Comdex, once the ultimate PC show, is dominated this year by all sorts of new computing devices bearing little resemblance to the traditional desktop system. Many of these devices are prototypes, some will only be sold on the Japanese market and it is unclear which, if any, of them will eventually catch on. But they do draw the crowds in a show that frankly has offered little other news. The typical Network Computer, a 'thin' desktop device that runs Java, was hardly to be seen at Comdex, due to the fact that Sun, Oracle and Netscape were not exhibiting. Microsoft made the most of their absence, heavily promoting its new Windows CE 2.0 operating system.
Windows CE 2.0 HPC's were all over the place, from companies as HP, Philips and Sharp. Sharp showed an interesting variation with its Mobilon HPC, which has an optional camera. The camera, which is about an inch wide and two inches long, attaches to the device by being plugged in to the PCMCIA slot. Stills taken with the camera can be edited and resized on the HPC - as well as sent through using the built-in 33,6 kbps modem.
Also running Windows CE 2.0 - or at least a modified version of it - will be new Windows-Based Terminals or WBTs, 'thin client' desktop systems designed to run Windows applications using Windows-based Terminal Server, the multi-user Windows server formerly known at Hydra. Microsoft launched the beta-version of Hydra at Comdex, and companies like Wyse, Boundless and NCD were demonstrating terminals connecting to it.
But despite its overwhelming presence at the show, Windows CE is a long way from dominating the handheld market. The front runner in this market is currently the PalmPilot from 3Com, a much smaller and cheaper device than the HPC. In this lucrative low-end of the market, it is now being joined by the REX PC Companion from Rolodex. A device no bigger than PC-Card - because it actually is a PC-Card. It's a read-only pocket organiser with only an LCD screen and four buttons. It is loaded up with the users contacts and appointments by inserting it into a PCMCIA drive. A basic model costs $130.
Mitsubishi demonstrated a prototype device hardly larger than a matchbox, which could be used for surfing the Web over a cellular connection. IBM, together with Cross Pen Computing Group, introduced another application-specific portable device: the Crosspad. This device does nothing else than to allow users to take handwritten notes and later transfer these to a computer. It will ship in Q1 of 1998.
Brother launched the GeoBook NB-80C, a system built like a standard notebook but running the GEOS 3.0 operating system from GeoWorks, an OS used on PDA's and smart phones. The systems main attraction is its price, with a monochrome model going for $599 and the colour version selling for $799. The system comes with a number of basic applications such as email, browser and notepad in ROM, it has a PC-compatible floppy drive but no hard disk. The device does not support Java.
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