The best hardware and software of the year

InfoWorld's 2011 Technology of the Year Awards recognize the best products at the forefront of today's top data center, desktop, mobile, and programming trends

Each year, the editors and reviewers of the InfoWorld Test Center gather to look over the list of products that earned the highest marks in stand-alone reviews or came in first in multiproduct shoot-outs. We then determine which ones were particularly praiseworthy and present the very best with Technology of the Year awards. These awards inherently reflect the changes in technology that have occurred during the past year and serve to highlight emerging trends.

The most distinctive shift we saw during 2010 were the conflicting pulls on computing platforms, drawing them to the far ends of the spectrum: more applications and services being delivered from virtual servers and large clouds, while on the other end, ever-smaller client endpoints taking a larger role in business and in the daily lives of consumers. Systems near the midpoint -- workstations, desktops, and laptops -- are becoming page two news, whereas they used to represent the key cradles of innovation.

[ Read about the winning hardware, software, and development tools in our slideshow, "InfoWorld's 2011 Technology of the Year Award winners." ]

Businesses are turning to SaaS for business apps, productivity suites, and collaboration, and to large clouds for development, testing, and analyzing "big data." How far will this trend go? Will our desktop workspaces end up being hosted on virtual servers, so we can access them from thin clients and tablets? Or will we dump the traditional desktop for cloud applications and the likes of Google Chrome OS? The coming year should begin to answer these questions, as the volatile mix of virtualization, cloud computing, and powerful, lightweight client devices challenge the dominant desktop paradigm.

iPads and Androids
Although the form factor of client endpoints continues to shrink, this has not come at the cost of diminished computing power. We're starting to see the laptop, itself a lighter, mobile response to the PC, under attack as too bulky. This attack is coming from the smartphone, the iPad, and of course the crop of iPad competitors announced earlier this month at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

So far, however, competing tablets have served only to underscore the excellence of the iPad, which has emerged as a popular and versatile business tool, as well as a consumer favorite. More personal than any PC, the iPad is unmatched in its potential to be at once useful and fun. It was an easy pick for our award.

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