As another hectic year in IT draws to a shuddering close, we offer you the choices of ARN, and other IDG luminaries, for the best hardware and software of 1997. These are not definitive - there was no stringent selection process, no judging criteria - they're just the ones we liked best, for whatever reason. Some of us are harder to please than others, but we all have one thing in common: we're waiting for a sequel to "Ugachaka" the Amazing Dancing Baby - Matthew JC. PowellARNeditor Paul ZuckerThere were many products that did well this year, either in fact or in the eyes of the appropriate marketing machines. These include: Zip drives; Office 97, Windows CE handheld computers, the latest generation of digital cameras, and the Amazing Dancing Baby (Ugachaka).
However, my choices for best hard- ware and software products of the year reflect not only marketing hype, but three extra factors: fun, market reaction and saleability.
They're also brand-new products, but sure to do well.
Software of the year: Quake II
This sequel to one of the most famous PC games ever written will mean big business because it's been hotly anticipated. You have to buy it and you have to have the CD to run it. Especially popular with office workers, this program alone should mean thousands of extra Internet connections and increased network hardware capacity around Australia over the next few months.
Hardware of the year: REX personal organiserAgain, this is a brand new product, and we chose it for what it does and its market potential, rather than its success so far. The REX is a type-II PC Card that becomes a read-only organiser when you take it out of the slot and put it in your pocket. For those of us who work from the desktop PC, there's an optional cradle to hold the REX. It holds a combination of 2500 names, addresses, phone numbers, schedule items and notes that are downloaded from products like Outlook or Sidekick on the PC, using the supplied TrueSync software. It also has an alarm clock.
The five unique buttons allow for quick recall of data. At $295, it seems expensive for such a small device, but as an executive toy it should sell well. This 55 x 85 x 5mm card weighs just 42g.
Honourable mention: Sony Mavica digital cameraThis camera excels in a number of areas. It takes up to 500 shots without changing batteries, has 10:1 zoom lens, and best of all it stores the photos on a standard 3.5in disk for direct transfer to a PC (as well as unlimited picture storage in the field, as long as you have disks).
editor Mark Stafford
Hardware of the year: 3Com PalmPilot
In our Editors' Awards in November, I gave a similar award to the Intel challengers, AMD and Cyrix, for their latest MMX-class processors. I stand by that award, but having recently survived the COMDEX expo in Las Vegas, I saw the plethora of handheld devices and what they owe to the Palm Pilot. Handhelds are now serious business devices. The Palm Pilot is the preferred device of the majority of people I speak to - in one meeting of software executives recently, almost everyone had bought one.
Software of the year: Britannica CD 97
We didn't deem it a champagne year for PC-based software at PC World. Britannica is a great product that proves the adage that it's content, content, content that is important. Expensive for a CD-ROM at $300, but a good investment.
editor Matthew JC. Powell
Hardware of the year: Mac clones
Power Computing and Motorola led the charge in bringing high-performance machines running the Mac OS to market much more quickly and cheaply than Apple itself could do, forcing Apple to sharpen its act in pricing and packing features and performance into its own machines. Apple's own hardware is now streets ahead of where it might have been, if not for competition.
The champion machine has to be the Motorola StarMax 6000, the first CHRP clone. It never got to market, thanks to Apple's triage, but performance tests and demonstrations before and during the Macworld expo in August suggested that this would be one mean computer, considerably faster than anything else on either side of the desktop platform fence.
Software of the year: Mac OS 8
It may seem daft to call an operating system exciting, but Mac OS 8 was easily the biggest thing to happen to the Mac this year. It delivered interface enhancements and performance improvements that brought the Mac OS back into the leagues of "modern" operating systems.
Honourable mention goes to Macro-media Flash. It's not Mac-only, but it's so cool, and so easy-to-use on the Mac, that it has to be in here somewhere. There was a lot of groovy stuff released for the Internet this year, but Flash has quickly carved a permanent place for itself as a standard.
editor Philip Sim
Software of the year: VitalSigns Net.MedicEveryone knows how frustrating the Internet can be when you can't get through to a site or performance is nowhere near where it should be. A huge part of that frustration comes from not knowing where the problem lies: is it your PC, your ISP, Telstra or the server or site itself?
Net.Medic analyses the performance of the entire link, from your PC to the Web server, and tells you exactly where the bottlenecks are. Once it has detected a problem, it will then try to fix the problem. A great tool for end users, Webmasters wanting to optimise their sites, or for resellers who need to explain to their customers why their connection isn't up to par.
Net.Medic is distributed by Lan Systems.
Hardware of the year: Baystack 350 Autosense SwitchBay's 350 is a 10/100 Mbit/sec Autosense Switch - nothing more, nothing less. It doesn't offer particularly jaw-dropping performance or features but it has hit the mark as the right switch at the right time and, most importantly, at the right price.
Users can install the Baystack 350 and get immediate performance improvement through the move to switching.
However, if users are connecting to a 100Mbit/sec-capable NIC or hub, the 350 will sense that is the case and reconfigure the port to fast Ethernet - no need to trudge down to the wiring closet every time a new power user is added to the network. And it isn't extravagant for the future-proofing it provides.
editor Ian Yates
Hardware of the year: WatchGuard Technologies' FireboxMy vote goes for the Firebox firewall product from WatchGuard Technologies. This appropriately red-painted box is a true network appliance. You just plug it in and let it go.
It's costly, involves a complicated installation and carries multiple operational risks. WatchGuard puts full network security in an easily managed plug and play network security appliance that is operational within minutes. But its simplicity and straightforward appearance belies a sophistication unmatched by other software-based security systems. Packet filtering and transparent proxies effect full firewall functionality. Data Encryption ensures that transmissions to and from remote users are private. Authentication gives only authorised users the ability to access the corporate network over the Internet.
The WatchGuard Firebox has three independent network interfaces. This unique architecture enables separation of the protected corporate network from the Internet while providing an optional public network for hosting web, e-mail or FTP servers. Each network interface is independently monitored to provide another added measure of security. Front and back LEDs instantly inform network managers of connectivity status, Armed/Disarmed status, and; most importantly, Allowed or Denied traffic on the trusted, external and optional networks. The WatchGuard Firebox has support for both 10 and 100 Mbit Ethernet networks.
Available locally from ADE Networks.
editor John Costello
Hardware of the year: Digital's HiNote 2000 laptopJust when all notebooks are starting to look the same, Digital's extremely flat HiNote series strikes a blow for being different.
The combination of this stylish design with the high-performance features of the HiNote 2000 made it an obvious choice.
Software of the year: SAP's R/3 suite
R/3 is a very comprehensive suite of financial management and reporting systems at least the equal of any of its competitors.
Despite stiff competition, it continues to enjoy widespread acceptance in medium-to-large organisations.
Honourable mention: Lotus Organizer 97GSThis is the best product of its kind I've seen. It's now integrated with Lotus Notes and can be synchronised with the US Robotics PalmPilot.
deputy editor Matt Rodgers
Hardware of the year: PaperPort Strobe Personal Colour ScannerA visiting executive from overseas let me play with one of these a couple of months ago, and ever since I've been trying (unsuccessfully) to convince my significant other that it would make an extremely romantic anniversary gift. As someone who is forever hoarding shreds of paper and incidental bits of information, Visioneer's PaperPort is like a packrat's dream come true.
PaperPort is distributed by ACA Pacific and carries an RRP of $456.
Software of the year: X-Com: Apocalypse
Even IT editors deserve to have fun once in a while. The ultimate game for fans of B-grade sci-fi flicks, the third instalment in the X-Com series is far and away the best yet, offering more complexity, better graphics and enough nasty aliens to keep you swearing at your monitor for weeks on end.
Want to destroy a friend's social life? Give them this game and watch as they neglect their spouse, ignore their children and leave the house pets unfed.X-Com: Apocalypse is distributed by Sega OziSoft and has an RRP of $89.95.