COMDEX 1996

A friend of mine makes an annual pilgrimage to CES in Las Vegas each year. The last trade show I went to in Las Vegas was Comdex. OK, it was a while ago, 11+ years I think, but still I went.

Bill Gates was the keynote speaker that year (as usual). He talked about a brave new world where your PC would be your personal slave, and something called Bob(tm) would do your every bidding. The example was something like... you ask Bob to get you tickets to the opera, and while you're off living your life, Bob finds the best priced tickets, in your preferred section of the Opera Hall, and while he's there, he also books dinner reservations at your favorite restaurant in the Theater District. I recall walking out of the auditorium and wondering if I, a Bob myself, had to worry about paying Microsoft royalties whenever I signed my name. Thanks goodness Bob never took off; as it is, I hate that stupid little paperclip person who tells me I'm using Microsoft Word all wrong -- what an annoying little pest he is!

One of the hot technologies that year was the DVD. It promised to provide 2.5 hours of video, in multiple languages, all in the form factor of a CD. Of course, back then, DVD players cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. But after watching a demo of a DVD on a big-screen TV, I was sold. I ran right out and got a DVD player within five years, when they cost $200. Last year I bought a DVD player for my mother-in-law for 35 bucks. Of course, now the video technology is Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD, and the future isn't as clear.

Another new technology being promoted that year was digital cameras. Why in the world would anyone want a digital camera, I wondered. They were huge -- bigger than my old Fujica ST605N SLR (which I still have and use), low resolution (2 megapixels was the norm, not enough for a crisp 8x10 color glossy with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one), and expensive, easily costing over $1000 for most models. I think it was another 6 or 7 years before I went digital myself.

At the time, I went to the show representing PictureTel, a major high-end videoconferencing vendor at the time. We were telling everyone how video would change the world, business travel would be a thing of the past, and life would be better. Life is better, for me at least -- I quit PictureTel before they went bankrupt and their hollow husk was bought by Polycom. Of course, maybe the people at PictureTel were right, video is changing the world. It's just being done using commodity webcams on laptops and PCs. Seeing the future, and capitalizing on your vision are clearly two different things.

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