Excellence Aplenty

Lundquist: These are tough times to be an IT pro, but there are, even now, an amazingly large number of excellent technology choices out there.

These are tough times to be an IT pro, but there are, even now, an amazingly large number of excellent technology choices out there. After working through nearly 800 entries in this years eWEEK Excellence Awards, our team of Labs analysts and Corporate Partners picked the winners. This is the third year weve had the awards, and I continue to be impressed with the rising quality of the products available to the enterprise IT community.

One benchmark for the award programs success is to see if the winners come from small as well as large companies. They do. I will be the first to admit I had never heard of EnCase Forensic Edition 3.22, from Guidance Software, before the entries, but I am glad I know about it now. The same goes for Ixias Real World Traffic. And while I have certainly heard the marketing pitches for IBMs WebSphere Studio 5.0 and Suns Sun Fire 12K, it is many times more valuable to have a mix of analysts and real-world users name those products as winners. I asked two of our analysts, John Taschek and Peter Coffee, what they found different about the award entries this year.

"Two words: adult supervision," said Peter. "Notably in the categories of application development and enterprise data analysis, there was a welcome focus on products that put more steel in the spine of IT infrastructure—while the huge number of entries in the two security categories speaks for itself about the high rank that this topic has on professionals agendas."

According to John, "The biggest difference between this year and other years is the depth of the products nominated for the awards. In the Customer & Supplier Management category, for example, we reached parity—there were no products that we could quickly judge. This made the judging process far more difficult this year than last year. One thing for sure about a bad economy is that the vendors have really dug in—and focused far more on practical business applications that give customers a competitive advantage. They are not focusing on what customers need in five years but on what they need right now."

My favorite product that wasnt entered, because we dont have a category for it, is the under-$30 replacement printer cartridge from Dell. While the financial analysts may applaud the profit margins being made by the printer group at Hewlett-Packard and others, I hear very little applause from those of us in line at Staples buying replacement cartridges. I think its cheaper to buy a new printer than replace the cartridges. I hope that HP will now engage in a printer cartridge price war.

Keeping My Eye On ...

Now that I am ready to order my freedom fries next time Im at the fast-food stand, Im wondering if part of the fallout from the deep divisions among former allies due to the Iraqi war will favor open-source mandated software adoption policies. While no one is saying anything on the record—and what vendor would want to say business is good because the world is so divided?—Ive heard a few rumbles about governmental open-source mandates gaining ground over U.S.-based entities as the war progresses. If youve heard something along those lines, please send me an e-mail.

After two years of waiting for some big upturn in technology spending, I am relieved to find a group of execs that Id call the new tech realists. They are building their companies around plans to meet or just exceed by a bit the 2 or 3 percent growth expected in the U.S. gross national product. Bruce Claflin, president of 3Com, is among the most verbal of this group. Claflin has totally built the company around those diminished, but probably real, expectations, and I think he is on track. In a recent lunchtime conversation, he also called Cisco Systems a "dripping roast"—but that is for another column.

In passings that should be noted, Adam Osborne will probably be best remembered for the creation and later crash of Osborne Computer. Osborne brought to the industry a new way of looking and thinking about computing (does anyone remember Paperback Software?), which now is too often missing. Osborne, 64, died recently in India. And, after a 30-year career at IBM, consultant Sam Albert went on to become one of the most accessible and astute analysts of IBM. Sam, also the host of radio station WINS CompuTips, died in late February at the age of 72. Hell be missed.