Enterprise trade show welcomes back consumer tech

Some consumer products also have a role in business, including tablets, video games and, uh, TV quiz show contestants

Not only are consumer IT products finding their way into the enterprise, they're also finding their way back into Cebit, one of the world's biggest professional IT shows, which opens in Hanover, Germany, next week.

After years asserting that Cebit was all about business, and seeing consumer electronics giants desert the show for the IFA gadget festival held in Berlin each August, Cebit is once again welcoming consumer electronics manufacturers, in a special area called "Cebit Life" that the organizers say is "a celebration of the digital lifestyle."

Sharp hasn't returned since 2007, the year its staff famously wore jackets saying "Sayonara Cebit", and Philips too now favors IFA as a showcase for its products. However, a number of other gadget makers never left Cebit, they just hid away in Planet Reseller, an invitation-only zone in halls 14 and 15 for manufacturers to show new products to their channel partners. That's where you'll find LG and Motorola this year, for example.

But Cebit Life, in halls 19 and 23, is where you'll find home entertainment -- including the launch of the new Ultra home-theater PC and Prodigy media player from Xtreamer; connected TVs; tablets and e-readers; navigation devices; home automation and smart metering, including the Zonos HausSitter from Cuculus, a new energy management system that can be controlled from an iPhone or iPad.

Apple won't be at the show, of course -- it has a prior engagement in San Francisco on Wednesday for what is expected to be the launch of the iPad 2 -- but other tablet makers will be there, including Asus, which will show its Eee Pad Slider, a 10-inch Android 3.0 device with a touchscreen and a slide-out keyboard. Dell's Streak 7 will be there, as will Fujitsu's Stylistic Q550, a tablet with business features.

Sony Computer Entertainment has a booth, and there will also be a big focus on gaming on PCs (Acer will run a 200-seat gaming area with high-end PCs) and on smartphones -- although it's not all play, play, play: next Friday a one-day seminar on "serious gaming" will look at the use of game technologies as educational tools in the enterprise.

Beyond the playful facade of Cebit Life, you'll also find more serious enterprise products intended for doing things properly, including 260 exhibitors with ERP (enterprise resource planning) products, and a whole area devoted to managed print services in Hall 3. As Cebit organizer Frank Pörschmann said, "Nearly every CeBIT visitor uses a printing device or a printing application, but only a fraction of them are aware of the potential opportunities and time savings offered by output management and managed print services." If that's your kind of thing, then Doxnet, the Document X-perts Network, is hosting a knowledge-sharing and networking event at the show on the Wednesday afternoon.

Fujitsu will show its M440 ECO mouse. Like most other mice these days it has an optical sensor, two buttons and a scroll wheel -- but unusually its cable is PVC-free and it is made mostly of natural, biodegradable materials. How's that for planned obsolescence?

Acknowledging that most users can't remember secure passwords, Psylock suggests allowing them to authenticate themselves by entering text that isn't secret at all -- identifying them by the characteristic rhythms and errors in their typing. It will show its keystroke analysis software in Hall 11.

In addition to products just entering the market, Cebit is also about the future. Two halls are devoted to Cebit Lab, a showcase for research, and there's also a startup conference, Webciety, with contestants pitching for funding every day in Hall 6.

This year's Cebit will have over 4,200 exhibitors from 70 countries, picking up from a low last year of 4,157 exhibitors from 68 countries, but still far from the peak of 8,093 exhibitors in 2001. The big question, though, is whether the new formula will please visitors: Last year's show drew 334,000 from 83 countries, a shadow of the show's 2001 record of 850,000.

Cebit runs from March 1 through 5 at the Hanover Fair Grounds. It will be opened this year by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with IBM CEO Sam Palmisano delivering the keynote speech.

Palmisano, though, may be eclipsed by one of his company's creations. To be found in Hall 2, it's a computer composed of 90 IBM Power 750 Express servers, capable of questioning answers formulated in natural language in the style of the TV quiz show Jeopardy. As the computer itself might conclude: "Who is Watson?"

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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