ALTHOUGH the battle lines on the software side at Comdex seemed to be drawn along operating system lines, on the hardware side the focus appeared to be the growing choice between reduced-instruction-set computing (RISC) and complex-instruction-set computing (CISC) that consumers are faced with. The RISC evangelists promise greater performance and power than anything available from traditional CISC systems (read Intel and Intel-compatible) while the CISC team focuses on backward compatibility as a big selling point. Without a doubt, the PowerPC represents the popular voice for the RISC alternative. From the large tent outside the main convention hall where Apple, IBM and Motorola, the chip's creators, sponsored a display of various applications available on the various PowerPC platforms, to the individual booths that were showing off the newest PowerPC boxes, great effort went into creating a momentum to position the chip as the central processing unit of the future desktop. However, Intel hit back with its passport programme. By visiting four of more than 20 booths displaying Intel-based machines, passport carriers, identifiable by the distinct passport-like booklet hanging around their necks next to their Comdex badges, were seen rushing around the floor getting their passport stamped in order to cash in on the wealth of free software being given away by Intel. Ultimately, the conflict seems rooted in near-religious rhetoric. In a document prepared by Apple comparing the Pentium and the PowerPC, the Pentium's backward register-compatibility with previous x86 processors and software is identified as a weakness because it constrains the chip's design. Apple is trying to imply that this will further increase the technology gap between the Pentium and RISC chips. But, much as is the case with operating systems, it is the availability of native software that does not need to run in emulation that may play an important role in ensuring any chip line's success. It was this realisation that seemed to drive attention to the PowerPC tent where dozens of available packages for the PowerPC were highlighted. Most of them were written to run on MacOS, followed as a close second by Windows NT. A smaller percentage were run on UNIX variants, such as AIX and Solaris. In fact, hundreds of applications are available for Apple's PowerMacs, but this ties the users into what still remains a closed hardware architecture available from only one vendor, something which some people are wary of. Still, in this area the lead is obviously retained by x86 architectures which have more than a decade's worth of software development available. Even beyond the CISC-RISC battle, the Intel clone makers lent fuel to the CISC flame by generating a lot of noise. Cyrix, AMD and NexGen, in particular, were pushing their alternative to Intel's Pentium, all solidly based in CISC and all being promoted as a better 586s than the Pentium. The RISC side also had its smaller supporters, particularly from MIPS whose chips were on display at several booths, including NEC and Toshiba, as well as the Alpha on display by the newly-focused Digital.