Contents | < Browse | Browse >

===========================================================================
               Impressions on Cologne: The Computer '96 Show
                            By:  Jason Compton 
===========================================================================

I had the unique opportunity to spend two days at the November Computer 
'96 (formerly World of Amiga) in Cologne, Germany.  I can honestly say that
few experiences in my life have been filled with quite so many conflicting
emotions.

The circumstances of my trip certainly could have been better.  At the
time, I was working for VIScorp as their Communications Manager for
Amiga-related operations.  However, since August, VIScorp had cut the
budget for Amiga shows to zero.  Much as I urged that VIScorp should and
must have a presence at Cologne, neither I nor any other VIScorp employee
would be going.  But about a week and a half before the show, I received an
irresistable offer--I could be the guest of Schatztruhe, the German CD-ROM
publisher, so long as I spent a reasonable amount of time at their area.
It was a terrific opportunity and I couldn't help but take it.

Looking back on it, it was really a milestone for me.  An event that, years
earlier, I only got to read about other people going to, I would be
attending personally.  As a welcomed guest, no less.

But I was nervous.  After all, VIScorp hadn't been making friends at a
great rate, and I knew that the German public in general would be upset.
After all, they'd just gotten comfortable being the Amiga capital of the
world, and some Americans stepped in to take it away--and I was their
representative.  

I arrived in Cologne on Friday morning, made my way to the show, and after
just a little bit of arguing with the ticketers, got my pass and I was in.

It hit me immediately.  I was in, by a factor of two or three, the biggest
Amiga show I had seen in my life.  Mind you, my basis for comparison is
skewed, since previously the biggest show I'd seen was the WOA Toronto '95.
This outshone its volume considerably.  People were EVERYWHERE--and even
though the show was multiplatform, most of them were there for the Amiga.
The PC areas were actually rather poor--the only eye-catching items were
the Electronic Arts landmass and the omnipresent Tomb Raider girls.  I
would venture that 75% of the exhibits, at least, were Amiga.

Despite my awe at its size, one of the things I heard most at the show was
how previous years' exhibitions were larger.  I kept telling them that
I didn't care--never before had I been in such a huge hall of Amiga goods,
with tens of thousands of others who were genuinely interested in the
platform.

My first goal was to get to the Schatztruhe booth--and I'd forgotten to
grab a map on my way up.  It wasn't too hard, though.  Schatztruhe was
fairly centrally located, in a square area with a private meeting room.  I
met with Stefan Ossowski, the proprietor of Schatztruhe, and we sat down
and met with a number of his colleagues, including Richard Small of GTI,
one of the world's most successful Amiga product distributors.  Early on
were interviews with a host of German Amiga magazines.

After the interviews, I FINALLY met Urban Mueller, head honcho of Aminet.
Urban was working the Schatztruhe booth, pushing Aminet CDs and the dozens
of other products published by the company.  There were literally hundreds
of boxes of CD-ROMs (which is the only format Schatztruhe publishes in,
with the exception of the Guru-ROM), and customers were usually stacked two
or three back along the entire length of the counter.

Also hosted at the Schatztruhe booth was GPSoft's Greg Perry and Jonathan
Potter of DirOpus 5 fame.  They were demonstrating DirOpus5 to the crowd,
once the machine they were provided with was up and running.

Another Schatztruhe guest was Cloanto's Michael Battilana, who was
passing out and selling copies of the new Personal Paint 7, in the
incredibly attractive mini-CD sleeve.  It wouldn't be a Cloanto product if
I wasn't able to talk about how pretty the label is.  :)

Digita had representation as well--and I'm extremely embarrased that I
didn't write down his name and am blocked on it now, despite how much time
we spent together.

Later in the day, I got to meet a group of journalistic colleagues--Ben
Vost, Assistant Editor of Amiga Format was the first.  Ben and I spoke
candidly about the VIScorp situation--I told him I didn't know much.
Later, I met Mat Bettinson, Technical Editor of CU Amiga.  I do quite a bit
of writing for CU, so I was pleased to see him and pick up a couple of
recent issues of the magazine.  Later we met up with Thomas Svenson, editor
of Sweden's AmigaInfo.  Ben and I did a short video interview, courtesy of
the impromptu camera work of Greg Perry.

With all of this running around and meeting people and handling interviews,
you might think I didn't get much of a chance to see the show--and you'd
largely be right.  Partially because of the language barrier (a great many
Germans do indeed speak English, but after a while I was getting
self-consious about my inability to speak German as well as the VIScorp
badge on my chest) and partially because there just never seemed to be
time, I didn't get to do the rounds of the entire show floor.  But I DID
see quite a bit:

Schatztruhe
-----------

Well, yes, I was here the most often.  I have NEVER seen Amiga sales at
this pace before.  It was really a sight for doubting eyes.

The irony is that despite the big sign announcing my presence at the booth
and the importance Schatztruhe placed on it, relatively few people who came
to the area actually wanted to talk to me.  True, some did, but by and
large most people just wanted to hand over their money and walk away with
their CDs.  I personally filled a half-dozen orders or so. :)

Much to my surprise, I only had one encounter I'd term "negative", when a
patron engaged me in some abusive questioning and then walked away before I
was finished answering.  But by and large, things went well.

One of the interesting products Schatztruhe had is unique to the German
market--DirOpus 5.5 on CD-ROM, with online manual only.  It's only in
German, but GPSoft is considering the product in English for other markets
based on the success of the German version.


Phase5
------

I got an audience with the suddenly VERY popular Wolf Dietrich, in what was
probably the most expensive Amiga booth in the place.  Phase5 had a large
walled-in meeting area where a number of hired well-dressed assistants
controlled entrance and looked professional.  Outside the perimeter was
Phase5's entire product line, including a few PowerUP demos--but no
CyberVision 3D, and only a logic-probe type exhibit for the A/Box.

The PowerUP demo was a mixed bag.  The two pieces of software they had to
show (a Mandelbrot generator and a partial port of the 3D software
Reflections) definitely showed the PPC to be faster than the 060, by an
awful lot.  But Reflections is hardly the most popular software package on
the Amiga--in fact, before the show, I'd never heard of it.  Phase5 needs
to show that developers are not only behind the product in spirit, but in
fact, before PowerUP can reach its real potential in the Amiga market.

Wolf and I discussed where things were going and how the A/Box was
indicative of a new growing spirit towards "alternative computing"--that
computers other than those endorsed by the WinTel standard can survive in
the present and future.


Haage and Partner
-----------------

H+P were showing off their product line.  Beginning with StormC, the
company has really made strong positive impressions on the Amiga market
with products meeting perceived needs.  ArtEffect and DrawStudio (the
latter is published by LH in Britain but distributed by H+P in Germany)
looked good, but unfortunately none of these packages has been provided for
review in Amiga Report.  H+P's area was rather large, and their staff was
cheerfully handling the flood of people around it.

Village Tronic
--------------

With a rotating Amiga and Mac cube, VT was having no trouble attracting
attention.  And they had no trouble keeping it with the Picasso IV.  A
terrific looking card, the P-IV was running MPEG CDs on the Workbench and 
putting up some great displays.  We hope to have a model for review soon.

ACT Electronic
--------------

The manufacturers of the Apollo line of accelerators were neighbors of
Schatztruhe.  The entire product line was laid out for passerby to see.  On
the whole, ACT didn't put on quite as professional a presentation as the
other companies like Phase5, but what they lacked in style they made up for
in substance--there was a LOT of product there.

Eagle and Micronik
------------------

Two separate companies, Eagle and Micronik's work was seen around the show.
Eagle makes A4000T custom configuration cases, and Micronik manufactures
A1200 cases.  Many exhibitors used their products--and they're gorgeous,
particularly compared to the extremely bland American QuikPak A4000T.

HiSoft/Maxon
------------

Maxon and HiSoft demonstrated their product lines in a rather flashy area.
All three platforms (Amiga, PC, Mac) of Cinema4D were on display, as was
IBrowse, and assorted Maxon products got airtime as well.  I met with
HiSoft's David Link and their top Cinema4D programmer later on--nice
fellows.

DCE
---

The SX32 Pro 030 was on display at the show, as Alan Redhouse of Eyetech in
the UK told me.  I missed a demo, but saw a board behind glass later at the
DCE booth.  The 030/50 is enough to make a CD32 user drool, but my question
is--what will I do about Pirates Gold, which chokes even on Fast RAM?

More Meetings
-------------

I will have to revisit this story another day quite soon, since I met so
many people for the first time I couldn't possibly list them all.

Meeting Christoph Guelicher was very high on my list.  This guy is
incredible.  He was the best thing about Amiga Technologies, in my
opinion--responsive, informative, sympathetic, and intelligent.  His
decision to leave the company this autumn is more than understandable, but
I sincerely hope he will be a professional part of the market again,
because the market could use more of him.

Getting to meet Heinz Wrobel and Angela Schmidt was exciting as well.
Heinz, best known lately for his work for AT on AmigaOS, and Angela, famous
for Meeting Pearls, were often found at the Schatztruhe area.

Mark Habinski and Trevor Kidd of Wonder Computers was there--it was funny
to travel to Europe to meet a couple of Canadian friends. :)

Dr.  Peter Kittel was on hand for PIOS, and it was great to meet him and
shake his hand for the first time.

And just seeing hundreds of people who knew my name was a thrill.

Cologne was a great experience for me.  I wish I had been able to do more
for the people there, but I'll not soon forget it.

The Fun Stuff:
-------------

Ben Vost and Mat Bettinson are actually two good looking guys, despite the
less than flattering pictures their magazines have run of them.

Urban Mueller's first words to me were "You're Jason Compton?  F*** you!"
It was ok, though, you had to be there.  Urban and I actually get along
very well. :)

Anybody who knows Angela Schmidt knows she loves to climb things.  She was
determined to climb the 10-foot wall around the Schatztruhe booth with only
thin plastic rods as supports.  Thankfully, Heinz, Stefan and I were able
to talk her out of it.

If you ever meet Greg Perry, offer him a coffee and cognac, heavy on the
cognac.

According to Urban Mueller, the Swiss have made only one contribution to
world cuisine--fondue.

Michael Battilana had a terrible sore throat, which he blamed for getting
in the way of his normally sexy Italian voice.

I know I heard a floorscrubber joke somewhere, but I forget what the
context was.

No karaoke this time, I'm afraid. :)