Comdex vendors target small biz, while attendees head straight for the Microsoft booth
November 18, 1998
by Elizabeth Heichler
LAS VEGAS (IDG) -- The small business customer may be the prey of choice for the major vendors at Comdex/Fall '98 this week, with launches from the leading software vendors aimed directly at the legions who don't make up the Fortune 500.
While Microsoft formally announced the much-anticipated SQL Server 7.0 database Monday – with a host of other vendors riding its coattails with related new products of their own – Oracle planned to strike back with a lightweight, preconfigured database product billed as ideal for small organizations with little IS-administration overhead. Oracle's aim is to deliver products that cost less to own and manage than Microsoft's, according to CEO and Chairman Larry Ellison. Consequently, the company more often associated with large enterprise customers will sell its database software configured on a server appliance that runs a new, lightweight and easy-to-manage operating system.
Meanwhile, Novell Monday brought out a new version of its network operating system with features aimed at companies with fewer than 100 employees. NetWare for Business 4.2 includes installation wizards meant to make it easier for users to set up networks and to connect to the Internet.
But networks much smaller than those operated by "mom and pop" businesses may wind up being big news at Comdex this year: Industry observers are pointing to home networks as the hot area to watch.
Attendees this year – show organizers expect 220,000 – will likely see just the first generation of home-networking products, a category that won't really take off until more standards are defined, according to industry pundits who offered their preview of the show last night. However, attendees will get an early look at a set of technologies that ultimately will link a wide range of devices – from computers to home electronics to kitchen appliances. For example, Dutch consumer electronics giant Philips Electronics NV last night previewed its AMBI wireless home networking system, which links PCs and TVs.
However, a small random sample of attendees accosted by reporters as they alit from shuttle buses in front of the Las Vegas Convention Center Monday morning confessed to more mundane interests than Comdex's latest gee-whiz gadgets.
Mike Paskett, an applications specialist at GRP in Orem, Utah, is engaged in revamping his company's network, and came to Comdex looking for replacement hardware; he said that he is also hoping to look at document-imaging tools. Asked which vendor he would visit if he could see only one of the 2,400 exhibitors occupying two and a half million square feet of floor space this year, he immediately answered "Microsoft – we're going to a straight Microsoft shop."
Microsoft was also the choice of several other attendees queried, and at least one was newly inspired by the Microsoft message, having been among the 10,000 people that Comdex organizers said attended Microsoft Chairman and CEO Bill Gates' show-opening keynote speech Sunday night.
"Microsoft is leading the arena, and whatever they are coming out with, everyone else will follow," said Victor Dellovo, VP of the hardware division of Technisource in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Similarly, software developer Dale Gifford, of the Impact Zone in Hayward, Calif., was heading for the Microsoft booth. "Their technology is intriguing and they've captured such a large percentage of the marketplace that if a developer wants to develop anything, they have to develop with Microsoft software. I can't imagine, as a developer, spending my time developing in anything but Microsoft because I can leverage it."
And while just about everyone seems to come to Comdex to keep up with what's new, there are indeed a few attendees who are really interested in old, almost obsolete stuff – and are especially interested in what has become a dirty word for many PC vendors in the build-to-order direct sales era: inventory.
"If I had to choose one vendor to see at Comdex I'd pick Compaq," said J.J. Correa, president of Five Star in Rockaway, NJ. "I'm in the liquidation business so I buy manufacturers' older equipment to resell. And if I can get some Compaq stuff ... it's a great sell. ... My objectives are to find inventory, good inventory which has a high resale value."
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