May 1998

Spring Internet World ’98

by Robley Curtice

What about trade conferences? Have they had their day? Many people resent being forced to traipse about the vast displays, but the conferences do serve the purposes of informing and educating, and if taken in the right dosages can be enjoyable.

The latest one I attended was Mecklermedia’s Los Angeles incantation of Internet World. It did, however, seem a tad sparse in attendance this year. Perhaps that’s due to the company’s enormous expansion of the show (since they now have 28 shows in 25 countries) or it might be an industry trend: company’s just can’t afford to have too many of their people out attending such shows. However, a Sun Microsystem executive told us that the problem with the show was that because of its diversity it was unfocused and not bringing in a specific audience that exhibitors desired. The staff said that they had from 50,000 to 60,000 attendees, but would not give out exact numbers. They did have 600 plus exhibitors and claimed that 67% of the attendees went to no other such event during the year.

But the North Hall at the convention center that was full last year was empty this. Many new products were debuted here, one of which–-an email phone from Casio–-I really liked. An IBM Internet World Network--a high availability, production quality network--kept hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of attendees connected to the Internet. It was an impressive example of IBM’s capability of building on the spot a high-speed network for thousands of users.

Ed Zander, COO of Sun Microsystems, asserted in his keynote speech that Java computing was "…changing the fundamental way we work." Some of the demos and apps he said that were at this show did not exist last year. He also showed an "Enigma Card" that allowed Sun employees to directly access the home office Sun network (whose slogan is "Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime, on Anything"). Much of the import of the remarks were to be repeated two weeks later at JavaOne, but the amazing progress of the Java language in the computing world warrants such enthusiasm. Although controversial ("Too much hype?" is asked continually), Java, from what we seen, is here to stay and is performing, much to Microsoft’s regret.

The item I really liked was demoed by Stephen Knuth, president of Casio PhoneMate. This is the brand new IT-380 Email link telephone. It’s the first combination telephone answering device to let users check their electronic mail much as they now check their voice mail. Using a three-line, 18-character liquid crystal display (LCD) to inform users about their new, unread email, without requiring that they boot-up a computer. It does not require a PC connection. It serves as an important filter for email users who increasingly need to identify and act on urgent email. It includes an “Email Alert” that signals new messages with a flashing light. It displays the subject, sender and date/time of each message. In fact, by using a really short subject (for instance, “Plane Delayed Two Hours”) actual communication can exist without ever going online. The answering part of the machine has the spectacular features of all digital recording and a Message File add-on that lets the user preserve important messages.

While I intend to make Internet World next year, I do wonder about its viability.

Robley Curtice (, a San Franciscan, is an early-retired teacher who haunts West Coast technical conferences searching for the 21st Century Killer App.

Copyright © 1998 by Robley Curtice. All Rights Reserved.

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