COMDEX Canada: Take Two- by Bryan Sarty

Wednesday, July 10 was the first day of COMDEX Canada 1996 in Toronto (Canada's largest computer exhibition) and there I was arriving at 2:30 in the afternoon. I asked myself why did I stay at the office so late and why didn't I preregister? I expected the lineups of people waiting to register to spill out onto King Street. Man, the IBM Merlin display was also going to be a zoo.

Well, as it turned out there were no crowds outside the Metro Convention Center, there were no long lineups even inside at the registration desk. I showed my invitation and I was through the maze in no time; I got my pass and I was at the escalator all within 10 minutes. What a change (and a surprise) from the previous years.

As I went up the escalator I could see all the IBM banners hanging from the ceiling, front row and center. I stood at the railing for a second and got my bearings. Yup, IBM along with Lotus were right in the very middle of the Convention Center. "It's show time for Merlin at COMDEX Canada," I thought.

I strolled around one side of the IBM\Lotus display. A number of computer monitors were set up around large columns and of course the first thing I did was to check if OS/2 was on any of these machines. What's this? Windows 95! Well I wasn't totally surprised, after all this was IBM. A few monitors displayed Lotus Notes, Netscape running under Win95 and one machine even had OS/2 Warp v3.0; but no OS/2 Merlin.

I had to ask one of the friendly attendants if there was any display set up for Merlin. "Sure thing!", he replied with a rather cheery tone, "Right around here." He lead me around a column of monitors and behind an indoor fig tree and there it was, a monitor displaying Merlin. "This is it?" I asked him. "This is the Merlin display?"

"Well, we never decided to enter COMDEX until two weeks ago," he replied. He pointed out a couple of picnic tables with two monitors on each and told me that they were also running OS/2 but with WebExplorer locked on top. I checked it out. Yes they had WebExplorer running, but in VGA. Thrilling display. Well back to Merlin.

I stood back and looked at the setup. If I had not told the attendant I was looking for Merlin or I did not know what I was looking for I surely would have just walked by. Here was IBM's beta release of the best PC operating system going and it was being displayed at the back side of a column behind a fig tree. You surely would have thought IBM would have had Merlin in a more prominent position. At least an arrow hanging from the ceiling saying, "This way to see OS/2 Merlin!"

The display of Merlin was being demonstrated by a very friendly attendant. She was walking one gentleman through the voice recognition. The man stated he had never used OS/2 before and commented on its attractive interface. "This is deadly," he kept repeating, obviously commenting about voice recognition. This guy was impressed. Next to the PC was an IBM ThinkPad, also with Merlin. The attendant was also showing off voice recognition and OS/2's other new features.

Of course a few Microsoft users came by and had to toss in their views. "Looks just like Windows 95," I heard more than a few times. "IBM is just trying to copy Microsoft," was also a regular comment. A few of them did have a closer look at it though. When they did get to watch and interact with Merlin they nodded their heads in approval. Some even told me that they were considering a move to OS/2 with all their disappointment in Win95 and the long wait for a real OS (NT).

After an hour of hanging around IBM, it was time for a break so I strolled around the show. It was very obvious that there were not the big crowds of recent years. There was also a different tone to the whole show. Everyone's display area seemed to be a lot smaller, especially Apple's. A lot of vendors decided to team up with others. Even Microsoft and Windows World seemed subdued; no Windows 96 to go ga-ga over this year. (Thanks to the Computer gods for saving us.) There seemed to be as many people in shorts and T-shirts as people in business attire. Time to go back to the IBM display and have a peek at Lotus.

No one at Lotus had anything to say about the upcoming SmartSuite components. One person manning the booth said he had heard of some things under development but that was all he knew.

There was still a steady stream of people at the Merlin site. I had to wonder what it would have been like if OS/2 Merlin was properly displayed out front as it deserved. The people who did see it were left with a good impression.

It was then time to head downstairs and to visit my friends in the Team OS/2 Center. Of course they had all been out doing their famous installations clad in their equally famous salmon pink shirts. There's always enthusiasm when you're in room full of Teamers.

Randy Busch from TrueSpectra, a new OS/2 ISV had dropped by and left a stack of beautiful full-colour glossy pamphlets about their new product, Photo>Graphics, a new image editing and effects software for OS/2. This product will be released by the time you read this in retail stores across Canada and the States. Everyone was abuzz about the release price of just $49.95 (Canadian!) for a limited time (but only in Canada, I'm afraid).

It was now 6:00 o'clock and time to head back to the office. I could not help but wonder why IBM Canada didn't put a bit more effort into their presentation of OS/2 Merlin. The people manning the display were more than helpful in their efforts, the product certainly speaks for itself and there is a definite interest or at least a strong curiosity in Merlin. But why do IBM and Lotus take such a ho-hum attitude towards it? At least it was uplifting to see that ISV's such as TrueSpectra and others are still developing new, exciting applications.

Besides being a general nice guy and OS/2 Crusader, Bryan Sarty is Product and Dealer Manager for House Of Technology (HOT) Inc., Canada's OS/2 application distributor.

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