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Scaled-back PC Expo mirrors deflation of technology industry

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NEW YORK — In the latest sign of the tough times in the technology industry, the once-splashy PC Expo trade show opened Tuesday with a sparse-feeling menagerie of companies vying for attention on a half-empty convention floor.

Now in its 21st year, PC Expo officially is part of a wider event called TechXNY that was expected to draw 30,000 people before closing Thursday. About 55,000 people roamed the floor in the heady days of dot-com fervor three years ago.

While dozens of exhibitors talked up their hardware, software and tech-related services in bright booths with soft carpeting Tuesday, the other half of the convention center sat walled off by curtains, with nothing on display but a bare gray floor and some green loading dollies.

"I've been roaming for 20 minutes and I'm almost done," NPD Group analyst Stephen Baker said on the show floor.

TechXNY is by no means the only technology event to be deflated by the industry's woes. Key3Media Group, which runs the Comdex trade show, filed for bankruptcy protection in February.

Still, TechXNY director Christina Condos said the prices the show has charged exhibitors and attendees has stayed flat rather than fallen in recent years. And some big technology names did make presentations, including Microsoft Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. and chip-maker Advanced Micro Devices Inc.

Many participants said they were working harder to join in less-glitzy but still-valuable meetings and seminars at the conference rather than exhibits on the trade show floor.

George Prodan, a senior vice president of Trapeze Networks Inc., which helps companies secure their workers' wireless Internet connections, said that if TechXNY helps Trapeze, based in Pleasanton, Calif., win just four or five new customers, the trip will have paid for itself.

While network and security-related technologies like Trapeze's were a hot topic at TechXNY, other presenters ran the gamut, with digital memory cards and peripheral PC devices set up within a few paces of exhibits by overseas outsourcing providers and wireless phone carrier T-Mobile.

Logicube Inc. talked up a new machine that can quickly copy crime suspects' computer hard drives and instantly report whether words of urgent interest — like those related to terrorism — appear inside. An older version of Logicube's $2,195 gear was on display exactly as government agencies buy it, according to Logicube vice president Jerry Kaner: in a waterproof briefcase built to withstand being run over by a car.

Baker said those kinds of incremental advancements on existing products are largely all that technology events offer these days. That's not necessarily a bad thing but a sign of the maturing of the industry.

"Everybody's concentrating on what gives them revenue here and now," Baker said. "The gee-whiz things — there just aren't as many of them right now."