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Comdex: NCC Of The New Millenium?

OK, how many of you remember the National Computer Conference? From the 1960s through about 1983, it was this country's premier annual computer show. Then, suddenly, it lost its momentum and in just two years it was as extinct as the dinosaurs.

Like the dinosaurs, there are several theories about the cause of death. Some say it was the rules that bound the non-profit organization that ran NCC. These rules specifically forbade conducting commercial transactions on the show floor. That was strike one.

Another blow came with the invention of the microcomputer. Under the usual methods of trade show operation, the companies that return year in and year out and buy big booths get the most prominent positions on the show floor. At NCC, that was mainframe and minicomputer makers. PCs and peripherals were banished to basements and sideshow tents. Yet that was where the action was. The best stuff at NCC was hard to find. Strike two.

The last "real" NCC was in Anaheim, California. NCC had outgrown the Anaheim convention center, so most of the "minor" exhibits (PCs and peripherals) were in tents. Through (apparently) no fault of the NCC show management the air conditioning in the tents broke down for long periods of time. It was well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the tents. Attendees sweltered. Equipment failed in the heat. Strike three.

Waiting to pick up the pieces was Shelly Adelson's Computer Dealer Exposition, or Comdex, a Las Vegas-based show that wholeheartedly embraced the doing of business on the floor and everywhere else. It took less than a year for the industry to shift all of its attention to Comdex. The NCC withered and died.

Now, it may well be Comdex's turn. After years of complaining about expensive booths, union labor, lousy phone lines, bad cellular telephone service, sky-high hotel room prices (when you can find a room closer than Ely, Nev.) constant overcrowding and 90-minute taxi lines, the industry may finally have become fed up. A dozen major vendors simply didn't exhibit this year. Attendance was down for the first time in memory.

What will take its place? Well, I don't know anyone other than the aforementioned Shelly who predicted, in 1982, that by 1984, NCC would be wiped out and Comdex would replace it. Last December, before he sold out his company, Alan Meckler of Mecklermedia told me that he believed his New York/LA show, Internet World, would wipe out Comdex in a few years. Seems awfully audacious, but from an historical perspective, it makes sense. A major shift in the computing paradigm killed the dinosaurs and their show, the NCC. Could be that history is about to repeat itself. Let's check again after next year's fall Comdex.


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