This year's CeBIT, to be held in Hanover on 12-19 March, is going to be filled with huge, high-resolution, colour screens and packed with wireless LAN base stations - and that's before the exhibitors even get there.
The screens, some of them up to 25 metres across, made their first appearance in high-traffic areas at last year's show, and will provide visitors with news of product announcements at the event, and of political and sporting events elsewhere. This year the organisers have added an extra attraction in the shape of Helen, a 3D "avatar," or animated character, created by Tevox. An actress will read the news in English and German, while the Helen software synchronizes the avatar's lip movements to her voice.
The other technological development lurks behind the scenes: A network of 200 WLAN (wireless LAN) access points scattered across the fairground will allow anyone with an IEEE802.11b WLAN card -- and €7.50 (£5) an hour -- to surf the Net as they stroll around the show.
All those visitors surfing the Net in the unlicensed 2.4GHz radio band should provide tough competition for the many wireless products on display.
Among the novelties are some power-boosted Bluetooth products, including a cordless V.92 modem from Air2U that allows laptops and PDAs to make dial-up data connections while 70 metres away from a telephone jack, with no trailing cables. Bluetooth devices typically have a range of 10 metres or less.
Inventel Systèmes combines Bluetooth and 802.11b WLAN connectivity in its wireless base stations to bring mobile Internet access to cafés and railway stations. Its DBW-250 contains a DSL modem, while the EBW-250 has an Ethernet port, allowing several units to be linked together to cover larger public areas. Both run the Linux operating system for compatibility with administrative and billing software, according to Inventel.
Panasonic will be showing a label printer with a built-in Bluetooth connection. The 300-gram JT-H200PR can print 1,500 labels before its battery needs recharging, and will go on sale in May,.
Pitching to win the prize for most buzzwords in one box, Elmeg will show its D@VOS-44.dsl. This device can provide Internet access for up to seven devices over either a DSL modem or an ISDN line, sharing access over Ethernet, home powerline networking (HomePN), USB - or, released just last month, an optional Bluetooth module boosted to work at up to 100 meters.
Trade shows can seem something of a madhouse, given the number of people who appear to be talking out loud to themselves, but Samsung staff demonstrating a new Bluetooth hands-free telephone earpiece really are hearing voices in their heads. Samsung's earbud headset does away with awkward booms or dangling cables, embedding the microphone in the earpiece itself. There, it picks up the resonance of the user's voice inside the person's head, a technique that filters out most of the background noise, according to Samsung.
Usually, radio transmitters and medical equipment don't mix, but in Blue Space, IBM's idea of the "office of the future," attendees will find a Bluetooth heart rate monitor designed to send a message to the doctor if the wearer's heart rate rises too high.
Blue Space also contains IBM's Everywhere Display, which can project a screen’s content undistorted on to any surface in the room, whether wall, furniture, or floor. Other technologies allow the projected image to be used like a touchscreen, according to IBM. No news yet of whether Helen will be putting in an appearance at this display ...
CTX's 46-inch plasma display, the CPM46WV1, doesn't move around the room in quite the same way as IBM's Everywhere Display, but it does move around. Plasma displays suffer from a problem with "burn-in" which can be solved by moving the image slowly and imperceptibly around the surface of the display, according to CTX. At last, a screensaver that does its job while you do yours. The CPM46WV1 goes on sale across Europe from April at €6,000 (£4,120).
While a 46-inch screen might be fine for home cinema, it isn't big enough for the real thing. Projecting cinema-scale digital images is fraught with difficulty, and is usually achieved either by reducing image resolution or stacking together several smaller digital screens, leaving ugly joints between the images. In the Future Parc area at CeBIT, Germany's Fraunhofer Institute (better known as co-inventor of the MP3 audio format) will demonstrate a panoramic projection technique that it says can synchronise multiple images from parallel seamlessly.
Another Fraunhofer Institute demonstration uses 3D projection to fool video-conference participants into thinking they are all in the same room by extending the projected image into their surroundings while maintaining the sense of perspective. Video cameras watching them perform the same visual trick for other conference participants.
Nikon will be using ambient light to offer all-round views of a different kind with its Coolpix SQ, a digital camera with a 3-megapixel image captor and a 3X zoom. The screen and lens rotate so pictures can be taken from different angles while looking at the monitor display, which uses ambient light and backlighting to maintain clarity even in bright sunlight, according to Nikon. The camera will go on sale in the first half of this year.
There are any number of mobile phones around that can transmit pictures from built-in cameras, but they still need human help to aim them and push their buttons. FMN Communications has given its remote-controlled camera a little more autonomy: it can capture up to 900 hours of video on its built-in server and if an intruder is spotted, for example, can transmit images over a GSM link for examination by a human being.
Intrusion detection isn't just about images: it's also about network security.
Kaspersky Labs will demonstrate its personal firewall software, Kaspersky Anti-Hacker, and its spam blocker for corporate networks, Kaspersky Anti-Spam. It will also show an alpha version of Kaspersky Anti-Virus 5.0, due for release later this year.
Softwin has upgraded its BitDefender antivirus software to include MIDAS (Malware intrusion Detection Advanced System), which analyses the behaviour of malicious programs in real time and automatically creates an antidote, according to the company.
Fortinet is taking the hardware route to virus protection, adding the FortiGate 3600 to the high end of its antivirus firewall range. The new model, on show at CeBIT, will process traffic 25% faster than the previous best, and have twice as many Gigabit Ethernet interfaces, according to Fortinet.
As well as keeping the wrong traffic out, security is about letting the right traffic in. Vasco Data Security International aims to do that with its Digipass Authentication Server, which will go on sale during CeBIT. The Digipass server software can be integrated with a standard password challenge system to secure user access to company networks or Web-based services. When a user enters a user name and password in the usual way, an additional one-time password is transmitted to the person's mobile phone, which must then be keyed in to gain access to the network. If either the phone is stolen, or the password cracked, but not both, then the account remains protected.
Philips Electronics plans to secure physical assets of a different kind: your clothes. It plans to embed RFID (radio frequency identification) labels in designer clothing, allowing boutiques to cut costs by tracking inventory better and reducing theft.
From softwear to software: BEA Systems will be showing the latest version of its Web services development platform, BEA WebLogic Platform 8.1, for the first time in Europe.
Baan too plans to improve business efficiency with the Measure Up program it will be announcing at CeBIT. The program will help businesses monitor core performance measures such as demand forecast accuracy and lead-time reduction to aid them in decision-making.
FLS Fuzzy Logic Systeme will reveal a different kind of decision-support system, Qualicision, at the show. The system can automatically make decisions based on a range of ill-defined factors in the same way that a human would, running assembly lines or quality control systems, according to the company.
Microsoft will be demonstrating the productivity suite code-named Office 11 to anyone who hasn't already played with the beta versions, alongside soon-to-be-released operating system Windows Server 2003 and a range of products already on the market.
It's said that the next version of Microsoft Office is all about information sharing. That's also what Hitachi Data Systems is all about. It will be demonstrating a number of networked storage systems, including a Microsoft Windows 2000 cluster attached to a Hitachi Freedom Storage Thunder 9570V system. Its Hitachi Dynamic Link Manager and Truecopy software ensures high availability and aids disaster recovery, according to the company.
On a much smaller scale, Dynatron Electronics will show its X-Drive, a 100G-byte, 288-gram portable hard disk drive that connects to a PC via a USB 1.1 interface. It can also read Compact Flash cards, Smart Media cards, Memory Sticks, Secure Digital cards and MultiMedia Cards, copying data directly from the card to disk without the need for a PC. X-Drive's rechargeable battery will run for 2.5 hours, according to Dynatron.
But if you no longer need your old PC to copy your digital photos onto an X-Drive, what are you going to do with it? The Technical University of Berlin has an idea. Its ReUse Computer project, sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Research and Education, aims to reduce the vast quantity of electronic junk we throw away - 250,000 tons a year in Germany alone. ReUse sets out to clarify the technical, legal and organisational questions which hamper the recycling of computers, making it easier for social and educational institutions to gain access to technology -something to think about next time you upgrade.