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Reflections on the death of Comdex

Could the closing of the annual trade show in the U.S. and Canada have been prevented?rn

I recently learned of the death of an old friend — well, an acquaintance anyway — whom I hadn’t seen for a few years. It came as a shock, because when I last saw him he seemed to be in very good health.

We weren’t always the best of buddies. He was too loud, too aggressive. Spending time with

him was exhausting. But he was a good guy to know, and in a certain frenetic way, he was fun.

I’d heard he wasn’t doing too well, of course. The reports were that he’d lost his old vitality, and after a while that he was a shadow of his former self. But it was easy to think of all this as just normal ups and downs —it would pass, surely, and things would be back to normal again.

And then I looked at my computer screen one afternoon and there was the news: Comdex/Fall 2004 was off.

I hadn’t attended the show for a handful of years. In the mid- to late- ’90s I went most years. The last time I expected to be back the following year, or the year after at the latest, but something got in the way — I forget what — and I decided to skip a year. The next year something else came up and, despite guilt at missing the industry’s biggest annual event two years running, I skipped again.

By 2001 it was becoming apparent Comdex wasn’t such a big deal any more, and flying to the U.S. was a decidedly bigger deal than it had been. And let’s be honest, the industry was in a downturn and, like many others, I didn’t want to spend the money.

It wasn’t just the attendees who weren’t keen on spending the money. Increasingly, it was exhibitors, too. Comdex/Fall dwindled. Finally, this spring, the organizers announced that it had been postponed until further notice. Officially, a 2005 show is still planned.

Don’t count on that. Here at home, Comdex/Canada 2003 was first moved from July to September, then postponed to this spring, then killed entirely. Many people in the industry believe Comdex/Fall will not be back. I’m among them. If it does return, it will be a different show, possibly under a different name, and certainly not the big industry gathering it was in the past.

The post-mortems have already been done to death: Comdex got too big and unfocused; the industry downturn and the misery of commercial air travel in post-9/11 Fortress America helped do it in. In a sense, the demise of Comdex as we have known it is a symbol of how the computer industry has changed in the past few years.

I come to bury Comdex, not to praise it. It was too big, too loud, too overflowing with hype. I hate Las Vegas. But it’s a pity the computer industry is now left with no annual meeting place. Comdex took that role over from the old National Computing Conference in the U.S. and from the Canadian Computer Show here in Canada. There seems to be no event prepared to step into that role now in either country.

I think we’ll all miss Comdex — and even if it reappears in a different form, we’ll miss what it used to be.