comdex Turnout Reflects IT’s Woes

While Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina were keynote speakers at Comdex/Fall, giving the show the executive glamour and feel of the booming 1990s, the stagnant state of the information technology market cast a pall on this once popular trade show.

Show organizer Key3Media reported attendance at 125,000 with about 1,000 exhibitors, down significantly from its height in the late ’90s, when attendance peaked at 200,000, some Comdex floor exhibitors at last month’s show doubted even that claim. They noticed that the Las Vegas Convention Center’s Central and South Halls were not fully utilized and the new section of the building was totally empty. Adding to vendor concerns was Key3Media’s announcement prior to the show that it is considering filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

But keynotes by Gates and Fiorina, which covered a range of topics, harkened back to when the show was fully geared to the corporate IT market.

Of the two, Gates spent the most time discussing the consumer market. He went back to his 2001 Comdex/Fall keynote when he described the coming of the digital decade. A time when more work, entertainment and communication all will be done digitally.

“The advances in chips and connectivity, and the devices themselves, will make so many things common sense to be done in digital form, whether it’s sending a phone bill to a company, analyzing sales results, taking notes, organizing your music, sharing your family memories with other people,” Gates said.

Gates said he was pleased with several changes that took place in the category last year, such as price and performance developments in the PC segment, and he touched upon the acceptance of 802.11 wireless networking, digital cameras and LCD monitors.

He tempered these positive thoughts by admitting the fact that there are several tough elements the industry still must deal with. The poor economic climate is not being helped by continued weak spending in the corporate IT sector, and Gates added, the slow development of broadband.

“A final negative is broadband deployment. Here, yes, there’s been a growth in the last year, but the price has gone up somewhat, and it is not, in fact, moving as many — including myself — would have hoped that it would be,” he said.

Fiorina matched the spirit of Gates’ speech when she used her time to implore the attendees to deliver business solutions and not just cool products.

“The demand for technology for its own sake is down, but the need for technology is still there,” she said, adding the industry must look past the doom-and-gloom reports that have dominated its news for the past few years and to keep being innovative.

Fiorina used most of her keynote to hype HP’s place in the market as she explained how the corporation is the technological backbone behind everything from the New York Stock Exchange to

Her one comment concerning the consumer market centered on the newly announced Tablet PC product. While most Tablet PC vendors at the show consider it a business tool — even though it is selling through retail — Fiorina spoke of it as a consumer product.