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Cebit 09 too dead to trash says Greenpeace

But Schwarzenegger says he'll be back

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Cebit 09 Cebit organisers underlined the crisis facing the IT industry this morning when they claimed last week's IT extravaganza had gotten off to a "powerful start and ended on a successful note, boosting optimism in the world ICT industry".

This despite the fact that the number of visitors was down 20 per cent to 400,000 and the number of exhibitors was 4,300, well down on last year's 5,845, itself down on the previous year's 6,153.

In fairness, the final numbers might seem better than expected to anyone who was tramping round the show grounds last week, and who noticed that it had seemed more crowded on Monday when people were still putting the stands together.

Exhibitors definitely knew something was up, with very few really breakthrough announcements happening at the show. Most of the staff working the stands would happily volunteer that traffic was well down on previous years, despite the organisers using temporary partitions to halve the size of many of the halls.

“Thin is the only way I can describe it,” said one senior industry exec.

Another noted that there were fewer attendees wearing shirts and jackets and more sporting hoodies and acne. Little optimism there then.

Every exhibitor we spoke to mentioned the world's current financial crisis without prompting. The Taiwanese IT industry reps who were pushing the upcoming Computex show unhestitatingly referred to the financial “tsunami” - you have to assume the phrase is not used lightly just four years after a very real Tsunami devastated South East Asia.

A telling verdict came from Greenpeace, who have long used the event to stage stunts highlighting the ICT industry's gobbling of natural resources before actually staging an official press conference last year to launch a green IT report. This year the organisation simply had a few discreet chats with journalists to highlight its campaign to force IT industry CEOs to push governments on climate targets.

Tom Dowdell, the organisation's greener electronics campaign coordinator, said the group had this year decided to concentrate on CES in Las Vegas, presumably seeing this a bigger stage for the group's activities.

Still, the organisers made much of their bagging erstwhile Terminator turned California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to open the show last Monday. Ernst Raue, the Deutsche Messe Managing Board member in charge of Cebit, said “His optimistic and determined attitude strengthened the ICT industry's resolve to capitalize on all the available opportunities”.

But even that is not quite the coup it might at first seem. Schwarzenegger was not there to show solidarity with his fellow German speakers - he was there because the state of California is in desperate straits itself, with Silicon Valley in particular experiencing the sort of painful contraction it had in 2001. Even the Jetstream trailer-cum-diner at the centre of the California pavilion was charging for the hot dogs.

Schwarzenegger, never one to let a knackered catchphrase die, ritualistically intoned: “I'll be back.” And he probably will be if things don't pick up in California. As for the rest of the world, it's a fair bet to say that thousands of others won't be. ®

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