Cebit: It's big, but not a big mess

Cebit is as big and varied as ever but, unlike Comdex, visitors here say it manages to retain its appeal.

From MP3 players to mainframe computers, this year's Cebit has it all. But the world's biggest computer trade fair has avoided becoming the unfocused sprawl that led Comdex to its downfall, visitors here said this week.

Perhaps it's the German zeal for organization -- the giant show has been sliced into about two dozen technology areas, many with a cavernous hall to themselves. There's a new pavilion devoted just to security, the public sector has its own zone, and communications gear is carved off from business software. That helps ensure that stern-faced buyers looking for ERP (enterprise resource planning) products won't bump into scruffy teens hunting for gadgets.

For sure, the range of products is staggering. Want frivolous? Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications is showing a Webcam that trundles about on wheels and is controlled remotely from a Bluetooth cell phone. Ezmax has an MP3 player that doubles as a VOIP (voice over IP) telephone.

For the serious, Novell Inc. pitched an early release of its new operating software, Open Enterprise Server, and storage giant EMC Corp. announced hardware and software packages for small businesses. SAP AG, IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. are also here.

Visitors need to arrive with a good idea of what they are looking for, but with a bit of planning the show is easy to navigate, said Roland Kliemt, a human resources consultant from Hilden, Germany. "All the time- and attendance-keeping products I want to see are here in Hall 6. The show is well organized," he said.

Jorg Heimsoth, a logistics manager, agreed. He came to Cebit looking for barcode-scanning software and other products, and looked content as he browsed the business software hall Friday afternoon. "I think all the big players are here. Their booths are near each other, you don't have to walk far," he said.

At the Las Vegas Comdex, by contrast, visitors grumbled about the unfocused mess the show had become, mingling consumer products like massage chairs and telescopes alongside "serious" gear like computer components and business software.

Comdex tried to refocus in 2003, but last year was canceled, thanks to lukewarm interest from vendors. Instead they headed to specialty events like the RSA Conference on security, or to the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, a gadgetfest that overshadowed Comdex, with giant TVs, mini DVD players and overall abundance of gear.

Many of those things are at Cebit too, but the surgical division of products means the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected here are finding what they want despite the show's gargantuan size: It covers 300,000 square meters this year and has 6,300 exhibitors, according to organizers Deutsche Messe AG.

The showground is not the only area that has been meticulously planned, either. Such is the organization here that, even by Friday night, the bar in the press center hadn't run out of beer yet, despite the best efforts of a few thousand journalists.

(Scarlet Pruitt contributed to this story)

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