The heat outside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and SkyDome was a pale imitation of the anticipation inside. Spirits were as high as the CN Tower (if not as well supported). Comdex/Canada 1995 was Microsoft’s show, the stage belonged to Windows 95 and the crowd was poised to jump on Microsoft’s coattails.
Comdex/Canada is Canada’s largest trade show, annually pulling tens of thousands of the computer-cognoscenti to Toronto. The show is split between the convention center and the SkyDome, which flank the CN Tower. At this year’s show, Windows-oriented firms inhabited the SkyDome, while others took up the convention center’s main hall.
Toronto was buzzing with race cars; the time trials during the week and the race on Saturday took over Exhibition Stadium and the exhibition grounds. Construction work also had begun on a new addition to the convention center. For three days, however, Microsoft’s engines were heard revving and getting ready for the start.
The SkyDome clearly was Microsoft’s game. After walking down the many ramps to the playing field, you immediately were confronted by Microsoft’s main exhibit space, which consisted of four classrooms to learn about everything from Office 95 to Back Office, small exhibits with Microsoft partners and information areas galore. The smell of overpriced hot dogs and signs for $3 ice cream met you next.
Lotus was showing off its updated word processor, Word Pro, and showed little sign of the new IBM ownership. CompuServe, Symantec, Borland, Claris and numerous smaller software vendors; World Wide Web developers; and Pacific Rim PC providers also made their presence known. Digital Equipment had one of the loudest exhibits: Its futuristic, Power Rangers-like stage show had special effects that shook the stadium. Although IBM’s main exhibit space was in the other building, the company ran its popular commercials non-stop on the SkyDome’s animated board. You know the ones–where unlikely looking computer users toss around techno-speak, show off pagers and cell phones in convents and the Himalayas, and laud IBM.
The Metro Toronto Convention Centre trade floor was dominated by, well, everyone else. IBM was there, as was Novell. Novell’s sessions on the PerfectOffice Suite–WordPerfect, Quattro Pro, etc.–were almost as popular as Microsoft’s sessions. Modem makers were everywhere, as were purveyors of multimedia CD-ROM-equipped laptops, 133 MHz Pentium desktops and networking equipment. Modems are at 28.8K and climbing (U.S. Robotics now offers speeds 20 percent faster than that); CD-ROM drives are moving at six times the old speed; PCMCIA cards let you add desktop functionality and expandability to your notebook; and color printers are getting better and cheaper.
Attendees lined up dutifully (pitifully?) for chances to get T-shirts, pins and even–shall I say it?–propeller beanies. Mascots from Egghead Software (Mr. Egghead? Professor Egghead?), D-link (a walking 10Base-T concentrator), and assorted robots and superheroes strolled the floor. Apple was there, as were Unix folk like Sun. Everywhere you looked, you saw reference to the Internet.
The PowerPC’s presence spanned both buildings, breathing fire into both Windows and Apple offerings. Motorola is out to bring down Intel’s CPU dominance–and where Microsoft’s Windows NT will run all those Windows programs with which you have fallen in love, all of a sudden no one cares if a computer is PC-compatible. What becomes important is if it is Windows-compatible. The next two years may show if Microsoft finally can topple the Novell NetWare network- operating-system dominance as well.
By the way, another Novell competitor, Banyan, passed out the show’s most eye-catching giveaway–a badge with a bright, flashing LED pushing Banyan’s products.
Faster, better, friendlier–these are what stood out at Comdex/Canada 1995. Next year’s show will be 25 percent bigger–made possible, no doubt, by the convention center expansion. If you can’t wait until next July, there will be a Comdex held for the first time in Quebec this fall. Parlez vous C++?
Prefer curling up with a book by the pool to the Toronto skyline? Here are a few new additions to our bookshelf that might merit your attention:
–Windows: “Windows 95 Preview User’s Guide,” Wyatt, McComb & Wyatt, $24.99. The Windows 95 beta program is just about over–the Aug. 24 ship date is close at hand–but this handsome and informative book is filled with helpful hints on how to deal with Windows 95.
–Microsoft Office and Visual Basic: “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Visual Basic,” Greg Perry, Alpha Books, $19.95. Is Visual Basic (VB) an end-user tool or only for programmers? As Microsoft makes Visual Basic the macro language of more of its products, this light – hearted guide can help non-programmers dip their feet in the pool and learn to “speak like a geek.”
“Understanding Visual Basic 3 for Windows,” Jim Boyce, New Riders Publishing, $24.99. This beginners’ guide takes you past the wet-feet stage, providing an in-depth tutorial for beginners who want to begin to master VB.
“The Underground Guide to Microsoft Office, OLE and VBA” and “The Underground Guide to Excel 5.0 for Windows,” Hudspeth and Lee, Addison Wesley, $24.95 and $19.95. The Underground series is a fascinating and well-written look at software–truly “fun books for serious computer users.” These books are no exception, clearly illustrating how things work, as well as the way things ought to be. If you are involved in these areas, you will find yourself nodding in agreement and learning something new.
“More Excel 5 for Windows for Dummies,” Greg Harvey, IDG Books, $19.95, and “Access Programming for Dummies,” Rob Krumm, IDG Books, $19.95. Seldom has there been a series of books so perfectly designed as textbooks for adult learners of software products as the “Dummies” series.
“Work Like a Pro with Excel 5 for Windows” and “Pivot Tables and External Databases,” Anne Prince, Mike Murach & Associates Inc., $20 and $11. If you use Excel 5 in your business, get these books. They are a handy introduction to Excel, and a catalog of and tutorial on some of Excel’s most powerful functions. If I wrote lessons on these topics, I could do no better.
–Internet: “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the World Wide Web,” Peter Kent, Alpha Books, $16.99. Looking for “down-to-earth” advice in finding your way onto the Web, both as a viewer and a publisher? Kent manages to distill a great deal of information about the Web into 27 easily understandable chapters. Kent covers the Web for users of PCs, Macs and most other systems.
“Teach Yourself Web Publishing with HTML in a Week,” Laura Lemay, SAMS Publishing, $25. The explosion of World Wide Web home pages is an indication that people are taking the time to learn HTML, the language of the Web. This book is both an excellent tutorial and a reference for those who want to get involved in constructing Web pages.
“Internet How-To,” Harry Henderson, the Waite Group, $24.95. Most books tell you about their topic, but this series focuses on the how-to. Some 200 how-to items (How do I join a mailing list? How do I get a file with ftp?) are indexed and lead you through the necessary steps.
–Accounting: “Mastering Quicken 4 for Windows,” Stephen Nelson, Sybex, $19.99. Nelson has designed a book with help and warnings that focus on the needs of Quicken’s various users. Interested in personal finance, investments or running your small business? Are you a business owner or a company bookkeeper? This book sets itself apart by providing advice specific to each group’s needs.
“Peachtree Accounting for Windows Made Easy,” John Hedtke, Osborne McGraw-Hill, $29.95. This independent guide to the popular off-the-shelf accounting package highlights the 30 percent to 40 percent of the most needed functions in the software, with help in getting the most out of the software.
(Eric Cohen, a certified public accountant, is owner of Cohen Computer Consulting, adviser to growing businesses. Reach him on the Internet at firstname.lastname@example.org.)