Overall, 2006 was a very good year for technology and computer consumers, even if there was at least one bad actor.
Best company: Apple Computer Inc. Yes, it did it again, but this time with astonishing grace. Switching an entire product line from the Motorola/IBM-made PowerPC chip to Intel Corp.'s processors is one of the most daring, and potentially daunting, moves in a long time. The Cupertino, Calif.-based company did it with tremendous speed and performance gains.
This is a good place to mention Apple's service: For me and those I know, Apple's ability to resolve problems have left people smiling. Having solid products and superb support earn Apple a tremendous distinction in a sea of half-baked computer solutions about which there is often much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Best hand-helds: Palm Computing Inc., whose mastery of the phone-PDA metier is difficult to question. Its Treo device, revised in several flavors in 2006, is a wonderful, workable and dependable tool that would be better only if everyone's Web site were more mobile-accessible (some standard Web pages take a bit long to load and work).
But that's a relatively small price to pay for unencumbered excellence. I have used the device in places exotic and "regular," and it has worked well.
Palm does face a bit of a challenge from Research In Motion and its BlackBerry line, especially the Pearl. Therefore, what Palm comes up with this year should be interesting to see.
Best output: Hewlett-Packard Co.'s line of printers. Each one has been a delight, including the Officejet Pro K550, which is an impressive workhorse. Printing is something we still rely upon despite the promise of the "paperless office," which hasn't arrived in the 25 years or so it has been touted. HP's printers -- laser and inkjet -- mean business, even for the nonbusiness user.
I also am impressed by Canon USA Inc.'s line of printers, which are stylish and useful for users at home and in small offices. And Samsung USA remains a very impressive maker of laser printers for that same market segment.
Best application: It would have to be Microsoft Office 2007, even though it hasn't fully deployed in the business world yet. The new look, the elegance and the features combine to make the new Office something to reckon with in many areas. Microsoft Corp. will price this somewhat aggressively, with home and school users getting a nice price break. But regardless of price, having a "new" Office suite with which we can work is an important and valuable commodity. Having an online version of the new program is another advance for Microsoft and for users.
Runner-up in the category is Franklin Covey's PlanPlus software, both for Windows and online. This time-management tool is elegant, results-driven and, thanks to the Web, accessible to Mac and Linux users, among others.
Also praiseworthy is Herndon company Parallels Inc., whose Parallels Desktop software lets Mac and Linux users run Windows side by side.
Most needs improvement: Comcast, whose idea of customer service is, frankly, Dickensian. I've had several harrowing and annoying recent experiences, and am grateful the Federal Communications Commission has voted to increase competition for television service.
Read Mark Kellner's Tech Blog at www.washingtontimes.com/blogs.