Innovation still hot offering at Comdex ' despite the short cab lines

When the taxicab line at the Las Vegas Hilton has fewer than 25 people at 4:30 p.m. on the first day of Comdex, you know the computer industry is in a slump.

More telling is the show floor. Mercedes Benz has a display of shiny coupes just a couple of booths down from Bangladesh's booth.

Bangladesh?

Except for the Microsoft Corp. party with its endless caviar and handout bottles of wine, the computer industry's annual tribal gathering is decidedly smaller and more low-key than in its heyday. I remember when Computer Associates International Inc., for instance, hired Joe Frazier to stage mock duke-outs at a boxing ring in its booth.

This year, you could spot embattled Sun Microsystems Inc. chairman Scott McNealy trying to look nonchalant while holding an impromptu-looking meeting in a hallway behind a sign pointing to the Dell Computer Corp. party just a few yards away.

But just because the industry is in a slump doesn't mean innovation has ceased. To the contrary, it can be found in abundance at this year's Comdex.

True, much of the innovation is decidedly consumerish: lots of cool, ultraminiature digital cameras, Universal Serial Bus storage devices and the like. But much of the work also is at the enterprise level.

For example, a company called Calpont showed a prototype of a radically different database management systems'one totally devoid of software.

Calpont president Valerie Borthwick, a former Oracle Corp. executive, said the Rockwell, Texas, company's Novare HDB implements a database, from the cells to the applications, totally in hardware. It promises a 100-fold increase in system performance and elimination of the immense complexity of the typical enterprise DBMS with its layer upon layer of optimizing software, Borthwick said.

The company, founded by veteran tech inventor Victor Bennett, plans to ship Novare HDB in the fall of 2003, although pricing hasn't been determined. It will contain an application server, a DBMS engine card and 112G of storage all in a 19-inch rackmount card cage. The machine will emulate IBM Corp., Microsoft and Oracle databases plus a superset of more than a half dozen languages based on Structured Query Language. There will be no software licenses.

Other advancements on display at the show are more incremental. Wireless technology continues to evolve, for instance.

Chip maker Broadcom Corp. said several manufacturers will incorporate its new 802.11g chip set. Officially, the company calls the chip set 54G because the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers hasn't certified the 802.11g standard. 'But it's 90 percent there,' said Jeff Abramowitz, senior director of wireless LAN marketing for the Sunnyvale, Calif., company.

802.11g is an amalgam that is designed to provide 802.11a's 54-Mbps bandwidth over 802.11b's 2.4-GHz frequency.

Abramowitz said at least three wireless LAN vendors'Linksys Group of Irvine, Calif., Melco Inc. of Japan, and Netgear Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif.'will use Broadcom's chip set.

In the handheld arena, Palm Inc.'s hot new Tungsten devices will get an enterprise boost from GoAmerica Communications Corp. Palm will bundle the Hackensack, N.J., company's GoWeb in its latest handhelds, said Aaron Dobrinsky, GoAmerica's chairman and chief executive officer.

GoWeb can encrypt data and deliver enterprise applications to wireless devices via public networks. Decryption occurs on the user's device. Dobrinsky said several federal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, use the technology to securely Web-enable apps.


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