It's a valid question, and one that should get a serious answer.
Obviously, if you have Macs on your network, or are thinking seriously about Macs on your network, you need to go. Even if it's one person from your shop, someone in your organization should go. First, the sessions at Macworld are phenomenal. These aren't marketing wonkfests where you'll be showered with beautiful Powerpoint presentations and no useful information. The sessions are conducted by people in the trenches, doing the work, from companies you've heard of, like Apple, and ones you haven't, like digital.forest. (Disclaimer: I'm doing two sessions myself at Macworld this year. One session is on the Nagios network administration toolset, and the other session is an overview of SOX, HIPAA, and GLBA.
Other sessions will focus on Mac OS X forensics, software asset management, enterprise database systems, Mac/Windows integrations, 'neutered admins, collaboration/groupware for Mac OS X Server, hardening Mac OS X 10.4 Server, and a ton of others. I'm planning on being at every one I can physically attend, and I plan on begging for slides from most of the others.
But that's just the Mac IT conference. There are two-day Power Tools conferences on Filemaker Pro, Wireless Networks, Mac OS X Server, (It's sold out, in case you were wondering), two AppleScript sessions, (one is sold out) and more. There are hands-on labs, market symposiums and more.
You can, without trying, spend the entire week and never once have to go near the show floor, and easily get your money's worth in time and effort. Look at the titles for the presenters of the sessions -- sys admins, network engineers, consultants and trainers. No marketing people, no PR pros. They're sessions we want to see, because in a sense, we're giving them. By themselves, they're reason enough to go.
But that's not to say the expo floor is worthless, because it's anything but. I've made, in the 10 years I've been going to Macworld Expo, hundreds of contacts with various ISVs and hardware companies. Apple, Adobe, Microsoft, Thursby -- you name a company in the Mac enterprise space and I probably have a contact or two with them. If I don't, I will. The chance to meet and talk with people from the various companies that make Mac products, including Apple, is invaluable. This personal contact can take you from just another customer to someone who knows, and is known by, the people doing the work on the products you use.
That's one of the interesting things about Macworld. You don't have the usual flood of'booth babes' with nary an engineer to be found. Maybe it's because there aren't as many big companies in the Mac space, but the ratio of engineers to PR people at Macworld is quite good. I think it must be a Macworld thing, because even at the Adobe and Microsoft booths, the engineer/project manager count is really quite high. This high engineer count makes the floor time quite productive.
It's amazing what a 10 minute conversation with an engineer can do for a problem you've been having. The problem may not get fixed on the show floor, but you'll go from a random person with some licenses to a person with a problem that's probably affecting a lot of other people.
That's the 'untrackable' benefit to Macworld. It's the set of business cards, both real and virtual, that you walk away with. You can't duplicate that via email or newsgroup or chatroom. Even in this day of WebEx, and remote everything, the gains made from a couple of good talks in person -- perhaps on the show floor, perhaps at a vendor party -- will net you far more than emails. A lot of what I do at a Macworld is keeping these relationships going, and it's well worth it.
I sat down once and figured out how much I had gotten in real, dollar-trackable value from Macworld. It was easily three to five times the costs.
The ability to talk directly to the people making the stuff you use approaches priceless, and Macworld Expo is one of the best venues for this if your network currently includes Macs, or might include Macs in the next year or so. If nothing else, it gives you a target-rich environment for future resume pushes, should the need arise. I'll personally attest to the employment benefits that a Macworld Expo contact or three can provide.
Yes, it can be hard to budget for things like trade shows. But the truth is, even with the constant drumbeat of how the Intarweb will replace face-to-face interaction between vendors and customers, trade shows, at least the better ones, still provide a real value to the attendees. And Macworld Expo is definitely one of the better ones -- a reason why it's still around and Comdex isn't.