Overall, 2006 was a very good year for technology and computer
consumers even if there was at least one bad actor.
BEST COMPANY: Apple Computer. Yes, they did it again, but this time
with astonishing grace. Switching an entire product line from the
Motorola/IBM-made PowerPC chip to Intel Corp.'s processors is one of
the most daring, and potentially daunting, moves in a long time. As
noted here before, they did it, and with tremendous speed and
This is a good point to mention Apple's service: both for myself and
for those I know well, Apple's ability to resolve problems have left
people smiling, and not frowning. Together, having solid products, and
superb support, earn Apple a tremendous distinction in a sea of
half-baked computer solutions about which there is often much wailing
and gnashing of teeth.
BEST HANDHELDS: Palm Computing, whose mastery of the phone/PDA métier
is difficult to question. Their Treo device, revised in several
flavors in 2006, is a wonderful, workable, dependable tool that would
only be better if everyone's Web site was more mobile-accessible. By
this I mean some standard Web pages take a bit long to load and work.
But that's a relatively small price to pay for unencumbered
excellence. I've used the device in places exotic and "regular," and
it's worked and worked well.
Palm does face a bit of a challenge from Research In Motion and its
BlackBerry line, especially the Pearl, to be reviewed here shortly.
What Palm comes up with 2007 should be interesting to see, therefore.
BEST OUTPUT: Hewlett Packard Co.'s line of printers. Each one has been
a delight, including the OfficeJet K550, which is a rather impressive
workhorse. Printing is, well, something we still rely upon despite the
promise of the "paperless office" that hasn't arrived in the 25 years
or so it's been touted. HP's printers laser and inkjet mean
business, even for the non-business user.
I'm also impressed by Canon USA's printer line as being both stylish
and useful for home and small office users. And Samsung USA remains a
very impressive maker of laser printers for that same market segment.
BEST APPLICATION: It would have to be Microsoft's Office 2007, even
though it hasn't fully deployed in the business world just yet. The
new look, the elegance, the features - all these combine to make the
new Office something to reckon with in many areas. Microsoft will
price this somewhat aggressively, with home and school users getting a
nice price break. But regardless of price, having a "new" Office suite
with which we can work is an important and valuable commodity. Having
an online version of the new program is another advance for Microsoft
and for users.
Runner-up in the category is Franklin Covey's PlanPlus software, both
for Windows and online. This time management tool is elegant,
results-driven and, thanks to the Web, accessible to Mac and Linux
users, among others. I wish the Web subscription price were lower for
individuals, but for them, the stand-alone product might work.
Also praiseworthy is Herndon, Va.-based Parallels, Inc., whose
Parallels Desktop software lets Mac and Linux users run Windows
side-by-side. What a neat idea, and what an obvious one for users who
live in more than one computing "world."
MOST NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: Comcast, whose idea of customer service is,
frankly, Dickensian. I've had several harrowing and annoying recent
experiences, and am grateful the FCC has voted to increase competition
for such services. It's needed, long overdue, and will provide
Comcast, I hope, with sufficient motivation to drastically improve
service and pricing.