With precisely 8,660 exhibitors in 26 halls, each the size of Earl's Court, it is only possible to vaguely imagine the total number of products within the Cebit fairground. However, a slice from each hall - each housing a product category - gives some idea of the whole.
The Network PC took up a whole hall at Cebit, but definitions of what constitutes one of these babies varied. The jury is still out on whether the Microsoft-Intel NetPC spec will create the bandwagon needed to put Oracle and its collaborators, with their Network Computers, into touch.
Tektronix made a big splash of its Net Station range, drawing on its past and present expertise in the X-terminal market. Indeed, it was hard to spot a NetPC that wasn't part of an Intel or Microsoft presentation. Expect to see the NetPCs in greater force at this year's PC Expo in New York.
The Internet had huge presence. Among the search engines, Alta Vista showed a software tool that will sort a search into different categories. The Live Topics feature will do so without an end user performing a predefined search.
On the tools side, Web publishers Asymetrix and Macromedia took time out to demonstrate their authoring tools for the Internet. The latter showed its Internet Studio 2.0, which will work for both Macintosh and Windows. The other 97 companies demonstrating their wares in this category included Cambridge Technology Partners, Cognos, Informix, Lotus and Sausage Software. The last, rather aptly named in a place that has a whole drinking place devoted to the consumption of steins of German beer and all flavours of wurst, specialises in e-cash systems, virtual reality software and online services.
Workstations and PCs are often the centrepiece at Cebit. This year, IBM demonstrated its Pentium Pro workstations and it emerged for the first time that both PC and RS/6000 resellers will be able to sell the system. The effect on the channel is still to be discussed.
Silicon Graphics showed off its range of Octane desktop workstations. Complete with symmetric multiprocessing and a 64-bit operating system, the Octane comes with single or dual Mips R10000 processors. Announced last October, the Octanes are now available.
Digital cameras attracted more than their fair share of interest at Cebit, with a large number of vendors showing their different wares. It is estimated by market researchers that over 20 million units will be sold before the clock strikes midnight on 31 December 1999 and that has attracted both big and small names to exhibit their wares.
The biggest vendors, including Kodak, HP and Microsoft, back the Flashpix format. This technology will size up the snapshot and pick the best resolution for the job. HP showed its new Photosmart printer, which will also use the technology. The big boys in the digital camera business, including Fuji and Kodak, are set to have their market share eaten up as Korean manufacturers like LG chase their share of the market.
Optical technology also had its fair share of attention at the show. While the debate has raged on over whether people should buy CD-rewritable units or concentrate on the introduction of writable DVD drives, Pioneer and a number of other Far Eastern players took time out of the argument to show actual products. The acronym now stands for Digital Versatile Disk and although they are read-only devices this year, the standards committees are likely to have ironed out their differences by next year's Cebit.
CD-R devices, in fact, were shown by many more exhibitors this year, ranging from Acer, through Mitsumi to Yamaha. Ricoh claimed it was first to market but whoever wins the battle, it's certain that the CD-Rom is holding its own. Over 40 exhibitors, many of them large names, demonstrated products.
The arrival of thin film plasma screens caused a lot of excitement. Many of the larger notebook manufacturers were peddling their wares. The technology will give them an advantage because plasma screens are far lighter and thinner than current TFT offerings. NEC has traditionally led this field but Mitsubishi, Sharp, Sony, Fujitsu, Hitachi, Philips and Pioneer all showed variations of the technology. Wall hanging Plasmatron screens are practically here and by the end of 1997, we are likely to see a screen that you will be able to paste like wallpaper. Siemens Nixdorf proudly displayed a range of notebooks using the technology.
Other notebook manufacturers showed 13.3-inch TFT displays. This market is pushed strongly by Toshiba and Sharp but the form factor of an A4 notebook at A4 while convenient to read, is hard to carry round. The manufacturers considered that they had mastered the yields on such screens but it is certain that notebooks using the technology will cost a premium.
Still on notebooks, Digital was showing both Intel and Alpha-based machines but it was hard to tell exactly which operating system was driving the Alpha variation.
Down in Hall 8, there were announcements from the backroom boys of the industry, the support chip and motherboard makers. Trident showed its Cyber 9397, a device that powers MMX-enabled 64-bit LCD flat panel systems. It also demonstrated its 3D Image 985 semiconductor, a graphics accelerator for the AGP (advanced graphics port) on Klamath motherboards. Cirrus Logic also demonstrated its range of semiconductors that support 3D audio and graphics.
And there had to be some space for futurism. At Comdex/Fall 1995, IBM's chairman Lou Gerstner talked at length about a device that fitted into a shoe so that, when two people shook hands, data was transferred between their bodies and could be downloaded into a computer. The technology, called personal area network (PAN) was demonstrated in prototype on IBM's large stand at the show, running at speeds of about 2400 baud.
One of the problems with PAN, which is still to be overcome, was not highlighted at Hanover - for the system to work, a special conductive shoe and floor surface are required and users must be isolated from any other currents. The technology has some way to go before GIFs can be exchanged, never mind business cards.
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