The Best Products of 2003

Here are the 10 most innovative products of 2003: Despite ongoing economic pressure, this was a year of considerable innovation in nearly every area of the IT industry.

December 24, 2003

13 Min Read
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As the CRN Test Center got set to pick the 10 most innovative products released in 2003 that could provide the greatest opportunities for solution providers, the prevailing feeling was that despite ongoing economic pressure, 2003 was a year of considerable innovation in nearly every area of the IT industry. For many vendors, those very economic pressures drove the push toward innovation, while for others, true innovation grew out of the needs of end users and solution providers.

For security vendors, innovation came in the form of an all-consuming arms race as they tried feverishly to outpace, or at least keep up with, the world's hackers, crackers and spammers while also squeezing the bottom line to keep security affordable.

2003 was the first year that notebooks outsold desktops, and with it, the world of notebooks diversified as the units became customized to specific uses, with wider screens, lighter weights, wireless connectivity and a plethora of options. The year also saw the notebook space invaded by a number of different Tablet PCs, which were quickly gobbled up by niche markets but had little noticeable impact on the mainstream mobile knowledge worker.

For software-focused solution providers and ISVs, improvements to IDEs in 2003 significantly eased Java programming. Development software vendors also charged ahead with major improvements in documentation and training and by adhering to common standards.

For display vendors, reduced prices made flat panels widely affordable, but that coupled with tremendous competition required them to differentiate their offerings with unique features while striving to usurp the all-too-ubiquitous CRT from the corporate desktop. In the wireless arena, higher security, faster speeds and lower costs made the technology more mainstream, leading to advances in notebooks, PDAs, access points and hot spots.Mother Nature also had a supporting role during the year as a number of natural disasters were hurled at the nation's businesses, resulting in a dramatic growth and diversity of storage solutions. Man-made disasters, from power outages to equipment failures, also added to the mix, along with ever-growing data usage by companies.

To pick the best products of 2003, the CRN Test Center took a step back to scrutinize the wide range of the products spawned by the year's technological ingenuity. Test Center engineers took a fresh look at all of the products reviewed throughout the year, searching specifically for products that offered overall innovation and the most integration opportunities for solution providers, backed by support-rich channel programs.

Solution providers will find that the products selected here can help them increase profits and create new revenue opportunities,especially important in today's chilly times while waiting for the long-overdue thaw.

2003 will go down in history as the year of the worm. We saw the Slammer, Sobig, Blaster and other worms spread throughout the Internet like wildfire, easily bypassing most security systems and causing widespread loss wherever they went. If the attacks in 2003 are a portent of what's to come in 2004, every solution provider has a responsibility to provide strong security for their customers

OVERALL WINNER Teros-Gateway ($25,000)Some companies survived the battering of 2003's Internet ills untouched by deploying the Teros 100-APS security appliance. The unit, whose design is easy to understand, includes a host of security services, from protecting sensitive data to offering enforcement technologies and meeting HIPAA guidelines. The Teros-100 APS is also able to stop worm and denial-of-service attacks dead in their tracks.
The Teros-100 APS examines Internet traffic in both directions at the packet level, while performing realtime analysis for security problems. The unit learns what normal Web traffic looks like and rejects anything outside of it, while examining data packets for attackers on the hunt for personal information.
The Teros-100 APS also protects applications and Web servers from defacement or other attacks. The unit can be trained to prevent attacks that leverage security flaws such as buffer overflows.
Teros uses the HTML Interaction Model process to control traffic that passes from a browser to a Web server and vice versa.
There are five filtering methods used by the Teros-100 APS to control all HTTP/HTTPS traffic: Input validation filtering checks that all incoming data is valid and blocks any inappropriate data; form consistency filtering compares submitted data against acceptable data policies; buffer overflow protection prevents buffer overflow attacks; hyperlink inspection checks for malformed or malicious HTTP requests; and a cookie-tampering filter prevents the acceptance of invalid cookies.
The unit can be implemented in many different fashions, including acting as a gateway between the public Internet and an internal network or as a reverse Internet proxy. The unit's documentation, online help and technical support are second to none.
The Teros 100-APS is backed by an excellent channel program that includes thorough presales and post-sales technical support. The vendor's sales personnel participate in joint calls with solution providers and offer other assistance. Sales and technical training are also available.
These considerations earned the Teros-100 APS the 2003 overall product of the year distinction from the CRN Test Center. Full article>>

DEVELOPMENT TOOL BEA Systems' WebLogic Workshop ($850)

BEA Systems' WebLogic Workshop is by far the most innovative development tool reviewed by CRN Test Center engineers this year. WebLogic Workshop has the quickest learning curve of any Java development tool on the market and is the only one tested this year that makes development of composite applications an easy task.
BEA bundles with WebLogic Workshop some of the most common controls necessary to generate J2EE-compliant applications. The control library also includes most of the basic controls,such as Enterprise JavaBeans, Java Message Service, data transforms and Web services,that are needed to build more functionality into an application.
CRN Test Center engineers found that the amount of code WebLogic Workshop generates allows Java novices to develop with it in a matter of days, even with only little understanding of J2EE architectural principles. When compared with other composite application development tools, WebLogic Workshop blew away the competition in code generation. Developers can create many logical constructs with almost no Java coding. What's more, BEA is drafting a language, called Process Definition for Java (PD4J), that WebLogic Workshop will use to define processes through graphical icons for Java.
BEA provides partners with a wealth of technical training, development assistance and marketing support, along with online sales materials and technical resources. Full article>>

DISPLAYSamsung 192MP ($899)

For display of the year, the CRN Test Center sought out flat-panel displays at least 19 inches in size, with VGA and DVI inputs, S-Video and composite video inputs and built-in speakers. Displays that could do double duty by including a built-in TV tuner were given additional consideration.
Samsung Electronics America has been building excellent displays for years now, and its MP line of multipurpose displays has been particularly exciting. In the SyncMaster 192MP, unveiled toward the end of 2003, Samsung finally has a 19-inch display that offers the same great features contained in the smaller units that came before it. The 192MP is HDTV-ready and includes three brightness modes designed specifically for PC, Internet and entertainment applications. It also has picture-in-picture functionality. A digital zoom allows the magnification of any part of the on-screen image up to 64X. The monitor has attachable speakers and is wall-mountable.
The TV tuner, which can be snapped onto the display if needed, supports worldwide TV and video signals, including NTSC, PAL and SECAM. The display is U.S. closed-captioned-enabled.
Samsung provides a wealth of incentives, special offers, rebates and demo units through its Power Partner program. Reward points and spiffs are available for nearly every Samsung product, and vendor sales representatives work closely with partners.

Full article>>ENTERPRISE RESOURCE PLANNINGBest Software MAS 90 ($3,500)

Best Software's MAS 90 came out on top of other vendors in the enterprise resource planning category for its ease of use, wealth of features and by excelling in many areas that other ERP vendors find difficult to handle.
Out of the box, MAS 90 arrives with more than 25 modules that are easy to set up and cover everything from accounts payable to time slips. MAS 90 also includes modules for sales/purchase order, general ledger, material requirements planning, office link and work order.
The material requirements planning module is particularly useful for companies that are involved in the manufacturing and distribution of goods. MAS 90 evaluates data from inventory management, sales and purchase orders, bills of materials and work orders to make recommendations on inventory levels.
The product also runs a set of complex calculations to help users make informed decisions about the products they manufacture. This feature proved to be easier to use than those from all other ERP products that CRN Test Center engineers examined this year.
Best Software's multitier channel program offers solution providers sales and technical training, marketing and seminar support. The vendor also includes numerous sales and technical resources on its solution provider Web site. Full article>>

KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT AND COLLABORATION TOOL Microsoft Live Communication Server ($1,059, with five-client licenses)

This year, two new products from Microsoft represent a great leap forward in knowledge management and collaboration tools. Live Communications Server and Windows SharePoint Services offer, for the first time, real enterprise collaboration capability as they extend the Microsoft Office suite well beyond the desktop.
Live Communications Server provides encrypted instant messaging and archiving and follows industry-accepted SIP/SIMPLE communications protocols. It also offers an integrated presence-awareness feature that can be easily tied to other Office products and other applications. The feature allows users to know who is online, busy or offline.
Along with Windows SharePoint Services and Windows 2003 Server, Live Communications Server forms a robust document-sharing system where users can co-edit documents and communicate in the same environment or workspace. Windows SharePoint Services extends Live Communications Server by including some document management capabilities. Windows SharePoint Services also has a forms library for XML content publishing and specialized templates that allow data-driven sites to be built quickly.
Microsoft's tiered channel program provides technical assistance, sales support and on-site and online technical training.

Full article>>NOTEBOOK Hewlett-Packard NX7000 ($1,999)

In picking the notebook of the year, engineers wanted something a little different yet representative of the numerous advances in notebook technology in 2003. It had to be portable yet have a big screen, and be relatively light in weight yet loaded with features. It also had to use the latest in processors and include wireless technology without busting the budget.
Hewlett-Packard's nx7000 is a wide-screen Centrino notebook. It's useful for working on spreadsheets, high-resolution graphics applications or multiple applications side-by-side. As a bonus, the unit excels for watching wide-screen DVD movies. The notebook's combo optical drive supports recording on both CDR and CD-RW media.
The nx7000's 15.4-inch display has a very fine native resolution of 1,680 x 1,050. The unit weighs only 6.5 pounds, even though it measures 14 x 10 x 1.36 inches. It features a Pentium-M processor running at 1.6GHz with as much as 2 Gbytes of memory. It also features built-in 802.11b wireless connectivity. Other features include a hard drive as large as 60 Gbytes, an integrated Secure Digital slot, JBL Pro Speakers, three USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, S-Video out, 10/100 NIC, 56K modem and one Type II PC Card slot.
HP offers a broad range of support through its PartnerOne channel program, including compensation tools and customized marketing assistance.Full article>>

PRINTER Xerox Phaser ($2,499)

In the printer category, the CRN Test Center was looking for an SMB-friendly model that was easy on the wallet while not making any compromises on features or performance. It also had to be small in size. Xerox's Phaser 6250 certainly fits the bill. It prints up to 26 ppm in color or monochrome at 2,400 x 600-dpi resolution. Its input trays combine for a total of 600 sheets, and it's rated for a monthly duty cycle of 100,000 pages. Small for a color laser printer, the 6250 measures 17.5 x 17.3 x 23.2 inches and weighs 80 pounds.
A 10-page monochrome Word document took about 35 seconds to print with the first page out in 13 seconds. A 10-page Word document with color headings took 43 seconds to print, again with the first page out in 13 seconds. The test file from the Spencer & Associates printer test suite took just 19 seconds to print, while a color photo of a castle took 27 seconds.
The printer's image quality is very good. Surprisingly, the Phaser 6250 is quite a bit faster than its predecessor, the Xerox Phaser 6200, yet it costs the same.
On the channel side, Xerox specializes in online and in-person training and marketing assistance, especially for solution providers focused on the SMB market. Xerox's excellent partner Web site provides marketing support and tools to help solution providers build co-branded Web sites and promotions.Full article>>

SERVER Hewlett-Packard TC2120 ($1,669)Solution providers searching for a robust file server with a rich feature set and low cost to sell to small businesses don't have to look any further than Hewlett-Packard's TC2120.
This model enables solution providers to bring real enterprise-class server capabilities to their small-business customers. It comes bundled with Microsoft Small Business Server 2003, which speeds setup and provides an array of business features.
Sporting an easy-open case, with ample room to add or switch out components, the HP TC2120 is a fine starting point for any small business. Also, its low noise makes it an ideal option over server appliances.
The $1,669-tested configuration included a 2.66-GHz Pentium 4 processor, 1 Gbyte of RAM and a pair of 40-Gbyte ATA drives, providing adequate performance for most smaller networks. HP offers a broad range of support for solution providers through its PartnerOne channel program, including compensation tools, customized marketing assistance and online sales and technical resources.Full article>>

STORAGE Maxtor's OneTouch 250-Gbyte external hard drive ($349.95)

Hassle-free, removable, affordable and easy to use out of the box,that's what Maxtor's OneTouch 250-Gbyte external hard drive is and why it bested all others in the category for storage product of the year.
The OneTouch is aimed squarely at the SMB environment, where many companies' storage solutions are being taxed by increasing demand.
Installation of the OneTouch hard drive is plug-and-play. Just install the software, plug the unit into a USB or FireWire port and launch the configuration wizard from the accompanying CD on an attached PC. The storage device is designed to work on a variety of platforms, Macintosh included.
Integrators will find that the OneTouch's ease of use is unmatched: The drive can be set up in a matter of minutes, and it is a breeze to master its management capabilities. The concise documentation that accompanies the unit underscores its consumer-product roots.
Maxtor gives solution providers sales and marketing funds, technical assistance, and online technical and sales resourcesFull article>>

WIRELESS D-Link Systems' AirSpot DSA-3100 ($599)

As they drop in price and increase their feature sets, wireless gateways are becoming a boon for small businesses eager to increase worker productivity. With this need in mind, CRN Test Center engineers sifted through an assortment of wireless gateways seeking devices that are hassle-free and easy to set up and offer wide coverage and strong security at a reasonable price.
That describes D-Link Systems' AirSpot DSA-3100 to a T. D-Link's gateway can support wired or wireless networks and is clearly aimed at the small- to midsize-business market, offering the ability to authenticate and authorize up to 250 users with support for 50 simultaneous users.
The networking gateway incorporates a firewall, DHCP server and router. The gateway can maintain up to 10 guest accounts, which can be useful for companies that provide off-site training and/or have users that need to log in to the network on a temporary basis. The Web-based management console is straightforward and easy to navigate. Network-savvy users should have no trouble configuring the unit, although wizards are available to assist in the configuration.
A wide range of sales and marketing materials and technical resources are available to solution providers via D-Link's two-tier channel program and on its Web site. The vendor's field-based engineers provide pre- and post-sales technical support, and dedicated account representatives offer sales and marketing assistance.Full article>>

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