eWEEK Labs Picks the Top Products of 2006

Analysts pick the products that stood above the crowd during testing this year.


Open-source development is vigorously pushing the VOIP (voice over IP) industry forward-championing standards-based communications, driving rapid development of new features and enabling new ideas for how to use real-time communications. As the best-known and most popular open-source telephony platform out there, Asterisk gets my nod for 2006 product of the year. Numerous vendors now offer Asterisk-based IP PBX appliances, which are particularly enticing to small businesses needing a well-featured system at a highly affordable price. Digium, Asterisks primary caretaker, has furthered this movement with the recent introduction of the Asterisk Appliance Developer Kit, which will help third-party vendors create new, easy-to-use appliances.

-Andrew Garcia

MacBook Pro

In June 2005, Apple CEO Steve Jobs startled some Apple faithful by saying that the company would move to Intel processors in its Macintosh systems beginning in June 2006 and would finish the process by June 2007. Apple then startled just about everyone by rolling out an Intel-based laptop two quarters sooner than promised, unveiling its MacBook Pro in the first week of 2006 and completing the transition only seven months later with the debut of its Xeon-based Mac Pro desktop. By the end of 2006, the main question facing the Renaissance user of everything was how to pursue the option of running Windows XP-or even Vista-side by side with Mac OS X. Welcome to a new world.

For everyone whos ever mouthed a platitude about the tyranny of the installed base, Apples performance this year-the second time that the company has changed its processor platform, in both cases with nearly no impact on most users-is an existence proof that technology road maps can be more than ephemeral marketing-speak. The new machines had a few glitches as their manufacturing process settled down, but the smoothness and speed of this transition exceeded any reasonable expectation. Well done, Apple Computer.

-Peter Coffee

ThinkPad X60 Tablet

Lenovos ThinkPad X60 Tablet wasnt just the best tablet system I reviewed this year, it was also the best laptop I reviewed. Released a year after Lenovo kicked out its last tablet, the ThinkPad X60 Tablet burst onto the scene with Intels Core Duo processors, EvDO (Evolution Data Optimized) wireless broadband and three screen options. Add to that 7 hours of battery life, a draft 802.11n wireless card that is backward compatible with 802.11g and a screen that automatically rotates depending on use, and youve got a powerful convertible notebook that could turn even the biggest Tablet PC dissenter into a fan of pen-based computing.

-Anne Chen

Opera 9

Its market share is dwarfed by the No. 2 Web browser, the Mozilla Foundations Firefox, and it is a miniscule spec when compared with the market leader, Microsofts Internet Explorer. But when it comes to strength of features, quality of interface and pace of innovation, Opera is a giant in the Web browser world. When I tested Opera 9 this year, I called it one of the best Web browsing tools I had used in a long time. Subsequent reviews of Firefox 2.0 and Internet Explorer 7 did nothing to change that opinion.

-Jim Rapoza

SmartBPM 5.1

Pegasystems SmartBPM 5.1 is a business process management tool that provides companies with a strong tool set for building human and automated process workflows. During my tests, I was impressed with the reach of SmartBPMs development environment-from highly customizable applications built with HTML, Java and AJAX (Asynchronous Javascript and XML) to simple applications based on HTML forms. Like other BPM solutions, SmartBPM can be expensive to deploy, but it has a flexible licensing system that allows for per-user licensing as well as per-transaction licensing.

-Michael Caton


Splunk, from the company of the same name, securely indexes and manages log and IT data, and makes real-time troubleshooting possible without a forklift upgrade of current network and system management tools. Splunk integrates with a number of widely used network and system management tools, as well as with network monitoring protocol analyzers. The icing on the cake is the broad knowledge that can be culled from the Splunk community, Splunk Base.

-Cameron Sturdevant

Steelhead Appliances

Riverbed Technologys Steelhead Appliances attack the source of sluggish application performance at long distances-latency. The appliances-which accelerate WAN performance with caching, compression, protocol optimization and QOS (quality of service) technologies-supply expanding branch offices with more efficient backup, replication and recovery options. IT managers also can capitalize on lower overall bandwidth utilization by tacking on additional services.

-Victor Loh

VMware Server 1.0

Its tough to find much to dislike about VMwares server virtualization product: VMware Server 1.0 makes it very easy to turn a single physical machine into several virtual ones-each capable of running pretty much any x86-based operating system out there. VMware Server also is a great example of how a piece of software can run very well on both Linux and Windows hosts. Whats more, the product is available with optional support from VMware, and it boasts a graceful path for scaling upward-to VMware ESX Server-or downward-to VMware Player. Oh, and its free.

-Jason Brooks