The Best of 2001

January 15, 2002


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Even in these "interesting times," technology forges ahead, unleashing some of the most useful and fun products and services we've seen to date. PCs get faster, cameras get better, the Web grows, and networks cut the cord. Here are the 53 best products and services our editors tested and used in 2001.


PCs & Mobile
January 15, 2002

Compaq Presario 8000z

Compaq Presario 8000Z
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It's a PC that could pass for an entertainment center. Ideal for the home, the Compaq Presario 8000z offers the crème de la crème of computer hardware, including a 1.53-GHz AMD Athlon XP 1800 processor, 128MB of DDR memory, and an 80GB hard drive. And it's teeming with enough multimedia hardware to satisfy the most rabid audiovisual junkie, including a 19-inch flat-panel monitor, a five-piece Klipsch speaker system, and an optical drive that handles both DVD and CD-RW duties—all for less than $3,000. ($2,769.99 direct. Compaq Computer Corp., www.compaq.com. Read our review of the Compaq Presario 8000z as part of our "Whiz-Bang Boxes" roundup.)

HP Omnibook 6100

HP Omnibook 6100
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The first thing you notice about this notebook is the display: a 15-inch SXGA+ LCD that's ideal for business travelers who measure out their lives in PowerPoint presentations. But the 6.2-pound HP Omnibook 6100, now priced at less than $4,000, includes a 1.13-GHz Pentium III processor and 256MB of RAM, as well as several pieces of less conspicuous (though highly appreciated) hardware that make it stand out. The system includes both a pointing stick and a touch pad—a convenience you rarely see on mainstream portables—as well as an integrated 802.11b adapter, letting you easily connect to your office's wireless network. And above the keyboard there are four programmable hotkeys, one of which is specifically designed to make presentations easier. ($3,599.99 direct. Hewlett-Packard Co., www.hp.com. Read our review of the HP Omnibook 6100 as part of our "Consumer & Business Notebooks" section of "The New Shape of PCs" feature.)

Compaq Evo D500

Good things do come in small packages. Measuring 4 by 14 by 13 inches, the Compaq Evo D500, a corporate managed PC in the strictest sense of the term, is ideal for cramped offices. But Compaq doesn't cut any corners here. The D500 offers adept core hardware, including a 1.7-GHz Pentium 4 and a 20GB hard drive, as well as plenty of room for expansion with space for up to 1.5GB of memory. A cleverly designed chassis allows for quick repairs and upgrades. Compaq also bundles one of the market's better management applications, Insight Manager LC, making life simpler for IT managers—the first and foremost thing you look for in a corporate PC. ($1,204 direct. Compaq Computer Corp., www.compaq.com. Read our review of the Compaq Evo D500 as part of our "Back to Business" roundup.)

IBM ThinkPad X22

IBM ThinkPad X22
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The IBM ThinkPad X22 proves that a notebook can be ultrathin without making unreasonable compromises. Though it measures 1.0 by 11.0 by 8.9 inches and has a travel weight of roughly 3.7 pounds, this notebook includes a 12.1-inch LCD, an 800-MHz Pentium III processor, and a 20GB hard drive. Meanwhile, its nearly full-size keyboard is one of the most impressive on the market, even putting many desktop keyboards to shame. IBM also includes an integrated 802.11b wireless adapter, a light above the keyboard for typing in dark places, and an UltraPort connector that lets you easily attach specialized peripherals, such as cameras and microphones. ($1,949 list and up. IBM Corp., www.ibm.com/thinkpad. Read our First Looks review of the IBM ThinkPad X22.)

HP Jornada 565

HP Jornada 565
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When the HP Jornada 565 was announced this past September, it marked the debut of Microsoft's new handheld operating system, Pocket PC 2002. A mere 0.7 inches thick, the svelte color PDA shows off the new OS to great effect, but the new Jornada model's hardware is just as impressive. Rather than the watery, 12-bit screen of past HP Pocket PCs, the 565 uses a 16-bit display measuring 3.5 inches along the diagonal, fronted by a plastic cover that swings smoothly out of the way. Despite such a screen, the unit still gives 14 hours of battery life. Inside the PDA, HP packs a 206-MHz StrongARM processor, 64MB of memory, and a CompactFlash slot. Microsoft couldn't have asked for a better introduction for its new OS. ($599 direct. Hewlett-Packard Co., www.hp.com. Read our review of the HP Jornada 565 as part of our "Pocket to Palm" roundup.)

Sony Clié PEG-S320

Not all Palm devices are created equal. The Sony Clié PEG-S320 runs the same operating system as Palm handhelds and Handspring Visors, meaning it's compatible with the thousands of software applications that have already been written for the OS. But the Clié offers a few unique features that set it apart from its PalmOS relations, including a Jog Dial (a thumb wheel that helps you navigate through software) and a Sony Memory Stick slot. Using Memory Sticks, you can transfer audio and video files between the Clié and other compatible Sony consumer electronics devices, including digital cameras, camcorders, notebooks, and desktops PCs. The included gMovie and PictureGear applications let you watch video clips and manage still images. ($169.99 list. Sony Electronics Inc., www.sony.com/clie. Read our review of the Sony Clié PEG-S320 as part of our "Pocket to Palm" roundup.)

Sanyo SCP-6000

Sanyo SCP-6000
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You'll want one just for the way it looks, but the tiny Sanyo SCP-6000 digital phone is also packed with high-end features. Using the optional Wireless Web Connection Kit, you can download any number of different rings, digital photos, and animation files, turning your phone into a multimedia playground. But the sleek silver SCP-6000, which runs on the Sprint PCS wireless network, is also practical. Weighing only 2.2 ounces and measuring 6.0 by 1.5 by 0.6 inches, it's easy to carry and serves not only as a digital phone but also as a PIM and a text-based Web browser. ($299.99 direct. Sanyo Consumer Electronics, www.sanyo.com. Read our First Looks review of the Sanyo SCP-6000.)

SimulRing

Tired of missing calls because someone dialed your work number when you were at home or in the car? SimulRing can simplify your life. This service, which can be set up and managed through a Web or WAP browser, lets you consolidate up to five different phone numbers into one. When someone dials your SimulRing number, all your phones ring until you pick one up. If you don't answer, voice mail messages are routed to the phone of your choice. It's so simple, yet so revolutionary. ($9.95 a month for standard service, $24.95 a month for Deluxe. SimulRing Inc., www.simulring.com.)


Software
January 15, 2002

Microsoft Windows XP

Microsoft Windows XP
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Windows XP, the latest version of Microsoft's ubiquitous operating system, merges the company's consumer and corporate OS lines. It offers the hardware and software support that was a hallmark of Windows 95 and 98, alongside the stability and security of Windows NT and 2000. Windows XP is easier to use than the earlier Windows: Among its many new features, Windows XP includes built-in support for wireless networks and CD-burning software. It automatically recognizes images on digital cameras' storage media (such as CompactFlash and CD-ROMs) and supplies useful technical-support tools. ($199 to $299 list. Microsoft Corp., www.microsoft.com/windowsxp. Read our First Looks review of Microsoft Windows XP.)

Red Hat 7.2

Linux Red Hat 7.2
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Red Hat and Linux: In the corporate world, the names have become nearly synonymous. Red Hat's current Linux offering, Version 7.2, greatly simplifies the traditionally difficult Linux installation process, handling partitioning, hardware detection, and application installation with aplomb. And it ships with myriad office applications and development tools, including Sun's StarOffice, Adobe Acrobat, GNU C Compiler, Borland JBuilder, and IBM Developer Kit for Linux. But Red Hat isn't the leading Linux option solely because of slick software code and bundled apps. The company is just as adept at writing documentation and providing technical support. ($59.95 direct. Red Hat Inc., www.redhat.com.)

Adobe Acrobat 5.0

It's more than just a free download used to view online documents. The complete, shrink-wrapped version of Adobe Acrobat, which reached its fifth version in 2001, lets you create and manage the visually precise PDF files that have become a de facto standard over the past several years. Compatible with several of the major Internet standards, Version 5.0 lets you easily insert PDF forms into Web sites, convert existing Web pages into the PDF format, transfer graphics to and from files, and—perhaps most important—review documents with others. By providing additional security measures, Adobe has ensured PDF will remain a preferred format for years to come. ($249 direct. Adobe Systems Inc., www.adobe.com. Read our First Looks review of Adobe Acrobat 5.0.)

Microsoft Office XP

Microsoft's latest suite of business applications is a case of substance over flash. The suite's many applications—from Word to PowerPoint to FrontPage—don't seem, at least initially, very different from their previous versions. But in subtle ways, they're significantly easier to use. Moving information to and from the Web is far simpler, and new tools like Smart Tags and task panes help you manipulate data without cluttering your desktop or getting in your way. All those overly clever features from past Office apps—features like the infamous talking paper clip—are still there but show up only if you ask for them. ($479 to $579 list. Microsoft Corp., www.microsoft.com/office. Read our First Looks review of Microsoft Office XP.)

Norton Internet Security 2002

Norton Internet Security 2002
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Worried about hackers and viruses, inappropriate Web sites and invasions of privacy? Norton Internet Security quells all your fears at once. It includes both Norton AntiVirus and Norton Personal Firewall, as well as tools for controlling what your children find on the Web and what others can find out about you. All of these packages can be launched and controlled from a single interface, reducing the stress that comes with learning and using new desktop applications. And with Symantec's LiveUpdate, you know that you always have the latest patches and virus definitions to keep your system safe. ($69.95 direct. Symantec Corp., www.symantec.com. Read our First Looks review of Norton Internet Security 2002.)


Digital Imaging
January 15, 2002

Nikon Coolpix 885

Nikon Coolpix 885
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The diminutive Nikon Coolpix 885 is an ideal digital point-and-shoot camera. Its 3.2-megapixel CCD can produce superb 8- by 10-inch prints. The Coolpix 885 supports both manual and automatic modes and includes presets for such settings as landscape and portraits. Other useful features include a macro mode, a video mode, and an easy-to-use feature for viewing photos on a television. The camera is comfortable to hold, with the buttons well placed under your fingers. For everything from snapping shots to copying images to your computer, the Coolpix 885 is a breeze. ($499.95 list. Nikon Inc., www.nikonusa.com. Read our review of Nikon Coolpix 885 as part of our 3-megapixel Photo Finish roundup.)

Fujifilm FinePix 6900 Zoom

Fuji FinePix 6900
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The Fujifilm FinePix 6900 Zoom looks and shoots like a 35-mm SLR camera, with through-the-lens viewing via an electronic viewfinder and the option to attach additional lenses. Offering image resolutions up to 6 megapixels, the 6900 Zoom will satisfy serious photographers. The camera even lets you manually control settings such as focus, f-stop, and shutter speed. Meanwhile, you don't have to pay an arm and a leg for all these features; Fuji keeps the price down by using a 3-megapixel Super CCD that interpolates the images to 6 million pixels, producing higher resolutions. And it works: The 6900 Zoom produces excellent prints as large as 11 by 14 inches. ($750 street. Fuji Photo Film U.S.A. Inc., www.fujifilm.com. Read our review of Fujifilm FinePix 6900 Zoom as part of our 4- to 6-megapixel Photo Finish roundup.)

HP PhotoSmart 1315

HP PhotoSmart 1315
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The HP PhotoSmart 1315 takes the hassle out of turning digital images into vibrant prints. It accepts Memory Sticks, SmartMedia, and CompactFlash memory cards, as well as infrared transfers. Simply pop in a memory card and the PhotoSmart 1315 brings up the first image in the 2.5-inch color display. The printer also supports batch printing. Most important, the 2,400- by 1,200-dpi PhotoSmart 1315 produces gorgeous prints. ($399.99 direct. Hewlett-Packard Co., www.hp.com. Read our review of HP PhotoSmart 1315 as part of our Photo Printers roundup.)

HP PhotoSmart 100

If you miss the immediacy of Polaroid cameras, you'll love this portable printer. Weighing in at under 3 pounds, the HP PhotoSmart 100 produces excellent 4- by 6-inch prints that look like traditional prints from the local photo shop even under close inspection. And like the HP PhotoSmart 1315, it has CompactFlash, Memory Stick, and SmartMedia slots. ($179.99 direct. Hewlett-Packard Co., www.hp.com. Read our review of HP PhotoSmart 100 as part of our Portable Photo Printers roundup.)

Shutterfly.com

Shutterfly
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Don't be discouraged if you don't have the time or money to invest in printing images at home. Just log onto Shutterfly.com and upload your images. Here you can create a photo album, touch up pictures, and order prints. Prices range from $0.49 for a 4- by 6-inch print to $3.99 for an 8- by 10-inch print. Image quality is fantastic. In fact, you can't even tell that the images came from a digital camera. (Shutterfly, www.shutterfly.com. Read our review of Shutterfly.com as part of our Top 100 Web Sites: Entertainment roundup.)

Nikon Coolscan IV ED

Not ready to throw out your film? Don't despair. Connecting to your computer via a USB port, the Nikon Coolscan IV ED can turn your negatives into high-quality digital images. It scans at 2,900- by 2,900-dpi resolution with 36-bit color. Even aged and damaged negatives will gain new life, thanks to the Coolscan's use of Applied Science Fiction's Digital ICE3 technology, which automatically removes dust, grain, and scratches; it even fixes color levels. ($900 list. Nikon Inc., www.nikonusa.com.)

Adobe Photoshop Elements

Adobe Photoshop Elements
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Given its price and complexity, Photoshop can be overkill. Adobe realizes this. So in 2001, the company released Adobe Photoshop Elements, an image-editing program designed specifically for the serious hobbyist. Elements offers much of the power of Photoshop but with a streamlined interface that helps guide the user through complex tasks. It also includes automatic fixes, such as red-eye removal, that aren't included in the professional program. ($99 direct. Adobe Systems Inc., www.adobe.com. Read our review of Adobe Photoshop Elements as part of our Photo Software roundup.)

Adobe Photoshop 6

What would digital imaging be without Adobe Photoshop? Though a new version hasn't shipped in the past year, Adobe Photoshop 6 remains the best solution for serious digital photographers looking to touch up images and create stunning graphics. The application is replete with powerful tools and special effects, while offering all the output options a professional will need. Meanwhile, Photoshop continues to supplement its arsenal with tools for vector illustration and Web graphics. ($609 direct. Adobe Systems Inc., www.adobe.com. Read our review of Adobe Photoshop 6 as part of our Photo Software roundup.)


Web Design
January 15, 2002

Microsoft FrontPage 2002

Microsoft FrontPage 2002
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Improvements are always welcome—even with something impressive to begin with. Microsoft FrontPage 2002 is even more user-friendly than previous versions of the popular Web authoring and publishing package. New tools, all as unobtrusive as they are effective, let you easily switch between open files, build e-commerce sites, and populate your Web pages with such items as picture galleries, maps, and threaded discussion forums. ($169 list. Microsoft Corp., www.microsoft.com/frontpage. Read our review of Microsoft FrontPage 2002 as part of our Web Wizardry roundup.)

Dreamweaver 4

Dreamweaver 4
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Unlike business and home users, the professional Web designer needs much more flexibility and control than FrontPage provides. For them, we recommend Macromedia's Dreamweaver, now in its fourth version. Though Macromedia's core Web authoring tool is more difficult to learn than FrontPage, Dreamweaver offers far more powerful tools. It includes a built-in JavaScript debugger, an adept find-and-replace engine, and the ability to integrate seamlessly with the leading third-party e-business packages. ($299 list. Macromedia Inc., www.dreamweaver.com. Read our review of Dreamweaver 4 as part of our Web Wizardry roundup.)

Flash 5

Over 95 percent of all Internet users have access to the Flash player. So when you want to turn your site into a multimedia extravaganza (or just add a little panache) without eating a lot of bandwidth, the authoring solution is Macromedia's Flash 5. Though it's been over a year since this latest version shipped, Flash remains the best tool for developing SWF-based sites, (the Flash file format standard). The authoring program lets you build online animations and applications using low-bandwidth vector graphics. You can also embed audio and even video in your Web pages. ($399 list. Macromedia Inc., www.flash.com. Read our First Looks review of Flash 5.)


Multimedia
January 15, 2002

Pinnacle Studio DV 7

If you don't want to spend months learning video editing, Pinnacle Studio DV 7 is the software for you. It is intuitive but offers enough power to satisfy most home and small-business users. The tabular interface guides you through the entire process, from capturing data through editing a project to outputting video. ($129.99 direct. Pinnacle Systems Inc., www.pinnaclesys.com. Read our review of Pinnacle Studio DV 7 as part of our Making Home Movies roundup.)

Sonar

This pro audio-recording software from Cakewalk can turn your computer into a comprehensive recording studio. Sonar, which replaces the Cakewalk Pro Audio series, supports unlimited audio and MIDI tracks, incorporates a new streamlined interface, and includes tools for working with audio loops. Sonar also makes extensive use of Microsoft DirectX 8's new capabilities, such as the ability to automate audio effects. Sonar also supports Cakewalk's new DXi specification, which enables DirectX-based synthesizers and samplers. ($479 direct. Cakewalk, www.cakewalk.com. Read our First Looks review of Sonar.)

Adobe Premiere 6.0

Adobe Premiere 6.0
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Boasting a powerful set of nonlinear editing tools, Adobe Premiere has for years been the professional's choice for editing video on the PC. Adobe Premiere 6.0 offers significant improvements. The latest version is OHCI-compliant— it will recognize most any IEEE 1394 (FireWire) port—letting you capture data directly from a digital video camera. The workspace is more efficient, providing a History palette, an effects window, and the ability to save custom workspaces. Premiere 6.0 also has new video effects and an audio mixer. ($549 and up, direct. Adobe Systems Inc., www.adobe.com. Read our First Looks review of Adobe Premiere 6.0.)


Audio
January 15, 2002


Creative Technology Nomad Jukebox

Creative Technology Nomad Jukebox
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If you want to store a lot of digital music files while keeping the flexibility of a portable player, check out the 20GB Creative Nomad Jukebox. About the size of a portable CD player, the Nomad Jukebox has a 20GB hard drive that lets you store approximately 340 hours' worth of MP3s encoded at 128 Kbps. Besides the headphone jack, there are two 1/8-inch stereo output jacks that you can plug into speakers or a stereo system. ($399.99 direct. Creative Technology Ltd., www.nomadworld.com. Read our review of Creative Technology Nomad Jukebox as part of our Holiday Gift Guide: Teens & Up Hardware roundup.)

Rio 800 128MB Digital Audio Player

Rio 800 128MB Digital Audio Player
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One of the biggest advantages of digital music is that the players are now more portable than ever—and there are an abundance of players to choose from. If you're looking for a small player to slip into your pocket and take on the go, you can't beat the sleek Rio 800 Digital Audio Player. The well-crafted player includes 128MB of built-in memory, a crisp LCD, and a rechargeable nickel hydride battery. It supports both MP3 and WMA audio formats. ($249.99 direct. SonicBlue Inc., www.riohome.com. Read our review of Rio 800 128MB Digital Audio Player as part of our Music by MP3 roundup.)

MusicMatch Jukebox 6.1

MusicMatch Jukebox 6.1 is a powerful yet easy-to-use program for creating and managing a large library of digital music, thanks in part to extensive use of tagging fields. The free standard version of MusicMatch is loaded with options, letting you encode MP3s and WMAs at up to 128 Kbps, and the Plus version ($14.99) supports up to 320-Kbps encoding. Both versions let you easily convert files between formats and create audio CCd. (Basic version, free; Plus, $14.99 direct. MusicMatch Inc., www.musicmatch.com.)


Sites and Services
January 15, 2002

Google Toolbar

Always heading to the Google site to search the Internet? Why not put the Google Toolbar at the top of your Web browser, where it is always handy? You can search the Web (as well as newsgroups) with ease and use the bar to navigate and analyze individual sites. (Free. Google, http://toolbar.google.com.)

Monster.com

This is one Web site that benefited when the dot-com bubble burst. With so many people out of work, the granddaddy of the job search sites is still going strong. (Free. Monster.com, www.monster.com. Read our review of Monster.com as part of our Top 100 Web Sites: Careers roundup.)

Copernic 2001

Not sure which Web site to use to find things on the Web? Then use them all. Copernic 2001 Basic, a free downloadable tool, lets you perform searches across multiple engines at once. While the free version supports 80 search engines, the Plus version ($40 direct) supports more than 1,000 search engines and includes additional features. A Pro version ($80 direct) adds useful utilities, such as automated validation and scheduled search updates. (Basic, free; Plus, $40 direct; Pro, $80. Copernic Technologies Inc., www.copernic.com.)

GoToMyPC

Remote control without the hassle is possible. GoToMyPC lets you access your desktop from anywhere in the world, and you don't have to worry about fiddling with network ports or IP addresses. Just install the client on your system, and then log on through the GoToMyPC site from any computer. (For one PC, $19.95 a month and up. ExpertCity Inc., www.gotomypc.com. Read our First Looks review of GoToMyPC.)

IMDb

Just saw Lord of the Rings and wondering what else Elijah Wood has been in? Hop to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) and wonder no more. A catalog of credits and trivia and reviews for almost every film ever made, the site is a must for serious and casual moviegoers alike. (Free. The Internet Movie Database Ltd., www.imdb.com.)

eRoom.net

Some say the ASP is dead, but at least one is still going strong. With eRoom.net, you can collaborate with colleagues, partners, and customers across the globe, and you don't have to worry about the costs of installing and managing a farm of servers. ($249.99 per month and up. eRoom Technology Inc., www.eroom.net. Read our review of eRoom.net as part of our Top 100 Web Sites: Online Applications roundup.)


Networking
January 15, 2002

Nokia CC2500, Nokia CC500

Nokia CC2500, Nokia CC500
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Need a virtual private network? Look no further than the Nokia CC2500 and CC500. The CC2500 is ideal for medium-size to large sites, while the CC500 is intended for small branch offices. Both use dedicated hardware encryption and offer high throughput. Using Nokia's patented clustering technology, which lets multiple units share a single IP address, the CC2500 and CC500 provide excellent load balancing and failover protection. And the devices are easy to manage with Nokia's well-organized VPN Policy Manager, which lets the administrator manage and configure all of the CryptoCluster units from a single system.(CC2500: $9,995 list; CC500: $1,495. Nokia Corp., www.nokia.com. Read our reviews of the Nokia CC2500 and the Nokia CC500 as part of our Safe Passage roundup.)

NetScaler 3100

Sitting at the front of a Web site's server farm, the NetScaler 3100 takes responsibility for many of the chores that servers don't handle efficiently, such as setting up and tearing down connections. To reduce the load on Web servers, the 3100 combines external requests into fewer persistent TCP connections and HTTP requests. Impressively, the 3100 can manage more than 340,000 concurrent TCP sessions with a Windows 2000 Web server while averaging from 143 to 202 HTTP gets per second. ($20,000 list. NetScaler Inc., www.netscaler.com. Read our First Looks review of NetScaler 3100.)

SMC TigerStack II SMC6624M

SMC TigerStack II SMC6624M
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The SMC TigerStack II SMC6624M offers a combination rarely found in a managed switch: good virtual LAN (VLAN) support and low price. For less than $1,000, you get a 24-port managed switch that can be stacked into a configuration of up to 16 units, offering a port density of 384 ports all managed from a single IP address. Meanwhile, its nonblocking 9.6-Gbps switch fabric ensures high performance. ($699 list. SMC Networks Inc., www.smc.com. Read our review of SMC TigerStack II SMC6624M as part of our Which Switch? roundup.)

EtherPeek

No network administrator should be without a network monitoring application. This is, after all, the window into your network. EtherPeek provides the best view for under $1,000. It combines an extensive set of traffic monitoring and packet capture tools with an attractive interface. Network statistics are represented with easily digested graphics. A host of options let you simply create advanced filters and set alarms. EtherPeek even allows administrators to remotely manage multiple LAN segments. ($995 direct. WildPackets Inc., www.wildpackets.com. Read our review of EtherPeek as part of our Sniff Out Trouble roundup.)

Agere Orinoco AP-1000

Among enterprise-level wireless LAN access points, the Agere Orinoco AP-1000 offers the best combination of features and performance mix. It touts excellent site-survey and link-testing tools, as well as superior AP and client-configuration managers. The Orinoco AP Manager software makes installation and configuration remarkably easy. And thanks to the included HP OpenView plug-in, you can manage multiple Orinoco AP-1000s remotely. ($995 list. Agere Systems, www.orinocowireless.com.)

ScanMail 3 for Microsoft Exchange and ScanMail eManager

The corporate e-mail system can be a major vulnerability. A single virus can cost the company tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue, and it can take days to recover. Trend Micro's ScanMail 3 for Microsoft Exchange and ScanMail eManager keep viruses and other undesirable content away. ScanMail is easy to install on your servers, where it scans messages in real time. Meanwhile, ScanMail eManager, which plugs into ScanMail 3, provides content filtering with extensive options. (ScanMail 3 for Microsoft Exchange: For 100 users, $1,200 direct; ScanMail eManager: For 100 users, $600. Trend Micro Inc., www.antivirus.com. Read our review of ScanMail 3 for Microsoft Exchange and ScanMail eManager as part of our "No More Letter Bombs" roundup.)


Accessories
January 15, 2002

Logitech Cordless MouseMan Optical

Logitech Cordless MouseMan Optical
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A mouse without a cord doesn't quite live up to its name, but it's certainly easier to use. The Logitech Cordless MouseMan Optical works on any surface. You can use it up to 6 feet from its receiver, which plugs into your PC via a USB or PS/2 port. And because the MouseMan uses optics rather than mechanics to track movement, it's much more precise than a traditional mouse. The shape of the MouseMan makes it exceptionally comfortable to hold, and the included software allows such customization as turning the fourth mouse button into a convenient soft key. ($69.95 direct. Logitech Inc., www.logitech.com. Read our review of Logitech Cordless MouseMan Optical.)

M-Systems DiskOnKey

M-Systems DiskOnKey
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M-Systems DiskOnKey
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The easiest way to move files between PCs dangles from a key chain. The thumb-size M-Systems DiskOnKey is a flash memory–based storage device that works on any USB-equipped PC—without special drivers. With models available from $30 for an 8MB unit to $150 for 128MB, the DiskOnKey plugs straight into a USB port, letting you start dragging and dropping files immediately. Once you're done, you can slip the DiskOnKey back into your pocket and take your files to any other compatible system. ($29.95 to $149.95 list. M-Systems Flash Disk Pioneers Ltd., www.diskonkey.com.)

Wacom Cintiq

Wacom Cintiq
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Illustrators often forgo mice for the flexibility of a graphics tablet, which digitizes each pen stroke and passes it to the computer. Tablets are convenient, but wouldn't it be easier if you could just draw right on the display? The Wacom Cintiq, a 15-inch pressure-sensitive LCD with a cordless stylus, lets you do just that. The pen recognizes 512 levels of pressure, giving you acute control over the size, color, and boldness of each stroke. And erasing is just as easy as drawing. The Cintiq may tempt you to abandon paper and ink altogether. ($1,899 direct. Wacom Technology Co., www.wacom.com/cintiq. Read our First Looks review of Wacom Cintiq.)

CMS Automatic Backup System Plus

Backing up your notebook data was never so easy. The CMS Automatic Backup System (ABS) Plus lets you complete a backup simply by sliding a PC Card into your notebook. When the card is inserted, the Automatic Launcher program automatically begins streaming data to the card. If you like, you can attach an optional USB converter to the card and transfer your data straight to another machine. ($279 to $599 direct. CMS Peripherals Inc., www.cmsproducts.com.)

Kensington FlyLight

Kensington FlyLight
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If you've ever worked through the night on a red-eye flight, you know how difficult it can be to see the keys on your notebook PC in dim light. The people at the Kensington Technology Group know, too, and have a solution: the Kensington FlyLight. This gooseneck LED rises up from your USB port and sheds just enough light on your keyboard— without disturbing the people around you. And the FlyLight uses only 90 seconds of your battery life per hour. ($19.99 direct. Kensington Technology Group, www.kensington.com. Read our First Looks review of Kensington FlyLight.)


Education and Reference
January 15, 2002

LeapFrog iQuest and MindStation

LeapFrog MindStation
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LeapFrog iQuest
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Having made our Best of 2000 list for its TurboTwist Toys, the LeapFrog series of learning toys continues to lead the pack when it comes to innovative tech toys that are educational and entertaining. This past year, the company introduced the LeapFrog iQuest, a personal organizer for the middle-school crowd. Using the MindStation cradle, you can download content, such as study aides, from frequently used textbooks. Results can be uploaded to the LeapFrog site so that parents can track their kids' progress. ($100 street. LeapFrog Enterprises Inc., www.leapfrog.com. Read our review of LeapFrog iQuest and MindStation as part of our Holiday Gift Guide: Kids Hardware roundup.)

Microsoft Encarta 2002 Deluxe

Microsoft Encarta 2002 Deluxe
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Microsoft Encarta 2002 Deluxe gets it right when it comes to delivering an interactive educational experience brimming with multimedia. This encyclopedia software includes 3-D virtual tours, gorgeous maps, music, and photos. But Encarta offers more than just impressive multimedia tricks; it includes a staggering amount of well-written content. And the new Researcher tool is invaluable for building a report. It can even compile quoted material into the outline of a paper, with each of the pieces receiving a proper citation. ($74.95 direct. Microsoft Corp., www.microsoft.com/encarta. Read our review of Microsoft Encarta 2002 Deluxe.)

Phonics Quest

Featuring cinematic animation, a creative story line, characters with rich, entertaining personalities, and a fun-filled curriculum, Phonics Quest melds learning with play. Voice recognition makes the program especially strong: Packaged with a tiny microphone, Phonics Quest can "listen" and respond to children's readings, and then provide feedback. ($20 street. Disney, www.disneyinteractive.com/learning. Read our review of Phonics Quest as part of our Teach Your Kids a Lesson roundup.)


Gaming
January 15, 2002

Myst III: Exile

The latest edition of the Myst saga brings you back to the beautiful and mysterious world of the D'ni. Submerging you in lush scenery, Myst III: Exile takes the experience a step farther with 360-degree free-moving views for you to explore. If you found yourself stuck with Riven, you'll appreciate that Exile's puzzles are a bit more manageable without being overly simple. But the scenery alone makes the experience worthwhile. ($44.99 direct. Ubi Soft Entertainment, www.ubisoft.com. Read our review of Myst III: Exile.)

Black & White

Are you good or are you bad? It doesn't matter in Electronic Arts' Black & White. This strategy game is the first to offer complete moral freedom in game play. In this scenario, you are a god competing against other deities to gain followers. You do this by impressing villagers with your godly powers, whether you choose to perform benevolent acts such as providing food or malicious acts such as throwing people into the sea. Incorporating an impressive artificial-intelligence engine, the game adapts to your character's personality type. ($40 street. Electronic Arts Inc., www.bwgame.com or www.ea.com. Read our First Looks review of Black & White.)

Sony PlayStation 2

Sony PlayStation 2
Click to enlarge

The most revolutionary gaming console since the Atari 2600, the Sony PlayStation 2 is teeming with hardware rarely seen in an entertainment system. Its 300-MHz, 128-bit Emotion Engine CPU and 32MB of Rambus DRAM deliver stunning 3-D graphics and fast game play. And with support for DVD media (the PlayStation can actually double as a DVD player), game developers have more headroom for creating complex games rich with multimedia. Part of the excitement, however, is the possibilities it offers: The PlayStation 2 includes an IEEE 1394 port, two USB ports, and expansion bays for a hard drive and a network interface, making it ready for advances in gaming technology. ($300 street. Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc., www.scea.com. Read our First Looks review of Sony PlayStation 2.)


Worst Products of 2001
January 15, 2002

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PC Magazine rates all of the products it reviews on a five-point scale, from poor to excellent. But it's rare that we deem a product poor. This isn't because we're generous with our evaluations; it's because it is unusual for a mediocre product to make it past our filters and get a review in the first place. But here are a few notable exceptions that slipped by:

A utility should make your system work better, not worse. Network Solutions seems to have overlooked this point when it released McAfee Office 3.5. With an emphasis on quantity, McAfee Office offers a host of utilities—some of which are good stand-alone products. But this haphazard suite has an inconsistent interface and overlapping tools. When we first tested McAfee Office, we were amazed to find that certain applications consistently crashed while some features caused error messages. Don't be surprised if after installing McAfee Office, your system actually becomes less stable.

An affordable, easy to use Web appliance is a great idea. That's what the Sony e Villa fails to be. First off, a system designed for Web browsing should support popular Internet media, but the e Villa lacks support for Macromedia Shockwave and Microsoft Windows Media. And some of the defaults, which weren't editable when we tested this sytem, weren't logically set; for example, the e Villa attempted to stream MP3s rather than download them. Running on the BeIa 1.0 OS (and Opera 4.0 for a browser) with a 266-MHz Geode CPU, the system is slow, graphics are jerky, and the audio quality is poor. (Click here for the First Looks review of the Sony e Villa.)

You want an MP3 player, a digital camera, and a digital video camera. All of this for less than $300 may sound inexpensive, but do you really want an all-in-one solution? Probably not if it comes at the cost of quality. The Kodak mc3 is an attempt to fulfill all these needs for a mere $200 (street price); $300 if you want a 64MB Compact Flash card. Sure, it seems like a fun gadget, but with no flash, its 640-by-480 images are dark and washed out. Video is mediocre, and at best quality, it fills your Compact Flash card in about 4 minutes. As an audio device, the mc3 is a bit large and lacks standard features such as an equalizer. And don't forget that if you want to take pictures or video, you'd better not fill up your Compact Flash with MP3 files. All things considered, if the mc3 doesn't handle any of these tasks well, $300 suddenly doesn't seem so cheap. (Click here for the First Looks review of the Kodak mc3.)


Best Today, Gone Tomorrow
January 15, 2002

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Wireless connectivity was a hot topic in 2001. With the growing popularity of mobile computing—thanks to affordable notebooks and handhelds—you might expect wireless ISPs to be doing quite well. Unfortunately, we've been spoiled by fast connections, and most wireless providers don't offer the bandwidth we need and expect. So we were excited by the promise of the constant wireless high-speed connections made possible by the Ricochet network. In 2001, 128K wireless service for notebooks and some PDAs was available in about a dozen cities. And though it wasn't cheap, at $80 a month (plus a compatible modem), Ricochet was affordable. Unfortunately, now Ricochet is gone, and high-speed wireless connectivity is nothing more than an urban legend.

We all want faster Internet access. Cable access is a great solution that in the past year has grown more popular and inexpensive. But cable service didn't prove profitable for Excite@Home, the one-time leading cable provider. Perhaps providing cable Internet access over another company's cable lines isn't the wisest strategy. After a major deal with AT&T fell through, Excite@Home recently announced that it will cease service by the end of February 2002. Many cable companies affected by this are looking into deals with other providers in hopes of moving customers over to a new cable service. But for now, thousands of subscribers are left stranded and wondering if they need to reinstall that second phone line.

Kozmo.com had everything you needed for a good Friday night—movies, magazines, even Chubby Hubby ice cream—and they were ready to bring the fun to you. Best of all, it was online shopping without the wait. You could browse through movie titles without bumping into people, read descriptions, and pick up a snack. In an hour, the movie was delivered to your door. But despite an aggressive advertising campaign (or maybe due to an aggressive advertising budget), Kozmo.com had to shut its doors.

The online PIM (personal information manager) is a logical idea. You can keep your contacts and calendar in one secure location, which is accessible from any computer on the Internet. Anyday.com was consistently a leader in this market. Anyday was than picked up by Palm and turned into the MyPalm service. This portal provided a Web-based address book, date book, and memo pad, all of which were syncable with Palm devices. Palm recently announcement that all personal data would be removed and the service discontinued as of January 10, 2002.

Copyright (c) 2001 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.