The 10 Best Products Of 2007

A Look Back

From the unveiling of the Apple iPhone to the launch of Microsoft Windows Vista to the emergence of AMD's Barcelona chips, new product launches came fast and furious throughout the year. With apps like Apple's Leopard, Facebook, and Microsoft Windows Live, software became cool again. Meanwhile PCs got a power boost from Intel vPro, but in many cases also got smaller. VoIP saw a clash of titans between Microsoft and Cisco, and smaller players got in the game as well. From all of the products we reviewed in 2007, our Test Center cut through the clutter to pick the 10 Best Products of 2007. And here they are ...

Security Product of the Year: SonicWall TZ 180

Simply put: security is a bigger deal than ever before. Solution providers need a solid device in their bag of tricks that provides unified threat management. And that's why the Channel Test Center chose the SonicWall TZ 180 as the Security Product of the Year. The device is capable of taking on network threats, scanning files and preventing network intrusions without sapping network bandwidth. The wizard-driven appliance is also pretty simple to install. SonicWall has taken security technology that was once the province of the largest enterprises and scaled it to fit smaller and mid-sized deployments. So if you've got an SMB's network to protect, we think there's no better choice than the TZ 180. [READ MORE]

Virtualization Product of the Year: VMware Infrastructure 3 with Lab Manager

When you think virtualization, you think VMware. The company's products are technologically ahead of its rivals, in part because of the innovative components it offers. That's more than enough reason for the Channel Test Center to name VMware Infrastructure 3 with Lab Manager as the Virtualization Product of the Year. We really liked advances VMware has brought to bear in its Lab Manager, a Web tool designed to support developers and testers in highly distributed environments. Lab Manager provides end-to-end software life-cycle management capabilities that are far and away better than any other offering in the industry. The bottom line: during a period when the industry is moving toward server and storage consolidation, and when solution providers are being tested on how well they can deliver virtualization services and solutions, VMware Infrastructure 3 provides a channel-friendly, powerful path for VARs and their customers. [READ MORE]

VoIP Product of the Year: Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007

With the introduction of Microsoft OCS 2007, the software giant is poised to revolutionize the VoIP space. The channel was abuzz this year, waiting to see how Microsoft would stack up against Cisco Systems when it finally entered the market. Now that it's here, OCS is our choice for VoIP Product of the Year. Microsoft has delivered a one-stop shop for VoIP, IM, audio conferencing and videoconferencing that keeps employees connected and helps them collaborate so business decisions can be made quickly. Need to know if a co-worker is available for a phone call or videoconference? OCS shows you the presence status of other users, a cornerstone of the product's productivity features. The VoIP market is sure to be a rough-and-tumble space in the year ahead. We have no doubt solution providers working with Microsoft OCS will be able to land some pretty big punches. [READ MORE]

Wireless Product of the Year: Extricom Interference-Free EXWO-404 WLAN Switch

Perhaps it's just the inner thumb-sucking kid in us that loves the idea of a "blanket" of Wi-Fi coverage, but we're sold on Extricom's WLAN technology. The Channel Test Center selected the Extricom Interference-Free EXWO-404 WLAN Switch as the Wireless Product of the Year because of its robust features. We particularly laud its focus on interference problems, a crucial element as mission-critical applications increasingly cut their cords. Extricom's WLAN switch, built on its channel blanket architecture, creates a coverage area where users can move from one access point to another without any handoff latency. Putting all the access points on the same channel and frequency, different from other networks and competing products, eliminates interference concerns. And the simplicity of deployment and maintenance make it perfect for the SMB looking to ditch the wires. As trends shift towards triple-play and other services, solution providers need products that can support critical applications without worrying about performance, resiliency and scalability. And that's what Extricom offers. [READ MORE]

Operating System of the Year: Microsoft Windows XP

Microsoft's biggest splash this year came from its rollout of Windows Vista, its next-generation desktop operating system. But for many solution providers and their customers - - at least the ones brave enough to try it - - deploying Vista felt like swimming in cement. Driver support was off. Upgrade paths were off. The performance and security boosts just weren't there. By mid-year, it became clear that it was still no match for what we're now calling Ol' Reliable: our Operating System of the Year for 2007, Windows XP. Not only are most Tier 1 PC manufacturers still offering XP as an option, most have continued to make it their wink-nod recommendation for business PCs. Some solution providers have gone further: by and large, many have come to view the XP Downgrade path as the most cost-effective and reliable for their customers when it comes time to deliver new hardware. Driver support is still solid. Performance is great. The user interface continues to be effective. And for the channel, it continues to do what customers need at a margin and price that works for everyone. To put it another way, we really didn't know how good we had it with Windows XP until Vista came to town. [READ MORE]

Application of the Year: Tableau v3.0

At the heart of many small businesses is a big business waiting to break out, but sometimes that's prevented by reams of data that are simply smothering. Not to worry, though. Channel Test Center's Application of the Year for 2007 is a tool that can turn a solution provider into a hero for that small business—or any midsize or large client for that matter. Tableau v3.0 is a breathtakingly simple-yet-powerful data analysis toolset that, once deployed, permits data to be sliced, diced and viewed from every angle in a friendly, graphical interface. It permits the creation of dashboards where users can create multiple views of data. The data is live, it's dynamic and it's grouped into a single framework where it can be manipulated with drag-and-drop ease. No other business intelligence tool on the market is as flexible or as easy to use as Tableau. [READ MORE]

Desktop of the Year: HP Compaq dc7800 Ultra Slim Desktop PC

Electronics are getting slimmer, sleeker and stylish, so why should desktops miss out on the fun? In 2007, manufacturers proved that the desktop doesn't need to go out for the Boring Award. We were smitten with the design of two in particular: Hewlett-Packard's Compaq dc7800 Ultra Slim Desktop PC and Lenovo's ThinkCentre A61e. In the end, HP won us over with its solid Intel-based performance, ease of deployment and shapely lines, which is why the dc7800 gets our nod for Desktop of the Year. Injecting new life into a segment many considered moribund, the dc7800 returned solid desktop-worthy results during testing, outperforming many business laptops that have come through our labs. If HP's goal was to provide a machine that does enough to meet daily business needs without taking up a lot of space or breaking the bank, then we say mission accomplished. [READ MORE]

Notebook of the Year: Toshiba Portege R400

It's bright, it's slick and it works like a charm. The Toshiba Portege R400 got our attention earlier this year and held it, winning our nod for Notebook of the Year. Lightweight and flexible, it's a laptop built to suit the needs of mobile business users. Its design weighs in at a breezy 3.75 pounds, and measures 14.2 inches x 10.6 inches x1.2 inches. The 12.1-inch LCD screen is built so the device can be converted to tablet form via special peg-and-guide hinge pivots and a latch-free lid. It also sports an integrated fingerprint reader, intuitive volume controls, built-in EVDO Verizon Wireless, 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet and Bluetooth connectivity. Toshiba also managed to integrate Microsoft Vista seamlessly while maintaining decent battery life (about four hours on standard battery use) and thermals. By year's end, Toshiba was getting ready to start shipping a next-generation version of this notebook design in the Portege brand. We can't wait to see what they come up with next. [READ MORE]

Chip of the Year: Quad-Core AMD Opteron

We'll overlook the fact that AMD announced Barcelona on Sept. 11, but didn't start shipping it in volume until mid-November. We'll overlook the fact that solution providers have had to put some customers on hold while waiting for the systems to make it into the pipeline. Despite those issues, the Channel Test Center awards AMD Product of the Year in processors for its quad-core Opteron chip because it is a game-changer. It's blazing fast, but efficient when measured in performance per watt. Right before it was announced, we had the chance to run a dual-CPU Barcelona server through a performance test: It scored higher than any other dual-CPU system we've ever tested. Its Cool Core technology automatically shuts down parts of a CPU when not in use, and its PowerNow technology controls the MHz at individual cores. So not only is it one of the best-performing pieces of silicon we've ever seen, it's among the smartest. [READ MORE]

Smartphone of the year: RIM BlackBerry Curve 8310

In many ways, 2007 will be remembered as the Year of the iPhone. The device from Apple stole headlines, attention and hearts, winning over more than one million buyers in its first three months on the market. Nevertheless, Research in Motion's BlackBerry Curve 8310 is our Smartphone of the Year for several reasons, most importantly because it's a business device that allows integration with and access to corporate data. It also keeps up the tradition of dependable push e-mail access and throws in GPS functionality, high-quality voice connectivity and one of the smallest form factors RIM has ever produced. Its 10 to 12 hours of battery life eclipses the iPhone, and its QWERTY keyboard is typically user-friendly. Simply put, the Curve 8310 works, plays well with the network and brings Blackberry functionality to its highest levels yet. If Apple set new standards for consumer functionality with the iPhone, then the BlackBerry continues to set the bar for smartphones in the business world. [READ MORE]