Best of 2001 is a wide range of products 

Apple pioneers best new technology 

by Alan Zisman (c) 2001
First published in Business in Vancouver, Issue #634, December 18-24, 2001: GearGuide column

t's the time of year for looking back, so here are Gear guide's best and the worst for 2001. 

The best computers 

It was a year when many business and home consumers decided it was time to get off the upgrade treadmill. Despite the slowdown, Apple Computers remained profitable and produced the most-improved and best computers of the year with its two notebook lines.

The Powerbook G4 is perhaps the computer on the market with the highest drool factor, from its titanium-metal body to its extra-wide 15" screen: just right for watching DVD movies. Its high-end pricing ($3,700-$5,000) keeps it out of the mass-market, however. 

Apple's iBook, newly redesigned, is now more conventional, sporting a clean, ice-white appearance that makes it look like the Titanium Powerbook's younger sibling (about $2,000). It's light on weight and size, but long on battery-life and connection features making it a good choice for the majority who don't really need the G4's extra graphics power. And yes, it is possible to live without Windows. 

The best technologies 

Two technologies that, fittingly, were first popularized by Apple, spread to the wider PC universe this year. Both are officially known by awkward numerical names, but have gained more user-friendly nicknames. 

IEEE802.11b (also known by Apple users as Airport, and by everyone else as WiFi) is a standard for wireless Internet connections and networking. This year, it started showing up in homes and offices, hotels, convention centres and selected Starbucks outlets. Increasingly affordable products from companies such as LinkSys, dLink, 3Com, Intel and even Apple generally work well together. 

IEEE1394 (referred to as Firewire by Apple, iLink by Sony and 1394 by everybody else) is a way to connect gadgets to computers at some 40 times faster than the more commonplace USB. That makes it perfect for connecting digital camcorders and increasingly popular for connecting external drives, music players and more. While it's built into Apple and Sony computers, it's still an optional add-on for others, but it is well worth adding on. 

Best software for the rest of us 

The envelope please.... Without further ado, the winner is Adobe Photoshop Elements. Its big brother Photoshop has long been the industry standard for graphics professionals, but sports a professional price and a professional-sized learning-curve. 

Photoshop Elements delivers 80 per cent of the power (more than most of us will ever need) for about 20 per cent of the price (about $160) and adds in some nice tricks (like easily creating panoramic images) that are hard to do in the heavy-duty edition. For Mac and Windows. 

Worst of the year 

Internet gadgets: This year, you could buy Internet-enabled radios and stereos and dedicated mini-computers. But hardly anyone did, costing a lot of companies that should have known better a lot of money. 

Internet on cell phones: Similarly, the major cell networks offered Web access on their digital phones. Even though the pages displayed were reformatted to fit on tiny screens, the need to download a new page every few lines and the awkwardness of entering text and navigating using a phone keypad made this a non-contender. 

Major company that's least sure where it's going: Palm wins hands-down. Though Palm-OS handhelds still account for the bulk of the so-called "personal digital assistant" market, Palm seems to have lost its vision, in the face of continuing competition from (surprise!) Microsoft

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan