- The Washington Times - Monday, February 21, 2000

INDIAN WELLS, Calif.

If it's February, this must be DEMO 2000, the 10-year-old technology showcase which claims to have given a start to 1,000 new products in the computer world. The latest edition of this event, just concluded, may have been its best: a superb run of products and technologies with plenty to offer users now and in the near future.

A Silicon Valley start-up, ThinkFree.com, generated perhaps the greatest amount of "buzz" at the show with its ThinkFree office suite, which offers a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation graphics program. Not only are the files compatible with Microsoft Office, but they have much of the look and feel of the popular software.

Using only a browser, the office software will be available on the Microsoft Windows and Linux platforms, with support for Unix and Macintosh depending on the availability of a compatible Java Virtual Machine, officials at the firm said. In the case of the Mac, said Ken Rhie, president of the firm, the holdup is Apple's slowness in updating its Java VM.

Such distinctions, however, were of little importance to the conference audience, which was made up of over 1,000 people from technology companies, venture capital firms, industry analysts and reporters. The crowd cheered during a demo in which Rhie showed off an Excel look-alike that opened and saved files from the popular spreadsheet. Referring to the high per-unit cost of Microsoft Office 2000, which can run over $500 per seat at retail, Mr. Rhie said, "the government isn't the only one who wants your money," in a not-so-veiled reference to the Redmond, Wash., software giant.

ThinkFree is not alone in staking out this space. San Francisco-based startup iAmaze, which also went live at the show, is kicking off its Internet standards-based applications with Presenter, whose slide shows can be created or viewed by multiple users simultaneously. Its maker says Presenter creates "a new way for friends, family and work groups to collaborate on projects." The software, which resides on an Internet server, can be used for general tasks such as school projects and business presentations as well as other projects, the firm said.

The company claims its iAmaze product suite will ultimately include Presenter, plus word processing and spreadsheet applications. The iAmaze Presenter is available for free at www.iamaze.com and will also be licensed to Web sites and companies that want to offer iAmaze functionality to their users or employees.

That licensing may become an issue in some quarters, where managers could be concerned about "marketing information" about users ending up in the hands of commercial firms. ThinkFree's Mr. Rhie said the "personal" version of his product is available to those who merely register with a name and e-mail address, adding city, state and ZIP code information, as well as a "clue" to guide the firm's tech support team in case a user loses a password. But that e-mail address, Mr. Rhie said, could just as easily be a Hotmail or other free, private e-mail address, and doesn't have to be a "dot-gov" or corporate e-mail address.

Mr. Rhie said his firm is planning to offer site licenses that might cover an organization within its security fire wall, and would also sell a server-resident version for users who want the ultimate in security for the software.

On the hardware side, several new products were demonstrated at the event.

IDEO Product Development Inc., Palo Alto, Calif., introduced the eye-module digital camera, which turns the Handspring Visor into an image capture device. The unit will retail for $149 and will take advantage of the Visor's "Springboard" slot for add-ons. Not to be outdone, Eastman Kodak Company bowed its $149 Kodak PalmPix camera, which attaches to a Palm III or Palm VII device using the HotSync cradle connection.

Pictures can be viewed on the Palm's LCD screen (2.3-by-2.3-inches) as grayscale images, the firm said. Once on the computer desktop, the pictures are stored as standard JPEG or bitmap files. They can be accessed on the desktop as full-color VGA (640-by-480) pictures then manipulated, e-mailed, printed and saved. The PalmPix camera is small and ultra-lightweight (1.5 ounces); so it can be easily carried anywhere a Palm goes. The camera features a fixed focus lens, 2X digital zoom and self-timer.

More exciting and promising more consumer interest are various means of bringing Internet radio to the masses. Two firms, Cupertino, Calif.-based Kerbango and Tustin, Calif.-quartered Audio Ramp will each bring devices to market which offer push-button access to Internet audio. The Kerbango device shown at DEMO, and selling for $299 retail, would only play Internet content and features five preset buttons you can tune to a favorite station from "back home" or another choice. For $100 more (at retail), Audio Ramp's "iRad" device will not only tune in Web stations, but also AM-FM over-the-air broadcasts and play CDs. To top it off, the device will store about 1,000 MP3 audio format songs on a 6 megabyte hard drive built in.

Having such devices in mass distribution one analyst predicted sales of 20 million units the first year out will impact the use and application of broadcast technology, as well as create new avenues for organizations to bring their messages to the masses.

Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002, send e-mail to MarkKel@aol.com, or visit the writer's Web page (www.markkellner.com).

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