- The Washington Times - Monday, November 20, 2000


The first Comdex of the new millennium (or is it the last of the old millennium? Can I get a recount?) has proved that the personal computer is dead. Or it isn't.

Outside of Hewlett-Packard, which did unveil some new desktop PCs and a rather spiffy new notebook, there was no wave of new personal computers descending on the trade-show landscape. Instead, as this Nevada desert shivered under chilly fall temperatures, the emphasis was on non-PC devices, handhelds and digital do-dads of various sorts.

To say the PC is dead and gone is an exaggeration, of course: Millions have been sold, are being sold and will be sold before the end of this era. But non-PCs and neo-PCs are poised to take to the fore in the coming months. Some examples:

• Internet terminals: One of the best I saw was from Gateway, price $599 and included an infrared keyboard, flat-panel display and stereo speakers. Connectivity is either via dial-up modem or Ethernet. The operating system is Linux, but customized to run a special version of America Online. The service is extra, unless one is already an AOL customer.

In a demonstration, the service and the device ran well, and was part of a networked home where it controlled MP3 music from a PC and routed it over inside telephone wiring to players in other rooms. The same system can control digital video, and even digital telephony, as well as a bridge to analog telephone networks. All this networking takes place while the regular phone network runs, Gateway's Kevin Hell said.

The terminals are available now; other products will come on line shortly. Best of all from a consumer standpoint is that the items will be on display in Gateway stores, making it easier to understand what you are buying beforehand.

• Handhelds rule: Without question, they do. Consider that last year maker Handspring Inc., didn't have a booth at Comdex. This year the company's huge stand was mobbed by fans and friends, including Amazon.com founder/CEO Jeff Bezos, who was admiring several add-on modules being demonstrated.

Palm Computing, the company Handspring's founders started before moving on, found its stand crowded as well, particularly when it announced an attachment that lets users communicate without wires via cellular phones.

The momentum toward handheld computing included something I had not seen at Comdex before: the retail sale of Handspring Visors and accessories at the show store and they were selling fast.

• LEDs Sparkle: The best may yet arrive for handheld computers, phones and like devices. Kodak was showing off a new organic light-emitting diode technology that could make display screens readable in rather strong sunlight or other lighting conditions. No timetable exists for seeing these on handhelds, but some Sprint PCS phones are featuring the new and better screen display.

• HP notebook shines: Hewlett-Packard's OmniBook 500 notebook PC, previewed at the show, is a two-stage device: an ultra-portable slice for on-the-road computing (complete with Ethernet, modem and video-out ports) and a multimedia expansion base that can provide space for extra batteries, CD-RW drives or up to 60 gigabytes of disk storage.

The look of the HP OmniBook 500 is as impressive as its power: a thin and lightweight design made possible through the use of leading-edge ergonomic material and design technologies including a full magnesium casing. This results in an uncompromising notebook weighing less than 3.5 pounds (depending on configuration) and is less than 1 inch in thickness. Another nice feature: you can set up a hot key to immediately launch a presentation, something road-warriors will appreciate. The units sport Intel Pentium III processors, which will be available in January and range in price from $1,899 to $3,499 depending on configuration.

• Speeding up the Bus: No sign of Sandra Bullock, but the Universal Serial Bus (USB) is speeding up with the arrival of Belkin Component's USB 2.0 four-port hub, said to offer the ability to support high-speed devices of up to 480 Mbps. The device, part of the new USB 2.0 standard, should make such connections faster and will be backward compatible with earlier USB devices. The four-port hub will ship in January 2001 and retail for $89.99. Included with the hub will be a USB 2.0 device cable and AC wall adapter, the firm said.

• 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 [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com.

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