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.comment: Freebies, Buzzwords, and Goofy Stuff

Live from the Javits Show Floor

  • June 28, 2000
  • By Dennis E. Powell

(Author's note: During the coming days, weeks, and months, the computer press will give extensive coverage to the great and momentous pronouncements and announcements made at PC Expo, now underway in New York City. If any of those very important things has managed to slither into what follows, I apologize.)

PC Expo was where we got the hint that it was beginning, and PC Expo may be the place where we're now receiving the hint that it's ending.

The vast computer and software show was marked in 1992 by campaign-style buttons that identified the wearer as someone who demanded Windows preloaded on his or her next machine (as opposed to Next machine, which was also on display then). It was the beginning of the preload steamroller that came to guarantee that if you owned a computer, you owned Windows, like it or not. This year there aren't any buttons. Microsoft has its customary big display, but much of what seems to be the Microsoft area is instead made up of companies that do business with Microsoft, sticking tight like remoras on a shark. (A marine biologist friend tells me that partially digested remoras are often found in the stomachs of sharks.) To get the Microsoft T-shirt, one has to collect coins from five different Microsoft "partners," proof that the bearer has endured five software demonstrations. (I asked the lady at the Microsoft booth if in a few months' time the T-shirt would turn into two smaller T-shirts. She for some reason didn't laugh. And I didn't get the T-shirt.)

And fealty to Microsoft is the exception at PC Expo this year. Vendors are either ready to provide details about their products' compatability with Linux or very defensive about incompatability. Some are actually apologetic about Windows preloads. Linux Mall has a big display of things for sale, and the cash register kachings regularly. Red Hat has a nice display, also on the main floor. IBM is demonstrating its ViaVoice for Linux (which works, and which includes a nifty little word processor; it also records the audio that it has transcribed and will play it back, or play back in computer voice the words it has taken down).

In keeping with tradition, PC Expo has two show floors: upstairs, where the big guys are, and downstairs, which has become largely a job fair and dot-com startup pavillion. It used to be where the usual computer fair crowd gathered and sold stuff--I got my first Sound Blaster at one of these a decade ago. (Wonder if there's any chance of IBM acquiring the relevent code so that one of the voice choices for readback could be Dr. Sbaitso....)

But as any serious, long-term PC Expo junkie knows, the show is especially interesting for its freebies, buzzwords, and goofy stuff, with perhaps a small bittersweet turn--the things you hoped to see introduced that weren't. So I shall now open my bulging canvas briefcase, provided by IBM at the OS/2 Warp 3 rollout years ago and used only at PC Expo, and make three piles.

The Freebies
First, let me establish a definition of freebie: something a company hands out without making you do anything in order to get it beyond picking it up. Microsoft's T-shirt, with strings attached, therefore doesn't qualify. Neither do shopping bags. Many, many companies give away shopping bags at PC Expo, apparently with the idea that all the really good stuff other companies give away can be put in them. But most of the other companies are giving away shopping bags, too.

T-shirts from Guardian Pro, depicting a karate master defending a Windows NT machine, and from Eugenia Unity (depicting I don't know what, because it's one of those things that's been put in the fabric equivalent of a car crusher and then quickly shrinkwrapped into a brick, and I'm loath to unwrap it; I'd rather save it for an occasion when I'd like to wear a new, really wrinkled T-shirt) are free for the picking, and therefore do qualify.

So does the item from Content Technologies promoting its Archivist email retrieval product--a yo-yo, perhaps in honor of the email archivists at the White House. This establishes the trend of freebies that having nothing to do with the vendor's product, which is kind of a shame.

Advanced Micro Devices hands out what for all the world seems to be a roach clip--an alligator clip attached by a short piece of stiff cable to a frosted plastic one-inch cube. I've tried to figure out what else it could be; I've even asked friends and total strangers, and they all, with no prompting from me, diagnosed it as a roach clip. (By the way, I asked: the dual-Athlon motherboards will be out before the end of the year.)

A big deal this year seems to be foam-rubber items to be squeezed for stress relief. Several companies are giving away rubber balls; Globix offers a blue rubber model of an old one-piece terminal.

eWeek magazine has something that's actually useful--a Cordura-like credentials case, with clear plastic window, neckstrap, and even space for business cards and pens. Great for press cards, except at PC Expo, where the press tag has a long green ribbon (fourth estate equals fourth place? Beats me).

And a company called Orbit Industries offers something that bridges categories. It is a freebie, no question about that, but it also falls into....

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