The Best, the Worst, and the Ugliest

The managing editor of Hardware Central offers his IT winners and losers for 2002.
Posted December 24, 2001
By

Eric Grevstad


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Few of us would call 2001 a good year, and all of us would gladly trade an even worse recession or high-tech slump for a cosmic Control-Z to undo the tragedies of September 11. But there were highs as well as lows here at Hardware Central. Plenty of cool products reached the Labs, Weather, & Sports Desk -- from Microsoft's latest IntelliMo use Explorer to HP's Color Inkjet Printer cp1160, from powerful desktops to desktop alternatives like Dell's Inspiron 4100 (and notebook alternatives like the AlphaSmar t 3000). Ditto for software, ranging from the best Windows ever to a $27 word processor called Atlantis Ocean Mind.

And plenty of trends made the year memorable. Here's a recap, with my best wishes for bright holidays and a happy year ahead.

Winners of the year: Peripheral shoppers, as LCD monitors fell below $500; fast monochrome laser printers and versatile color ink-jet printer/scanner/copiers fell below $250; and photo-quality ink-jet printers became practically free.

Losers of the year: The dial-up majority -- analog modem users who continue to be teased by DSL and cable Internet-access ads that mask limited availability or delivery nightmares, while the industry's talking heads take broadband for granted.

Collapse of the year: In terms of business, dot-com service providers. In terms of caving, folding, wimping out, taking a dive after winning 14 rounds: U.S. Justice Department vs. Microsoft.

Not quite consumer products after all: PDAs beat a retreat upmarket, with most handheld vendors following Microsoft's Pocket PC pitch to corporate execs with $500-plus budgets. Let's see if Handspring's Treo leads a move back toward the mainstream with cell phone/PDA combos in 2002.

Bitter pills of the year: 2001 brought two blatant insults or confusing inconveniences, moves unabashedly meant to serve vendors' marketing needs instead of consumers' interests. But any backlash or protest fizzled, as we swallowed them in order to get (I admit) otherwise excellent products. What were they? The PR ratings of AMD's Athlon XP, and Product Activation in Microsoft Windows XP.

Comeback of the year: ATI, although the company nearly blew it by not nailing the Radeon 8500 drivers on the first try. Coincidentally, PC graphics overdog Nvidia showed ...

Cracks in the armor, generating big buzz about its nForce integrated chipset, only to ship it months late with a disappointingly outdated GeForce2 MX graphics core. The formerly unflappable Nvidia also botched a bid to undermine ATI's Radeon 7500/8500 announcement with a prerelease of new GeForce drivers, but got back on track with the sizzling GeForce3 Ti 500 and 200.

Say bye-bye: Transmeta. It's hard to sell mobile CPUs when (a.) Intel whips up low-voltage Pentium IIIs that virtually match your ballyhooed energy savings and (b.) you can't actually ship product.

Glass that looked half-full last year, half-empty this year: Linux hype and vendors crashed to earth, just in time for Windows XP to kick dirt in their faces. Actually, Linux made strides in 2001, going strong on servers and showing impressive desktop progress with Mandrake 8.1, SuSE 7.3, and KDE 2.2.1, but now it's handicapped by a dot-com-bust, last-year's-bandwagon image as well as the self-defeating "Linux community" -- if the theosophist hippies don't repel you, the command-line macho men will.


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