Enterprise IT Highlights from CeBIT

Wayne Rash
I got to the CeBIT show in Hanover, Germany a little earlier than usual, meaning that the activity on the show floor resembled a construction site more than a technology show. This was good because it means that when you wander around the 26 show floors, you're likely to find company executives less frazzled and more receptive about discussing their products. Also, their PR people aren't around to tell them what to say.

While most of the displays at what is the largest technology trade show in the world are still being built, you tend to run into engineers that love to talk about their products. One such engineer from Fujitsu was doing fairly informal demonstrations of the new Stylistic Q550 tablet device. At first look, this appeared to be similar to every other iPad wannabe on the market, but a look at the back of the device revealed a slot for reading smartcards, a fingerprint reader and a place for a security lock. Clearly this device isn't for the casual consumer.

In addition to the physical add-ons, Fujitsu has chosen to use Windows 7 Professional instead of a tablet-specific operating system such as Android Honeycomb. The reason, according to the engineer, is that Windows has better support for enterprise-grade security. The engineer also mentioned that since this tablet is designed to integrate into the enterprise, it needs to support Windows applications, including software such as Microsoft Office and Microsoft Outlook.

Even the user interface is designed for enterprise integration, allowing the use of a stylus or a touchscreen. The device is able to detect whether a user is using fingers or the stylus, and react accordingly. There's multitouch for using the touchscreen, and if you're using the stylus, there's handwriting recognition.

But there's more to life than tablet computers, despite their status as the coolest devices on the planet (or so their advocates would have you believe). Smartphones, for example, are everywhere, but for most companies the desk phone has remained a relatively dumb device. Now, Alcatel-Lucent is announcing a new desk phone that has all of the features of a smartphone, but in a desk configuration. The device is able to use a cloud-based configuration feature to remember the setup for each user who signs on to the phone, and it's able to support smartphone functions such as Web browsing, text entry and video streaming.

But because the Alcatel-Lucent product is a wired phone, it remains under the control of the enterprise and is subject to enterprise security. Siemens, meanwhile, is showing a new phone control system that lets users switch between phones using a gesture-based interface on their smartphones. You might, for example, transfer a call you're on from a cell phone to a desk phone by simply moving a highlight between a selection of phones visible on the screen using an app developed by Siemens.

Perhaps the biggest focus this year is on cloud computing, which will be the subject of a number of announcements this week. I was able to see a new cloud control system from Microsoft that is designed to give the IT staff a central command station for controlling cloud activity. Microsoft is also showing an all-electric version of the Smart car that is controlled by a cloud-connected Windows Phone 7. No word on how that works out when you drop your cell signal.

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