to get to comdex 2001, you haveto walk up, over and almost through a massive, empty conference hall at the north end of the Metro Convention Centre. In the wake of the dot-gone meltdown of the past few months, this feels like an ominous sign.Comdex is the country's biggest information technology conference, a three-day orgy of new media seminars, high-tech idea trading, network networking and gadget peddling. It used to be a huge deal, with developers showing off their newest toys and best ways to spend limitless piles of venture capital, but that was before words like "new technology" and "Internet businesses" got people sweating nervously.
The question surrounding Comdex 2001 was whether, in the wake of the meltdown, anyone would care any more. On opening day, the answer was mixed.
The massive conference hall hosting the trade show was packed with Palm Pilot-toting techies zapping business contacts back and forth to each other. But people were most interested in scamming plastic bags full of free stuff and entering draws to win two-way pagers and laser printers.
While many start-ups and flashy developers had dropped by the wayside, there were dozens of booths with folks peddling gadgets.
In the predictable demos and tutorial sessions, though, talk focused on making things go faster and hold more information. There was less about predicting the future -- alarm clocks that dress you in the morning and cellphones the size of business cards.
Around the booths themselves, excitement was at a minimum. There were crowds at Palm's central station and another knot of people trying to get a sneak peak at Microsoft's new Windows XP operating system. The biggest lineup was for folks trying out the 3-D glasses at the X Gaming booth (see sidebar).
The fact that Comdex's keynote address came from pro-wrestler-turned-Minnesota-governor Jesse Ventura, a powerful man who admitted that he doesn't know how to use a computer, was troubling.
Does Comdex have to succumb to tawdry flash to sell itself?
Maybe with the aftershocks still rumbling and dot-com deathpool sites like www.fuckedcompany.com busier than ever, people are still a little gun-shy and more interested in sussing out the lay of the land than in leaping straight back into the new technology game.
Someone might want to tell that to Sheikh Mohammed. The true centrepiece of Comdex 2001 was a lavish booth for the state of Dubai, decked out with hardwood floors, leather couches, soft lighting and a massive billboard advertising Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashad Al Maktoum's homepage (www.sheikhmohammed.co.ae).
Perhaps the sheikh knows something we don't.