The best hardware and software products of the year

InfoWorld's 2010 Technology of the Year Awards recognize the top solutions for business and IT professionals

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To enable maximum data access, Intel expanded cache to a three-level system and let cores share the capacious level-3 (L3) cache. If few cores are running, they each get more cache. Furthmore, Nehalem adds faster access to memory and access to faster memory -- all this with lower power consumption than its forebears.

Nehalem's performance improvement was clear from the start, and it has shown up dramatically in InfoWorld's benchmarks and reviews. Year-over-year performance nearly doubled in our workstation comparisons; our tests of Nehalem-based tower servers produced similarly impressive results. This is easily the best performance gain in a decade between releases of a processor. Add the diminished power requirement and Nehalem is a shoo-in for Technology of the Year.

-- Andrew Binstock

Microsoft Windows 7
No one can doubt that Microsoft's credentials as a designer of good operating systems took a beating when the company released Windows Vista in late 2006. After months of hyping the new OS, the Redmond giant shipped a product with demanding hardware requirements, a poorly considered security policy, and unimpressive eye candy. In addition, the company changed numerous features for seemingly little gain. Market response was quick and unforgiving. The tide of negative press so attached itself to the Vista moniker that when Microsoft released a service pack that did away with most users' complaints, nobody cared. It was too late to make a good impression.

With Windows 7, Microsoft made none of its previous mistakes. There was no oversell prior to release. And when the product arrived this year, users were pleasantly surprised. The company had taken the best of its Vista experience, tweaked it in small but important ways, and released the OS under a new name. Suddenly, consumers and enterprises were paying attention and recognizing that the only major operating system not directly derived from Unix had a lot to say for itself.

Windows 7 is responsive. Its kernel -- an accelerated version of the Vista kernel -- runs rings around Windows XP in graphics benchmarks, if not all tests that duplicate user application activity. To this has been added better exploitation of hardware so that power consumption is significantly less than Vista, while performance in multimedia has improved. Boot-up and shutdown time -- a bane of XP users -- is significantly shorter, and the inherent functionality of the OS has increased via a redesigned Windows shell, built-in virtualization, and support for a wide range of new devices.

Microsoft was able to deliver the new features without breaking backward compatibility with Vista. Vista device drivers mostly run without difficulty, and the 64-bit versions of the OS are no longer forlorn stepchildren but rather an integrated part of the Windows 7 family.

The nature of these changes might seem incremental in absolute terms, but their combined effect cannot be denied: According to Wikipedia, Windows 7 was the highest-grossing pre-order in the history of Press and analyst reviews have been largely glowing, and adoption has been rapid -- the OS reached in three weeks the market penetration Vista attained after a long seven months. Windows 7 gets Windows right and once again Microsoft is an important innovator in the PC user experience.

-- Andrew Binstock

Microsoft Windows XP: A Lifetime Achievement Award
Windows XP is the most successful operating system in history. It has shipped on more than a billion PCs worldwide and has spawned a supporting hardware and software ecosystem that is the envy of Microsoft's competitors. It truly is an epic product that touches every corner of the information technology industry.

XP's rise to dominance was not devoid of controversy. Early releases were buggy and prone to crashing, with many vendors struggling to transition device drivers and other system software from DOS-based Windows 9x to the NT-based Windows XP. Later editions were plagued by security exploits, giving the OS a reputation as malware's favorite target and forcing Microsoft to divert resources from XP's successor to fix the existing version's myriad flaws.

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