Datamation Announces 2009 Product of the Year Winners

Wednesday Feb 25th 2009 by James Maguire
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Tech professionals vote for their favorites in a broad array of categories, from Business Laptop to PC Security, Enterprise Linux to Office Productivity software.

After the heaviest voting in recent years – and some tight contests – readers have selected their choices for the 2009 Datamation Product of the Year Awards. The winners scored top honors in a broad array of tech categories, from Business Laptop to PC Security, from Enterprise Linux to Office Productivity software.

Some categories saw the traditional favorite suffer an upset, like Virtualization software. Others, like Office Productivity software, saw the longtime favorite walk away with the prize (you only get one guess as to most popular Office suite).

For each of the 37 finalists, though, being included in this contest is an honor. All the nominations came from Datamation readers, a diverse group of IT professionals with firsthand knowledge of these products, most of whom use these products everyday on the job.

To be sure, it’s the ten winners who can claim bragging rights. Datamation, founded in 1957 (publishing in print for its first 40 years), has hosted its annual Product of the Year Award contest for decades – at one time readers mailed in their entries on 3x5 cards. Earning a spot on this longtime list is a feather in the cap for any tech vendor.

Note: all winners and finalists are granted permission to use the “Product of the Year” logo on their site (just specify whether you were a winner or a finalist), and to link back to this award article. Congratulations!

Datamation 2009 Product of the Year Awards

And now, with no further palaver, the ten winners are:

1) Business Laptop: Dell Latitude E4300

The Dell Latitude E4300 narrowly won the vote in the business laptop category, besting the Lenovo ThinkPad W700 by only a few skinny percentage points. The other finalists were the HP EliteBook 6930p and the Samsung X460-44P.

Warning: these units ain’t cheap. In a season in which the bare-bones netbook is ascending, the pricey business laptop might seem a neglected category. But these muscular units provide maximum capability, knowing that business users will spend a few bucks to get the tools they need. The HP EliteBook, for instance, claims to offer 24 hours of continuous battery life.

The winning Dell Latitude E4300 boasts a sturdy magnesium alloy build and hefty metal hinges, and includes Dell’s Control Vault secure credential management software (for peace of mind if you leave it in taxi). As an added plus for the road warrior, its back-lit keyboard helps you type even when you’re stuck on a delayed red-eye with a single dim bulb.

2) PC Security Software: McAfee VirusScan Plus 2008

PC security software remains in the spotlight as hacking attacks on personal computers grow more intense each year. We’ve just learned that there were fresh attacks on the Internet Explorer browser. (Haven’t hackers found every last hole in IE by now?)

Voting was close in the PC security category, with each of the finalists demonstrating they have their fans. While the McAfee VirusScan Plus 2008 took the trophy, it’s clear that Trend Micro Internet Security 2008 and Symantec Norton AntiVirus 2008 have faithful users.

The McAfee package earns kudos for low costs. Added pluses include the ability to scan links in IM messages, which comes in handy as malware authors seek to corrupt your text messaging. Also earning McAfee affection from users is the fact that it uses the same interface as last year.

3) Handheld Device: Apple iPhone

Is there a tech professional who does not yet have a handheld device they commune with by the minute? And a more pressing question: when will these ubiquitous devices grow so functional they make laptops obsolete?

The two devices that led the voting were the Apple iPhone and the BlackBerry Storm, with the iPhone edging out the Storm by about twenty percent. The other finalists were the Palm TX and the HP iPaq Pocket PC.

The iPhone obviously benefits from a continuing font of cultural coolness, as the handheld retains its status as the device that all the cool kids have. Also helping the iPhone’s popularity is the wildly popular Apple iPhone App store.

Here’s a list of free, must-have cool iPhone apps to download.

4) Office Productivity Software: Microsoft Office

It’s no surprise that Microsoft Office won this category. With a suite that includes standbys like Word, PowerPoint and Excel, it’s unquestionably the 500-pound gorilla in office software – and likely the most popular software on the planet, other than an Internet browser.

However, there’s more going on with this vote than a simple win-loss. More than any other category, the votes for best office software reflect seismic shifts in the tech business. Microsoft Office, installed on your hard drive as it always has been, competed against two finalists that users access over the Web, Google Docs and Zoho Docs. Software used over the Web – called software as a service, or cloud computing – is very much the coming wave. (So much so that Office itself is on its way to a browser near you.)

Adding another element to the contest, Office also attracted more votes than finalist OpenOffice, the open source – and completely free of charge – similar product.

So this category’s three-way race, with Web-based and open source products competing against a proprietary old favorite, presents a long-term challenge for Office. Its rivals are free (or close to it), and over time they’ll grow more capable. It’s up to the deeply entrenched Office to huff and puff and keep growing itself, and to continually improve to justify its considerable price tag.

5) Mobile Application: iPhone iTALK

Would you want to compete against the runaway success of the iPhone? We didn’t think so. Clearly the popularity of the iPhone (and the surging Web traffic figures for the iPhone app store) helped earn the iPhone iTalk application the victory in this category.

The iTalk, made by Griffin, is a recording app for the iPhone and the second generation iPod Touch. It’s free, with a premium version (without ads) for $4.99. Its simple interface lets you choose your sample rates and manage your existing recordings.

The iTalk fought off some stiff competition from fellow finalists inForm 2.0 for BlackBerry, xFusion Mobile and SAS for Mobile Interaction.

6) Cloud Computing Product/Solution: Salesforce’s Force.com

No doubt about it, ‘cloud computing’ is a big buzzword in 2009. The concept of accessing software that’s hosted remotely (and the six other concepts that ‘cloud’ refers to) is driving serious business investments from tech vendors big and small.

All three finalists received strong vote totals, with Salesforce’s Force.com taking the prize. Salesforce, a pioneer in software-as-a-service, is branching beyond its roots in CRM to offers its own platform for online apps; they’ve dubbed this Force.com. It’s a bold and impressive land grab in the emerging cloud market.

In the years ahead, Salesforce must navigate fierce competition from fellow finalists Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud, EC2 and Google’s AppEngine. Google in particular looks strong as it partners with IBM in an ambition with global scope.

On a related note, go here to read about the cloud strategies of the top players.

7) Enterprise Linux: Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.2

Red Hat clearly holds top dog status in the enterprise Linux category, as this vote reflects. Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.2 handily bested finalists Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 and Ubuntu Server Edition. (For Ubuntu it was an honor to be running with these better-funded enterprise players, given that the small company is known largely for its user-friendly Linux desktop OS.)

As a sign of the times, note that Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.2 offers improved virtualization support for larger system configurations. This virtualization push will become increasingly important in the years ahead, and should give Red Hat’s Linux product some muscle against competitive virtualization solutions from VMware and Microsoft. One of Red Hat’s acquisitions in 2008 was Qumranet, a small virtualization provider that now looks to be money well spent.

8) Enterprise Security: Avocent LANDesk Security Suite

No, enterprise security isn’t the sexiest area of technology, but beneath its staid exterior it is a seething hotbed of intense competition. Companies face a rising tide of IT security threats, from probes of its firewall to internal risks from employees. The desire for a reliable enterprise security package is as urgent as ever – or more so.

The winner, Avocent LANDesk Security Suite, touts its multiple layers of malware protection, with anti-spyware and anti-virus tools and an agent that specializes in assessing endpoints. It is considered one of the more complete offerings on the market.

Kudos to the finalists in enterprise security: GuardianEdge Removable Storage Encryption 3.2, Xceedium GateKeeper, and RSA Data Loss Prevention Suite.

9) Virtualization Software: BakBone NetVault Backup 8.1

It was the tightest vote of any category: only a tiny handful of votes allowed BakBone NetVault Backup 8.1 to eke out a victory over VMware ESX Server. But VMware shouldn’t feel slighted. The BakBone NetVault product touts its ability to fully protect the VMware environment – so even BakBone’s win is a nod to the popularity of VMware. (And, at last count, VMware had somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 percent of virtualization installations.)

But the battle for market share in virtualization is still young, with only a small percent of all datacenters fully utilizing this cost saving technology. The competition is just heading up. (Virtualization, by the way, is one of the few technologies that should keep growing in a recession; it promises a leaner datacenter that’s optimized for tighter budgets.)

In short, VMware and BakBone can’t rest on their laurels. They face challenges from fellow nominees Citrix XenServer 5, FastScale Composer Suite 2.0, and Pano Logic Virtual Desktop Solution.

10) Network and Systems Management: CommVault Simpana

For companies struggling with a constantly growing mountain of data – and that’s most companies – CommVault’s Simpana software touts itself as the comprehensive solution. The application handles recovery management, virtual server protection and content organization. The depth of the software enables it to serve the needs of a globally distributed enterprise.

To be sure, this is a category in which the complexity of the job – network and systems management – means it’s difficult to dub any one product or solution as “the best.” Companies will most likely need to mix and match solutions in an effort to handle the constantly moving target known as enterprise systems. Different applications attack this tough chore from completely different vantage points.

Finalist solution Kaseya 2008, for instance, promotes its IT automation capabilities. Avocent DSView 3 benefits from having a single, secure browser-based interface that can track everything from a VMware virtual infrastructure to a rack of Citrix virtual machines. VMLogix LabManager touts its cost savings and reliability (among other attributes) and AdRem NetCrunch 5 is a well known name in network monitoring software. If you’re looking for network and systems management application, you might consider perusing each of these options before making your final choice.

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