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Around this time each year, the editors at PCWorld and TechHive gather to recognize the best new tech products—the hardware, software, gadgets, and devices that had the biggest impact on the world. The process starts out casually enough, because editors get to name their favorites from their respective beats, and everything is included in the first pass.
But passions rise when the time comes to winnow what inevitably becomes a very long list to just 100 new products. There’s a fervent back and forth as the editors make their cases as to why their product should remain on the list—and someone else’s should be whacked. Staff alliances form and dissolve as editors strategize how they’ll win the day for their picks.
A list with 100 computers, smartphones, printers, cloud services, and other great products inexorably emerges over the course of a few weeks. But that’s only half the battle, because the editors must now decide the order of importance that each product holds. That came together surprisingly quickly this year—at least for the top 10 products. As for the other 90; well, let’s just say the list was settled only after great deliberation.
And here, without further ado, are our picks for the 100 best products of 2012:
The departure of Microsoft Windows executive Steven Sinofsky, just 15 days after the launch of Windows 8, raises questions about whether there will be a return of the traditional Windows Start Menu. Sinofsky persuaded CEO Steve Ballmer to replace the Start Menu in Windows with a hybrid touch-screen, plus keyboard and mouse interface. He argued that it was crucial for the company to orient Windows PC users toward the look and feel of the all-new Windows 8 Surface touch tablet and the latest Windows Phone 8 smartphone models.
But convincing millions of users of Windows — which runs most PCs — that the switch was for their own good hasn’t gone well. Software company Stardock has sold tens of thousands of copies of Start8, a $5 application that restores a fully functioning Windows 7 Start Menu interface to new Windows 8 PCs. Stardock has distributed tens of thousands more free trial versions, says Kris Kwilas, Stardock’s technology vice president.
Microsoft declined to comment on whether it plans any changes to Windows 8. But IDC analyst Al Hilwa says Ballmer has to at least be weighing a reversal of Sinofsky’s call to dump the Start Menu whole hog. “Clearly, if the product isn’t doing well, they could come up with a (software fix) that restores the Start Menu.”
Quarterly figures from Gartner and IDC show that the PC market contracted on an annual basis, and been flat in sales. Will the arrival of Windows 8 in November revive it?
Can anything save the PC? The industry is giving it all it’s got – ultrabooks, faster chips – but so far, nothing’s working. Shipment growth for PCs has cratered, falling by the largest percentage year-on-year for 11 years as consumers, corporations and PC manufacturers hit the “pause” button ahead of the launch of Microsoft’s Windows 8 this month, according to new figures.
Microsoft may have a lot riding on its tablet versions of the Windows 8 operating system, but one market researcher thinks the odds are against them. This is not your grandfather’s PC market, London-based Generator Research declares in new forecasts that see tablet shipments doubling from 120 million units shipped in 2012 to 250 million in 2016.
The problem for Microsoft and for hardware makers, analyst Andrew Sheehy writes, is that tablet hardware does not follow the patterns of the traditional portable markets. For two decades it has been all about hardware — making it smaller, faster, lighter but more robust in speed and storage. This simply is not the case with the tablet. “[It] requires that vendors come to market with an overall proposition that encompasses digital content, apps and supporting services,” Generator writes. This is not a strong suit of the Dells and HPs, nor arguably is it a strength of the dominant PC OS provider Microsoft.
SAN FRANCISCO – The PC is undergoing its most radical makeover since the advent of the IBM PC three decades ago. Ultrabooks and Windows 8 are leading the charge. Slim Ultrabook designs succeed where netbooks failed, delivering performance, battery life, and a full-featured computing experience. Ultrabooks, once seen as mere copies of Apple’s MacBook Air, are now extending its concept. Experiments such as Toshiba’s Satellite U845W, with its cinematic widescreen aspect ratio, are expanding the definition of what a PC is.
Revolutions are chaotic. They upset the status quo and leave old ways of doing things behind. The PC, once the spearhead of the personal digital revolution, may seem antiquated alongside sexy new tablets and smartphones de¬-signed for an always-connected world. In reality, the PC is an intimate participant in the current revolution, changing its own nature to respond to new usage models and a new generation of users. Microsoft’s recent announcement of the Surface—a Windows 8 PC posing as a tablet—shows the PC’s flexibility and relevance in the modern digital era.
Coming up on World Tech Update this week the patent battle between Apple and Samsung continues, Microsoft intros new Windows 8 hardware, a modular data center saves power and NASA’s Mars rover readies for touchdown.
FRAMINGHAM – Microsoft’s latest version of Office pushes customers toward using cloud-based services that makes the suite of applications available on any device — PC, tablet or phone — and has a user interface tuned to work with the touch-centric Windows 8 operating system. The combination of the new Office with Windows 8 and Microsoft’s SkyDrive cloud storage make an environment that is more productive than the traditional Office, says Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. “Together I think they’re quite magical,” he says.
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Microsoft Corp. on Monday unveiled the first computer it has ever made, a tablet called the Surface that comes with a keyboard and other features designed to stand out in a market dominated by Apple Inc. The new device, unveiled by Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer at an event for journalists here, is a sign of the new tactics the software giant has been forced to embrace as it tries to make up lost ground in the mobile market. Microsoft said the smallest Surface tablet is 9.3 millimeters thick and weighs 1.5 pounds, which is similar to Apple’s iPad, at 9.4 millimeters thick and 1.44 pounds. The Surface has a 10.6-inch screen compared with the iPad’s 9.7-inch screen. The Surface has a built-in kickstand and magnetic cover, which also acts as a touch keyboard. Microsoft didn’t say whether the device would connect to cellular data networks or would be Wi-Fi only. Microsoft didn’t identify contractors who will manufacture the hardware, or provide much clarity on timing — except to say that the first Surface models will arrive when Windows 8 is generally available, which is expected to be in the second half of the year.
Mr. Ballmer styled the new tablet device as a vehicle to exploit its forthcoming Windows 8 operating system, and a variant called Windows RT that relies on different kinds of computer chips. The software is the first from Microsoft designed with tablet computers in mind, offering an interface called Metro that is designed to be controlled by a user touching a display. Al Hilwa, an analyst at IDC, said the combination of PC and tablet features makes surface a “true converged” device. ”A Swiss Army knife of a tablet?”