As the weather began to grow colder in Chicago, in the middle of November, over 135,000 people from over 100 countries gathered in Las Vegas, Nevada at the week long COMputer Distribution EXposition known as COMDEX. There were over 2000 companies in seven distinct (and distant) exhibition areas (over 2.2 million square feet of exhibit space). There were exhibitors showing computer hardware, software, network computing products, multimedia, imaging and mobile computing.
Philippe Kahn, President, CEO and Chairman of Borland International (a software company known for their Quattro Pro spreadsheet, Paradox and dBASE databases. Objectvision and their Turbo language compilers) gave the keynote address. He detailed the industry problem that since programs are getting larger and more complex and programmers are working as fast as they can, it will take far too long to complete many software projects needed today. He feels that companies need to make and use re-usable "objects" (standard software components) to design new software. These software products will also "empower" the user to assist in the creation of their own software.
In another speech, William (Bill) Gates III, Chairman and CEO of Microsoft (manufacturer of the MSDOS operating system, Windows operating environment, Word word processor, Excel spreadsheet and the Microsoft mouse ) talked about the merits of the scaleable Windows operating system and pen-based computing.
Steven P. Jobs (co-founder of Apple Computer and Chairman and CEO of NeXT Computer, Inc.) talked about a new operating environment to be released called NeXTSTEP 486. It combines the power of the object-oriented NeXTSTEP environment used on NeXT workstations and allows it to be used on an Intel (IBM - PC style) 486 systems. It allows all users to easily navigate through networks, find the information they want and effectively use this information. (I'll have more on this next year when the product is released.)
Not to be outdone, IBM had an event which they directly compared themselves to Microsoft Windows. The context of the demo was 3 "simultaneous" tasks; a file was to be downloaded from a bulletin board, backup of files onto a diskette and the display a digital "video" with sound. Needless to say, the system running Windows did not keep up (the download completely stopped, the backup ran very slowly and the picture and sound started and stopped). The computer running OS/2 2.0 ran as if each task was the only one running on the system (each task appeared to run at full speed).
The interest in real-time desktop video was quite intense. Many vendors were showing different products capable of showing some form of digital video with a wide variety of screen sizes at different speeds (frames per second). As always, the larger the screen size, the better the quality and the faster the frame rate the more hardware and money was required. With Intel's Indeo, a 486 system can play back video images, 1/16 screen at 24 frames per second and with hardware (an i750 accelerator) can create full screen images at 30 frames per second. Total Multimedia (TMM) and Rapid Technology Corporation also demonstrated some exciting video technologies.
New sound cards seemed to be everywhere as there were many manufacturers showing new products which are currently shipping along with many "clone" boards. AdLib was back showing their AdLib Gold board, Alpha Systems Lab showed their Cyber Audio Card with sample based sound synthesis for better instrument reproduction and "speaker independent speech recognition capabilities". I'll have more in-depth information about these and other sound boards in a later issue as I begin to use them.
Many interactive authoring tools were shown. There were several products that will be released next year and several others will also be updated next year. I am currently evaluating HSC's Interactive and Gold Disk's updated Animation Works Interactive. They look like affordable and useful products.
A most unusual "virtual reality" program called VistaPro (from Virtual Reality Laboratories, Inc.) generates real and simulated landscapes (mountain scenes, lakes, rivers, trees, etc.) When coupled with their Make Path Flight Director program you can generate a "simulated" trip through this landscape. A version of this program, currently under development, can be coupled with special glasses and controller to create a stereo effect using a conventional monitor. Virtual Reality Laboratories, Inc. also makes another interesting program, Distant Suns, which turns your computer into a "virtual observatory". These programs must be seen to be believed.
Also introduced at the show was a new product category -- which I'll call the Windows "noise" products (programs which will allow your Windows software to make "noise" when various events like button clicks, messages and errors occur). Prosonus makes a product which Michael Winslow (stand up comedian of Police Academy fame) creates the sound effects that can add interest and excitement to your usual work and video presentations. Aristosoft also showed a product called Wired for Sound Pro 2.0 which included 200 sound effects.
There were many sources of license free music. One product MusicBytes also from Prosonus, contains original music from artists associated with major rock groups and covers many musical styles (rock to classical, industrial to novelty) in a variety of formats (MIDI, 11K or 22K wave files, and conventional CD audio). Killer Tracks had a series of CD's with a variety of different music styles.
For those people that dislike the mouse as a pointing device, CH Products showed a high-performance trackball called the Rollermouse that works for both right and left handed people and is available for the IBM PC, PS/2, Macintosh, Amiga, Sun and NeXT computers. It has an excellent "feel" (like arcade trackballs) and is extremely comfortable to use.
GRiD Systems released their new portable notebook computer, called the Convertible, which has a special screen and keyboard with a patented hinge which allows the user to "flip" the screen over the keyboard to become a flat pen based computer. It comes bundled with DOS 5.0, Windows for Pen and a version of PenCell spreadsheet from Pen Cell. It is currently in production, weighs 5.5 pounds with a suggested retail price of $3495.
Well, I'm off to explore the landscape of Mars virtually on my computer, using Vistapro's Mars Explorer.
© 1993 Rick Smith All rights reserved.