SAN FRANSISCO -- Was it the philosopher George Santayana who said, "Those who don't remember the past are condemned to repeat it?" Did he offer any hints for those of us who want to repeat the past, especially the successes? We're beyond the teary elegies of 2011 and deep into making resolutions for 2012. If we're going to stand half a chance of creating something great this year, it only makes sense to pause and celebrate what went right in 2011.
Here is our list of 2012 Technology of the Year Award winners, given to the hardware and software we reviewed over the past year that make life better for the people who toil in service of the enterprises and, it only follows, for the customers who are served by them. We spent several weeks arguing over the list and, in the end, produced our annual collection of tools we want to celebrate. Not all of the choices were unanimous, but all of them made us look two or three times because there was something amazing.
Many of the winners -- but far from all -- are new to the list, but that doesn't mean they're new to us. One of the list's most distinctive features is how much it repeats the past, illustrating how much technology builds on what came before. Even the new entries are several years in the making. They didn't appear out of nowhere, but captured the strengths of trends that have been building for numerous years.
Yesterday and today
The most obvious example is Microsoft Office 2010, condemned to repeat its success here even though you're probably searching for the commenting button already to make the perfectly good claim that the digits "2010" don't belong on a list for 2011. Fair enough, but we decided the Web apps from Google and others just weren't ready to lead the parade. One editor said he wanted to assume that Office's "days were numbered," but then he took one look at Office's record sales figures (which bear out the results of Serdar Yegulalp's office suite comparison) and changed his mind. While the Web apps are undeniably cool and easy to administer, all of us had to admit there was just something zippier and truly empowering about a native app you install on your computer. We're not arguing for becoming grid-free survivalists, just realists about the limits of the cloud.
Microsoft has also been enhancing other tools with a grip on the enterprise. Lync turns the PC into a communications center, usurping some of the responsibilities of that increasingly idle phone that sits next to it on your desk. The smooth videoconferencing, now more flexible and easier to install in your office, is only a minor piece of the promise. The Windows Small Business Server stack is also a winner here for all of the little enhancements that make it easier for small offices to start a full-service network and provide remote access through a Web interface. Microsoft shops can continue to sail into the future with a feature-rich environment that's as current as can be found.