A bumper sticker philosopher once said, "The best things in life aren't things." We can't be sure the deep thinker had cloud computing in mind, but the same thought occurred to us as we drew up our list of best products for the annual Technology of the Year Awards. Long ago, you could press your server's power button with your own hand, and software came in shrink-wrapped boxes. Now it's all off in some netherworld, somewhere else, and we reach out to it with a URL instead of our fingers.
This isn't completely true. There are several tangible objects on our list, but they're mostly hardware that lives in backrooms away from grubby hands. Anyone who buys them immediately hides them away from everyone, so the machines won't get hurt. The rest of the winners are pieces of software, many of which aren't even sold as software, per se. They're packaged as services, which are even more ephemeral and untouchable than the cloud servers they run on.
[ Read about the winning hardware, software, development tools, and cloud services in our slideshow, "InfoWorld's 2014 Technology of the Year Award winners." | For quick, smart takes on the news you'll be talking about, check out InfoWorld TechBrief -- subscribe today. ]
Let's get the real things out of the way quickly. The winners list holds solid server-room machines -- including the Dell PowerEdge VRTX and the HP 3PAR StoreServ 7400 -- that will be great additions to the backrooms of every enterprise that hasn't cast their worries aside to embrace the great cloud of the Internet. There are also appliances like the Riverbed Steelhead WAN accelerator and the Synology RackStation storage system. If you still believe in being able to touch your data, or at least the box holding it, then these machines will help you feel secure.
There's also the Raspberry Pi, a little gift to hackers and makers everywhere that is bringing automation and embedded intelligence to places it's never been before. The Pi is technically a real thing that you can reach out and touch, but it's so small that you could sneeze and lose it. It also costs so little that you might even afford to lose it -- which makes it suitable for all sorts of interesting applications.