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Lack of enthusiasm kills Comdex 2004

NO LONGER RELEVANT? ONCE THE PREMIER EVENT FOR THE PC INDUSTRY,

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , SAN FRANCISCO

This year's Comdex, the fall computer event that was once the US' largest trade show, was canceled on Wednesday as its owners cited the failure of the industry's largest companies to participate.

Executives at MediaLive International, the company that owns Comdex and other trade shows, said they decided to redefine the event and were hoping that it would re-emerge after a year's hiatus.

Created in 1979 by Sheldon Adelson, a Boston financial consultant, Comdex rapidly gained prominence in the early 1980s with the emergence of the personal computer industry.

The annual show became the place to showcase new computers and software, and was a mandatory stop for industry luminaries.

Executives would flock to Las Vegas to hear a speech on the future of computing by Bill Gates or to visit a booth where Mitchell Kapor introduced the Lotus Development Corp's Lotus 1-2-3 spread-sheet program.

"I remember walking down an aisle at Comdex with Gates and watching the crowd part like the Red Sea making way for Moses," said Stewart Alsop, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist who edited sInfoworld, a personal-computer industry newspaper, during the 1980s.

Although some analysts have suggested that the rise of the commercial Internet in the mid-1980s might lead to the demise of the show, it appeared initially to fuel its growth.

Comdex reached a peak in 2000 during the Internet bubble when 211,000 people attended the show. Last year attendance fell to 45,000, and most of the world's largest hardware and software companies either decided to abandon the event or to cut back their presence. The number of exhibitors fell from a peak of 2,337 to 550.

In a sign of waning interest in Comdex, Gates' opening night speech last year was moved to the 7,000-person Aladdin Theatre from the MGM Grand Hotel's arena, which is more than double the size.

Comdex 2004, originally set for Nov. 14 will probably be held in November next year, MediaLive said.

"By the end of the 1990s Comdex had expanded its focus to include consumer electronics stuff and the Internet," said Tim Bajarin, an industry consultant who attended his first Comdex in 1981 and has been a longtime member of the show's advisory committee.

"In 2002 there was a complete shift in the market, and the show lost its way," he said.

One company that has backed away from the event is EDS Corp., the giant Texas-based technology integrator. In 2001 EDS made a marketing push at Comdex, including beaming in the science fiction writer Arthur Clarke via teleconference. More recently, the company decided that Comdex had become less relevant and stopped participating, said Jeff Wacker, an EDS technology executive.

MediaLive International has a tentative reservation for the Las Vegas Convention Center the week of Nov. 13, 2005, said Eric Faurot, a company vice president.

"The market was obviously saying it couldn't support the show," he said. "While we could still run a profitable Comdex, it didn't seem to merit the attention without the participation of the major industry players."

He said that he still believed that there was a trade show market for the US$915 billion information technology industry. Last week, MediaLive said it was establishing an advisory group to help redefine the event, including Microsoft, Oracle and Samsung Electronics.

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