One of my favorite products of the year was Microsoft's free add-in for Excel 2010, PowerPivot. The tool, which adds a new sort of spreadsheet option to Excel, first grabbed my attention for the way it enables users to work with much larger sets of data than is possible with Excel alone. In one case, I used PowerPivot to load and browse through a data set that ran 3.9 million rows-about four times Excel's existing upper limit-and I had no more trouble scrolling around in the set than I would with a spreadsheet of only several hundred rows.
Typically, bumping up against the row limitations of your spreadsheet application indicates that a database is probably a better tool for the job. But PowerPivot provides users with a great way to take care of business without surrendering the familiarity of their favored tool. I used the product to tap data in Access databases, in flat files and in MySQL databases, through an ODBC driver, and in all cases the tool performed excellently.
What's more, the tool's SharePoint integration element gives users an easy way to share their work with others in their organizations.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6
Linux and open-source software is looming larger than ever in the enterprise space, and no product casts a longer shadow in these quarters than Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Whether it's consumed directly from Red Hat or in the form of one of its downstream incarnations, such as the freely available CentOS or Oracle's Unbreakable Linux, the innovations and enhancements that go into RHEL have a major impact on the IT world.
RHEL 6, which began shipping last month, stands out for its core improvements around scalability, resource management and virtualization, highlighting Linux features such as Control Groups and the KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine) capabilities now baked into the kernel.
What's more, the system ships with a slate of updated open-source software components that stand to make life easier for developers and system administrators who wish to take advantage of recent features without leaving Red Hat's support and certification umbrella to do so. And even for those operating outside of Red Hat's service umbrella, the 10-year support term that Red Hat has pledged for RHEL-and the nature of open-source licensing-offers a strong assurance that products and projects can count on these components for some time to come.