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Cannes Rom-fest

Although less glamorous than the Film Festival, the MILIA new media exhibition and conference in Cannes, now in its fourth year, is already a firm fixture in the multimedia year. Publishers and distributors from around the world gauge the state of the market, do deals, and pack the bar of the Martinez hotel.

Views on this year's MILIA were mixed - some were pessimistic, reflecting the recent warnings of doom and gloom about CD-Rom publishing. Poor sales, several business failures and the inexorable rise of the Internet and on-line publishing as The Next Big Thing, have seemingly relegated the CD-Rom to has-been status. Others, however, were more bullish - a reduction in the number of visitors being compensated by an improvement in product quality.

Trends this year include the rise and rise of television-oriented on-line offerings running on "black box" platforms such as WebTV; so-called "invited push" technologies such as that demonstrated by USIsraeli company Backweb, where the delivery of information is more akin to a personal broadcast channel, and is designed to make use of idle on-line time - when you're not interacting, the "Polite Agent" software will quietly deliver to your PC any information you have registered an interest in.

Combing the aisles of the Palais des Festivals for signs of life in the battered British educational CD-Rom publishing industry, I was pleasantly surprised to find a number of companies showing titles with both good interactive design and educational merit.

Notable among these were Maris, whose fascinating and realistic Space Station Simulator is one of the very first titles to make full use of the features of Intel's new MMX processor.

Macmillan Interactive was previewing Sophie's World, an interactive adventure combined with a multimedia reference source to bring Jostein Gaarder's book to life on the multimedia PC.

BBC Multimedia, fresh from its success with Wallace and Gromit, previewed some of its first education and reference titles, including Attenborough's Antarctic, and French Experience, first of a series of language titles.

But watch out for MindGym, designed to give your brain a real workout. Developed by London-based NoHo Digital, MindGym will drive parents and teachers nuts, but kids will love it.

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