Sunday, January 09, 2011

Comdex, CES and tech shows after 9/11

Below is the transcript from the current One Minute with the Great Lakes Geek

I should be in Las Vegas. Maybe you feel that way too but for almost 20 years straight I went out to Vegas for COMDEX, the big Computer show and then CES, the Consumer Electronics Show, after Comdex died.

I got to see a lot of the most interesting people in tech at those shows – Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Peter Norton, Borland’s Philippe Khan, Intel’s Andy Grove, Gordon Eubanks of Symantec and on and on.

The crowds were ridiculously huge – one year it was over 250,000 techies jammed into Vegas. The cab lines snaked forever.

I will never forget the Comdex right after September 11, 2001. It was just a few weeks after the attack and we still didn’t know if the terrorists were planning more attacks and what the targets might be.

A lot was written that if they wanted to attack the so called decadence of the West, a la the World Trade Center, Las Vegas was the best target. One columnist wrote that the absolute perfect target for the terrorists would be to attack the Bill Gates keynote at Comdex in Las Vegas. That would send a message about the “evils” of technology, US tech companies like Microsoft and, of course, Sin City.

Despite all this many of us flew out to Vegas that year and even went to Bill Gates keynote address. Security was dramatically increased from the previous year with armed guards with dogs checking everyone out.

There were some nervous moments and Comdex, like many other trade shows, never again reached the crowds that it once had. The show was dead a few years later.

Part of that is because the technology lets us handle much of the trade show business virtually but there is still part that can be traced back to 9/11.

CES has captured much of the crowds of Comdex, especially as the computer industry gets more consumer oriented.

I didn’t make it to Vegas for CES this year but when I see the ubiquitous news blurbs about the crowds and new gadgets I can’t help but remember that one trip in 2001 when several thousand of us sat in the hall with one eye watching Bill Gates and the other looking for the nearest emergency exit.

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