Current Cover (3068 bytes)
Current Cover

Navigation Bar (3057 bytes)
Homepage (723 bytes)

The Bull Pen Graphic (834 bytes)
Message Board

Visit our advertisers! Pen Computing Magazine Masthead (5407 bytes)

Windows CE | Palm OS | Psion/EPOC | Pen Computers | Magic Cap | Newton

Symbol Technologies Software Developers Conference 2000
Palm Springs Convention Center

Symbol Technologies, a US$1.2 billion vendor of vertical market business solutions, held its second annual Software Developers Conference June 7-10 at the Palm Springs Convention Center. Attendance was just over 600 people, making for a lively event that offered everything from seminars, labs, exhibits and demonstration, to plenty of opportunities to mingle and talk with Symbol brass and product managers from the 50+ exhibitors. In addition, while some such conferences are rather boring, this one was anything but. Symbol put on quite a show.

"Extreme 2000" and M-Commerce
The "Extreme 2000"motto of the conference was underlined by dazzling displays of skateboarding, roller-skating, bicycling, and pyrotechnics during President and CEO Tomo Razmilovic' keynote presentation. Razmilovic pretty much dedicated his speech to the concept of "mobile commerce," or "m-commerce." E-commerce and m-commerce--the ability to do commerce on the web, and to do so anywhere--will combine to make for the ultimate customer experience. Symbol, with its array of scanning and mobile terminal hardware and software solutions plans to be at the forefront of this revolution. Razmilovic spoke of Symbol's joint venture with Intel in chips and wireless LANs, and that the number of mobile computer users are expected to exceed that of desktop PC users by the year 2003.

Looking forward
The biggest surprise to me was the completely future-oriented flavor of the conference. Given Symbol's 25 year history in bar code scanning and bazillions of deployed scanning devices, I expected a lot of sessions dedicated to scanning and older terminals. In fact, it was all about the future: Palm OS devices, Windows CE devices, enterprise integration, web integration, new and innovative applications. This is obviously a company that believes in the future and wants to help make it happen.

That was also very evident in the number and kinds of sponsors. While the majority of Symbol's legacy hardware runs on some variants of DOS and Windows, almost all new devices will be based on Windows CE/Pocket PC and the Palm OS platform. As a result, both Microsoft and Palm had a major presence at the show. Anther important part of Symbol's m-commerce strategy is seamless enterprise integration and that was covered by the presence of Oracle, Sybase, and the SQL Server folks from Microsoft.

Wireless is key
As wireless connectivity is key to most aspects of mobile commerce, Symbol dedicated several sessions to Wireless WANs, LANs, and Personal Area Networks. We learned that Symbol is now a voting member of the whole Bluetooth initiative where there is the potential of some overlapping between low-end 802.11 and Bluetooth installations. I also learned that while 802.11B's 11MB speeds are quite impressive, direct sequence technologies using the 5.2GHz spectrum will go up to 50MB/second and more. Also helpful was a discussion of the pros and cons of spread spectrum and direct sequence technology (the former is slower, but more immune to interference and more scalable. The latter is much faster but speeds can quickly drop off with distance).

Palm vs. Microsoft
Microsoft, despite being the OS supplier for the great majority of Symbol's hardware, seemed a bit on the defensive as most of the many software SDKs and solutions appeared to concentrate on the Palm OS first, and Windows CE second. Nonetheless, Microsoft did a good job in "The Business Case for Windows CE" and "Expanding the Enterprise to Mobile Devices: SQL Server 2000 Windows CE Edition." I learned that Microsoft has reorganized once again to optimize its embedded and appliance strategy, and that Windows CE 3.0 and the CE Platform Builder 3.0 will be released shortly. I also heard a lot of praise from developers about Microsoft's Embedded Visual Tools 3.0 which includes the Pocket PC SDK. Palm offered sessions on the "Programming PALM OS Symbol Devices" and was generally well represented just about everywhere.

Great tech sessions
A variety of third party suppliers made presentations on how to tie it all together. I attended Aether Software's session on its ScoutWare family of synchronization and device management products. I also sat in sessions given by PenRight! (MobileBuilder), Oracle (Orcle8I Lite), and Sybase (SQL Anywhere Studio) and came away with a new appreciation for the efforts everyone is making to integrate handheld technology into the enterprise. I also saw that while some tools (PenRight! MobileBuilder and Pumatech Satellite Forms, for example) make it easy to whip up surprisingly powerful data collection applications, there really isn't a free lunch: once past the form design phase, things quickly get arcane and technical. Computer Associates, AvantGo, Centura Software, Autodesk, Abaco, Point Information Network, Epic Data, MCL-Collection, BSQUARE, Zetes Technologies, Pumatech, Odyssey Software, ROI Systems and others also presented sessions that were refreshingly direct and to the point, lacking most of the marketing hype that so often drags down seminar sessions.

Loaner program
For those who wanted to get more familiar with two of Symbol's most interesting wireless LAN products, the ruggedized Palm OS-based PPT 1740 or the physically identical but Windows CE-based SPT 2740, Symbol had a loaner/purchase program, where you could try out either one or both for the duration of the conference and then either turn the device back in or purchase it at a preferred rate. I signed up for a 2740 as we never had one in the office. Unfortunately, the loaners ran the old palm-size PC software instead of the new Pocket PC version that will be available in a couple of months.

Keeping on the gloves
Wireless CasinoI had really looked forward to an industry panel session with representatives from all the major players. I hoped that Microsoft and Palm would really try to make their case before an audience of developers who, after all, can make or break a platform. Sadly, no one dared to rock the boat. The Palm representative, a dead ringer for actress Anne Heche, politely welcomed Microsoft to the market. The rest of the panel was equally subdued. Only the gentleman from Oracle was a bit more direct, stating that while Windows CE was slow, it did offer more functionality. The issue of thin or thick clients was discussed, and the panel agreed that it depended on the application. In a reversal of Alan Kessler's statement at Mobile Insights 2000, the Palm lady spoke of aggressive licensing and the challenge of not being just seen as a consumer device. Being the only member of the press present, I challenged Microsoft and Palm to state their case a bit more forcefully. This yielded much positive feedback after the session, but little from the panel.

Perhaps I was unfair to expect Palm and Microsoft duking it out in the open. After all, Symbol was the host and supports both platforms. In the same respect, "Palm vs. Microsoft" was evident throughout the conference, and Symbol owes both its customers and its developers an opportunity to learn which platform is most appropriate for a given project. A lot of money is riding on such decisions.

"World Resource Center" Exhibit
Equally valuable as the sessions were the exhibits. Symbol demonstrated how its devices could be used in a variety of settings, from supermarkets shopping to wireless hotel and casino check-in. I managed to stop by most of the exhibits, including our old friends at Novatel Wireless, Communications Intelligence Corporation, Puma, JP Systems, and others. I should also mention the "Symbol University," a traveling training resource that covers all aspects of the wealth of emerging technologies that Symbol offers.

Fun for everyone
SymobileSymbol made sure that the conference was an experience in every respect, and not just three days of dry technology. Golfers golfed, the Symbol Symobile (a huge, spectacular 18-wheeler that tours the country showing off Symbol products and solutions) made an appearance, Palm Springs itself was delightful, and entertainment ranged from a hilarious ventriloquist act by Brad Cummings to a rousing speech by Alan Hobson, the leader of two expeditions to the top of Mount Everest. For truly devoted techies there was a Software Training Boot Camp and then "Lunar Labs" to code and fine-tune application development contest entries until well into the night.

All in all, this was time well spent, in every respect. Surprisingly, I didn't see much press there, if any. Those who didn't show up missed a great opportunity to learn and see first-hand how one of the truly innovative companies in this, or any, field uses new technology to make things happen. I am not surprised Symbol received the coveted National Medal of Technology as only the 11th corporate recipient in the 20-year history of the award.

- Conrad H. Blickenstorfer

More Photos

[Features] [Showcase] [Developer] [Members] [Subscribe] [Resources] [Contacts] [Guidelines]

All contents ©1995-2000 Pen Computing Magazine, Inc. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction in any form is strictly prohibited.
Contact the Pen Computing Publishing Office for reprint information