If I were the punning sort--which I'm not, of course -- I'd be saying things like "Panicky companies are hitting the Comdex" and "the gamblers in Las Vegas this week are more interested in the chips in the computers than the chips on the tables."
But I'm too tired to be clever after fighting my way through a crowd of nearly 100,000 people, 1,400 exhibitors and $200 million worth of computer equipment spread out over six buildings to find out just what's going on in personal computerdom.
The size and scope of the biggest Comdex an acronym for Computer Dealers' Exposition ever is nothing short of awesome. Practically everyone who's anyone in computers is in Las Vegas. Of course, there are a few stay-aways -- notably Lotus of 1-2-3 fame -- but things are too crowded at Comdex anyway.
But while the scale of the show may rival a Cecil B. DeMille production, I'm sorry to say that the special effects leave a lot to be desired.
There simply ain't that much new and/or exciting. I'm referring to the personal computer hardware and software, not the late-night parties and receptions, which often are.
Consequently, it's really a test of one's analytical abilities to ferret out possible trends amidst this confusion of pressed flesh and digitized silicon.
The obvious one -- but one that merits a lot of attention -- is the rising number of entrants in the portable computer market. Data General, Texas Instruments and Sord Computers all have introduced lightweight, fairly powerful machines designed for take-along travel use. Radio Shack and Hewlett-Packard continue to enjoy healthy sales in the lap-compatible market. Needless to say, everyone is waiting to see what IBM will do when it chooses to enter the portable market.
The idea is that these machines will let the office travel with you and put the power of the computer everywhere you can go. Unfortunately, the software side of the equation has been minimized. So far, these companies have sought to mass produce lightweight machines rather than figure out precisely how they will fit into a buyer's computing scheme.
For example, the major concern of most portable manufacturers is to produce machines that are IBM or Apple compatible. At first blush that seems reasonable, because you want machines to be able to run as much software as possible as soon as possible. But there has to be a difference between the desk-top purposes of computers and the portable computers.
The key is not, I believe, the computing power of the machine, but rather its ability to communicate. New kinds of software will have to be created to let the portables send and receive electronic mail from the office, exchange files, receive data, and so on. Indeed, expect large companies that purchase hundreds of portables at a crack to create information networks, so that a sales rep traveling along California's coast can send a technical question to an engineer traveling in Maine.
Custom software for such functions as accounts-receivable billing and inventory requests will spring up as companies choose to put more and more computing problems in the hands of their field representatives.
It is also apparent from this Comdex show that Macintosh is finally getting a wave of software support that really exploits the unique interaction and graphic capabilities of the machine. Companies no longer are trying to reproduce on the Macintosh what they've already done for the IBM PC. Instead, they are designing new ways of accessing data base programs, word-processing programs, project management programs, etc., through the mouse interface and the pop-down menu structure.
One interesting sidelight is that a number of companies, notably Digital Research Inc.'s Gem, are looking to make the IBM clones more Mac-like by creating a new generation of operating systems. The catch is that the computer chips running the PC clones are much too slow to emulate the Mac effectively.
However, don't be surprised if IBM personal computers themselves become more and more Mac-like in future generations. Everybody at the show seems to like the Macintosh approach. That doesn't mean the Macintosh is going to succeed, but it does mean that the style of interaction the machine provides is certain to be imitated.