Picking the top technologies in a wild year

The 12th annual InfoWorld Technology of the Year Awards boldly choose the best of the best, backed by a fearless crew of expert reviewers

Whenever someone asks me how InfoWorld differs from other IT publications, I cite two facts off the bat: Most of our articles are written by experienced, working IT people -- and we're one of the few publications that still does real enterprise product reviews.

The two go hand in hand. The 2012 InfoWorld Technology of the Year Awards provides a showcase, not just for the best products, but for the analytical abilities of our InfoWorld Test Center contributors, including James Borck, Brian Chee, Desmond Fuller, Andrew Glover, Rick Grehan, Roger Grimes, Galen Gruman, Martin Heller, Woody Leonhard, Neil McAllister, Matt Prigge, Keith Schultz, Paul Venezia, Peter Wayner, and Serdar Yegulalp. As you flip through our Technology of the Year slideshow, follow the links to the original reviews and judge for yourself whether this crew knows its stuff.

[ Do not stop, go directly to the 2012 InfoWorld Technology of the Year Awards. | Prefer to look ahead? See "InfoWorld's top 10 emerging enterprise technologies." | Check out all the Technology of the Year winners going back to 2004. ]

A few details may jump out at you, starting with stellar work by developers Peter Wayner and Rick Grehan, who led our intensive coverage of app dev. Several products they reviewed got the Technology of the Year nod: Node.js, the superfast JavaScript server; CakePHP, which simplifies building PHP Web apps; and Web2py, the best Python Web framework we tested. But our code-savvy review crew also observed that app dev is riding a rocket to the cloud: Peter Wayner gave a big thumbs-up to CloudBees, a Java PaaS (platform as a service) coordinated by Jenkins, and Heroku beat Engine Yard in a head-to-head comparison of Ruby PaaS offerings authored by Andrew Glover.

App dev even informed our coverage of mobile -- and it should since mobile platforms offer a vast new frontier for programmers. Sure, game developers will write to the native capabilities of mobile devices, but for enterprise apps we think the write-once, run-anywhere principal should apply. That's why we gave InfoWorld Technology of the Year Awards to Adobe PhoneGap, which lets developers create mobile Web apps using common Web dev skills, and Rhomobile Rhodes, for building data-driven mobile enterprise apps for Android, iPhone, Windows Phone 7, and RIM devices from a single codebase.

Not to detract from the miraculous mobile gizmos themselves. InfoWorld reviewed dozens of them as devices in their own right and according to their suitability for enterprise use. Two received Technology of the Year Awards: the iPad 2 and the MacBook Air. Yes, I can hear the howls of protest from Android and BlackBerry fans (sorry, we also loved iOS 5, iCloud, and Siri). But even the best Android devices fell a little shy of the mark -- a string of near misses that we're pretty certain will end with an Android winner in 2012. As for RIM devices, well, let's not get into that now.

We had endless fun with mobile, but not at the expense of our usual analysis of the heavy-duty goods. Paul Venezia gave the top four virtualization solutions the kind of thorough evaluation that only a guy who (among other things) rolls out virtualization deployments for a living could do; in the end, VMware vSphere emerged as our Technology of the Year winner once again. Based on another review by Paul, we also handed the laurels to the AMD Opteron 6200 "Interlagos"-series CPU. Of the servers we tested, only the Opteron-based Dell PowerEdge R715 reviewed by Keith Schultz made it to the winner's circle.

For the rest of our 2012 Technology of the Year winners, check out the full slideshow. Compare it to previous years and you'll be struck by the breakneck pace of change in 2011. Despite a laggard economy, technology development -- especially in cloud, mobile, and app dev -- just keeps accelerating.

Ever since InfoWorld Test Center executive editor Doug Dineley dreamed up the Technology of the Year Awards 12 years ago, it's been InfoWorld's job to drill down, take stock, and highlight the technologies worth paying attention to based on the hard work of our reviewers. We hope you enjoy this year's exceptional effort.

This article, "Picking the top technologies in a wild year," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog, and for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.