Red hot and cool at the Expo

Smaller, cooler, faster, cheaper. Those few words could sum up the feel of many of the exhibits at the 1998 Computerworld Expo. Exhibitors reported strong interest in particular technologies - DVD, digital cameras, handhelds and video-conferencing. Also attracting attention were Intel's new small office components, which included small stackable hubs and switches and an "Internet station" designed to connect small offices to the Internet with a minimum of fuss

Smaller, cooler, faster, cheaper.

Those few words could sum up the feel of many of the exhibits at the 1998 Computerworld Expo.

Exhibitors reported strong interest in particular technologies — DVD, digital cameras, handhelds and video-conferencing.

Also attracting attention were Intel’s new small office components, which included small stackable hubs and switches and an “Internet station” designed to connect small offices to the Internet with a minimum of fuss, described by one user as “cheap, simple and elegant”.

And for those who were into the heavy stuff, Compaq’s stand neatly enclosed a selection of file servers, tape drives and a storage box connected via fibre channel. Nearby, Digital showed the power of Alpha with a racing car simulation complete with car and protective helmet.

The DVD demonstrations focused mainly on the consumer end, with movies on show wherever desktop systems and notebook systems were on display.

Sony had the latest model of its digital camera with a floppy disk drive inside. Sony’s David Clarkson reported a lot of interest in the Digital Mavica FD7 and the FD5.

The cameras require no cables or special software because they store pictures as JPEG files on a standard high-density floppy disk. The FD7’s features include a zoom lens, and enhanced exposure and focusing capability.

Handheld machines attracted a lot of interest. One stand-out had the crowds looking at the US Robotics Palm Pilot and its applications. GSM modems are now available for them. Lotus has written a synch program for Notes users so they can use the Palm Pilot for email and there is a range of HTML tools allowing browsing.

CellDirect’s James Watters says a mobile office (including handhelds, cellphones and laptops) can now be fitted easily into a briefcase - particularly when infrared ports are used.

This month Nokia is launching the 6110 cellphone which can link into your handheld or laptop via an infrared port.

He believes demand for cellphones will increase as such technology enables users to link everything together.

Watters says handhelds such as the Psion 5 series are in high demand for professionals such as sales representatives and managers so they can access contacts and figures, and for professionals travelling overseas who want to be in email contact.

Watters says sales had been slow market until the launch of the Cassiopeia fired up the competition.

Prices have also come down. A mid-range product like the Psion 3 cost about $1200 a year ago and now costs only about $600.

However, Watters doesn’t see handheld prices dropping forever. “You can only go so far, just as with desktop computers.”

The Printer Company’s Ernst Layr says the same about colour printer prices.

“There is an end. You can only go so far in technology. Printers will become faster but I don’t expect the price to drop like it has in the past three years.” However, he thinks they could fall by between $300 and $500.

Layr says the cost of consumables has fallen as well, reducing the cost per page.

When it comes to storage, a new 200Mb HiFD (high capacity floppy disk) storage device from Sony, which pioneered the 3.5 inch floppy, was also attracting interest.

The format was co-developed with Fuji. The disk’s capacity is equal to 138 floppy disks. The disk has a 3.6Mb/s data transfer rate. The HiFD device takes standard 1.44Mb 3.5-inch disks as well.

There is no specific launch date for the product yet, but Sony hopes they will be in New Zealand by the end of this year. Sony also has laptops due for release in New Zealand late this year or early next year, almost handheld size.

Toshiba reported strong interested in its video camera attached to a laptop, saying there was a novelty value in the technology for those seeing it for the first time. However, Toshiba itself will be putting it to a real business use soon when it uses it to do conference calls with its Wellington office.

Firewall products were also evident, including one from CashLink called SessionWall-3 which works by monitoring TCP/IP traffic and using “spoofing” techniques to disable connections between one machine and another according to rules you define, also allowing sophisticated monitoring of Internet/intranet traffic which enables good monitoring of load, and monitoring of inappropriate Internet usage.

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