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Conferences Go Way Beyond a Handshake And the Exchange Of Business Cards

One of the issues facing people who produce software conferences is setting the right mix of technology and marketing.

The perfect ratio seems to vary as much as the companies producing the get-togethers.

Qualcomm Inc. uses its yearly BREW conference to share ideas with the engineers who use the software platform.

But the company also uses the gathering to promote the business side of its technology, meet journalists and analysts and make announcements.

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A series of business model lectures at BREW 2005, which took place June 1-3 at the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, included one on banking with a mobile phone, and another titled, “Pass Me the Curry , Catering to the Indian Market.”

Among trade-show announcements: Silicon Valley company Electronic Arts will produce games on the BREW platform. The games will be variations of EA’s titles, including “Madden NFL 2006,” “Tiger Woods PGA Tour,” and “The Sims 2 Mobile.”

Since journalists come to the BREW conference from overseas, Qualcomm’s public relations force uses the opportunity to bring them to Sorrento Mesa, and show them around company headquarters for a day.

Technology conferences take on different personalities, said Mark Herring, a marketing executive with Sun Microsystems, who is helping to oversee his company’s JavaOne conference, set for the end of the month in San Francisco.

Events like the Comdex information technology trade show are “all about marketing,” Herring said.

Yet developers expect something very specific when they come to Sun’s four-day Java conference, which carries an admission price of $2,695 at the door.

“Developers are picky creatures,” Herring said. A conference producer needs to make sure the content is technical and “has value.” People in attendance “don’t want marketing fluff.”

Herring said his employer could easily use the JavaOne conference to tout the company’s big news from early this month: Sun’s $4.1 billion acquisition of Colorado-based StorageTek.

Under that scenario, “I guarantee you attendees will get up and leave,” he said.

Sun’s conference also includes specialty sessions that go late into the night (dozens may turn out for an 11 p.m. talk, Herring said) and “birds of a feather” sessions that cover highly specific technical topics (Anyone up for “Multimedia Streaming Over Bluetooth Connection on the J2ME Platform”?).

Conferences can also mix technical thinking with some good-natured rivalry. PalmSource, Inc., the Silicon Valley company that makes software for wallet-size computers, held a “Stump the Experts” session at its PalmSource Mobile Summit and DevCom in late May in San Jose. The JavaOne get-together includes a coding challenge.

Lest anyone thinks Sun is a stick-in-the-mud, the company doesn’t skip a party. The last evening of Sun’s conference will feature a 10th birthday bash for Java technology.

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