TechX NY and Cool Stuff

by William Crawford

I was in New York City earlier this week, so I dropped in to the Jacob Javits Center for the PC Expo show. PCs are sufficiently last decade that the show, which I'm told is the largest general purpose computing show on the East Coast, has been rebranded as "TechX New York." For good measure the organizers tossed in a Digital Video Expo and the Web Services Edge conference, both of which had separate exhibit floors.

The main show floor was much smaller than other conventions during other years. Some major players didn't seem to be bothering. Maybe I missed it, but I didn't see Oracle at all, which seemed odd, given the number of enterprise level vendors that were present. I'm almost convinced I just walked by it and didn't see.

Web Services are a big thing right now, but I didn't see anything new that really knocked my socks off. This really wasn't a surprise, since JavaOne was just a few months ago and most of the vendors involved released new things there. Sonic Software had a good presence with their messaging software, Borland was pushing integration tools and BEA was touting partnerships. IBM had packed off to the main show floor, where WebSphere wasn't a major presence (although IBM's area was relatively small if prominently placed, so there wasn't really much room to emphasize anything in particular).

There were some interesting points. IBM was showing off its 8 processor Xeon server, which they've managed to pack, if only barely, into 4U of rack space. Intel was showing off the second generation Itanium processors cranking through some very large SAS data sets, which to the naked eye looked pretty impressive, although I didn't really have any way to bench it against anything. The 64 gigabytes of addressable memory was certainly enviable.

Both IBM and Intel were pushing their new platform security technology. I spend a lot of time worrying about security, authentication and access control, and trying to get around the problem of providing security systems that get the job done in an easily manageable way. The new technology here involves a chip attached to the motherboard with a cryptographic processor and an EEPROM to store keys. Each system and user has their own cryptographically strong identity, which can be used to encrypt files or access centrally controlled applications. The IBM guys were also showing off integration with biometric fingerprint readers. The target market is corporate desktops and laptops.

I also saw the latest generation of the biometric devices that can be used with or without something like IBM's chip. The latest readers use a silicon based sensor rather than the older optical sensors. These apparently read several skin layers rather than just the surface, and as a result can not be defeated by molding a finger out of a gummy bear, as I'm told happend a few weeks ago. They can also fit on a snap-out panel embedded in a PCMCIA card. The USB readers are down to around $100. This is stuff that, once there's an efficient, standardized way of integrating it all, is going to have a real impact on the way people put together distributed applications, particularly when the clients aren't all under the control of corporate IT. The privacy issues are, of course, potentially pretty huge but also potentially controllable.

One fun piece of software was a personel video construction kit from Serious Magic, called Visual Communicator. The software takes video input and still images and allows you to create videos which can be streamed on the web or output to TV. The neat thing is that it supports real-time compositing of video streams, much like the editing systems used for live broadcasts of news programs. It also supports "green screen" filming, where you stand in front of a green background and the system substitutes another background for the green areas. It's not something I have any current professional use for, but it's very cool. The software runs $99, and an extended package with a green background and clip-on microphone is $149.

Now that I have a baseline for comparison it will be interesting to see where things move next year. I don't get to very many of these things, but it seems like the computer trade show market is fracturing. Of course, this year is looking like an opportunity for a lot of companies to retrench rather than extend, and it hasn't produced a hot new buzzword. Of course, we have five months left.

Did I miss anything?