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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Yet despite its many shortcomings, Windows XP continued to expand its sphere of influence to a point where its "crayons and watercolor" Luna interface became synonymous with personal computing. In fact, XP became so popular that when Microsoft tried to replace it with the fatter, even buggier Windows Vista, customers revolted. They signed petitions demanding that Microsoft save XP, and used their downgrade rights to express their dissatisfaction.

Ultimately, this very public backlash forced Microsoft to rework Vista, pruning the excess fat and making it more palatable to the XP fence-sitters. The net result, Windows 7, is now shaping up to be the XP successor that many customers had hoped for. And for those of us who've successfully made the jump to Windows 7 (and loving it), we have the much maligned -- yet seemingly omnipresent -- XP to thank for paving the way.

-- Randall C. Kennedy

Cisco Unified Computing System
Cisco unleashed the Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) in March, and most of the world scratched their heads and asked what all the fuss was about. If there's anything lacking about UCS it's the fact that it's hard to communicate to most folks exactly how different it is from every other computing platform available today.

UCS combines the fluidity and malleability of Cisco's legendary modular switches with an extremely well-architected core management framework and an extremely usable GUI, then backs it up with solid Intel Nehalem-based blades with staggeringly high maximum RAM support.

Unlike the traditional model, UCS dispenses with fixed ports and internal switching. It removes the smarts from the chassis as well. Each chassis is essentially just sheet metal and a backplane. No switching occurs within a chassis; the chassis is simply an extension of the UCS fabric, which is driven by two redundant Fabric Interconnects.

The scalability of UCS has to be seen -- and understood -- to be believed. By addressing computing resources exactly as they address switching blades in a core switch, Cisco has ensured that capacity is always available and made it hot swappable. By leveraging 10G copper throughout, Cisco significantly reduced complexity and cabling costs.

Management is also greatly simplified. Instead of server-based management components or external packages, everything is driven from the Fabric Interconnects themselves. The entire configuration for any UCS implementation is a single XML file, and the XML API available with UCS makes custom scripting a breeze.

Cisco UCS is an extremely good idea, implemented extremely well, especially for a version 1.0 hardware platform. If Cisco can spread the good word about UCS next year, it should really take off. It's a paradigm shift in datacenter infrastructure whose time has come.

-- Paul Venezia

VMware vSphere 4
The leader in x86 virtualization continued to improve its juggernaut in 2009, adding features and capabilities that again set the standard for competitors. The April VMware vSphere 4 release touched on almost every aspect of managing a virtual infrastructure, from ESX host provisioning to virtual network management to backup and recovery of virtual machines. Thanks to features such as VM clustering, agentless VM backup, hot additions of CPUs and RAM, and vApps, which are collections of VMs that comprise specific applications, VMware vSphere takes a substantial step forward in the management of virtual environments.

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