Best in Tech of 2010

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GLOBE’s exclusive ranking of the most innovative, useful, and influential tech
of the year.

Best Tech Products

1. Andriod: Google Android 2.2 (smartphone operating system; included with phone) Mobility led the tech industry in innovation in 2010, and amid a flourishing array of great mobile products, we found one consistent standout this year: Google Android. Expected to eclipse Apple’s iOS in market share by year’s end, Android brings powerful apps, a slick interface, and extreme customizability to a host of phones and tablets available across a multitude of carriers. The is range of options with Android is the one thing that the iPhone can’t promise. Add to that mix a flexible browser with Flash 10.1 support, OS-wide voice control and dictation features, and a rapidly expanding app ecosystem, and Android 2.2 is the OS to beat in the burgeoning mobile age.

2. Apple iPad (tablet; starts at $499) We’re in the midst of a revolution that’s putting slates at the forefront, and the iPad deserves full credit for launching it. After years of false starts for tablets, Apple’s 9.7-incher bucked the trend with a svelte look, a robust yet simple touch interface, and a phenomenal app collection.

3. Amazon Kindle, third generation (e-reader; $139) Amazon rewrote the rules for e-readers with its third-gen Kindle. T e Wi-Fionly version delivers convenient e-book shopping along with a stellar E-Ink Pearl screen and a streamlined, lightweight design.

4. Netflix (streaming video service, video-by-mail plan; starts at $9, Watch Instantly free with monthly plan) Netflix came on strong this year with Watch Instantly. Aside from the popularity of the service on desktop PCs, the Watch Instantly app made a splashy debut on other devices such as the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. With more than 16 million members in the United States and Canada, Netflix, Inc. [Nasdaq: NFLX] is the world’s leading Internet subscription service for enjoying movies and TV shows.

5. Samsung Galaxy Tab (tablet; price to be determined) This sleek little slate is the best Android tablet we’ve seen. It brings polished software and design finesse to a fun, multipurpose touchscreen device. It’s the iPad for the rest of us.

6. Microsoft Security Essentials (antivirus sofware; free) When a product is this solid, it redefines the category. This tool offers malware detection in an easy to use package with a well designed interface—and it doesn’t nag unnecessarily.

7. Apple iPhone 4 (smartphone; starts at $149 with AT&T contract). Despite initial concerns, the latest iPhone is a stylish, attractive groundbreaker. This phone screams design elegance and has the sofware and gorgeous display to match, as well as the richness of the Apple App Store at its command.

8. HP TouchSmart 600 Quad (desktop; $1699) HP’s latest TouchSmart all-in-one PC packs a punch, offering great performance and a vibrant 23-inch multitouch display. It won’t replace your TV, but its connectivity options make it just as useful when you hook it up to your cable box or your game console.

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9. Google Chrome (Web browser; free) The top pick in our tests is fast and well designed, has a clean and functional interface, supports plenty of add-ons, and provides strong security features. Chrome also offers extensive customization options for power users.

10. Microsoft Office 2010 (office suite; starts at $280) Afer years of ceding the online productivity world to Google Docs, Microsoft finally builds Web apps into the latest Office suite. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint all have new features for collaborating online. In addition, Power-Point gains built-in video editing and playback, smooth new transitions, and a tool for broadcasting slideshows across the Web.

Best Tech Stories

Wikleaks: Wikileaks was not a story, but an ongoing continuum of stories. It started with release by the wiki-based whistle-blowing site in April of a video that seemed to show a U.S. helicopter gunship killing a number of Reuters journalists which was followed by Wikileaks releasing 91,000 documents pertaining to the Afghanistan War and the release of 400,000 Iraq War documents and recently release of classified U.S. diplomatic cables.
The stories that the overall Wikileaks story gave birth to included criticism of the group and its founder. Questions arose. Was transparency desirable for its own sake? Is the principal of transparency worth men’s lives and countries’ safety? Did it make our world more safe by requiring governments to face up or less safe by uncovering things that are not necessarily illegal or immoral but secret to maintain lives? It’s a story that is destined to keep on giving.

Online Tyranny: The level of oppression against users of social media and other online tools reached a stupendous level in 2010. The fear and anger those who hate dissent show to anyone who didn’t roll over doubled and redoubled as social media gained more and more users around the globe.

Low-lights include the sentencing of Canadian-Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan to almost 20 years in prison in Iran; the release, after additional torture, of the longest-serving imprisoned blogger, Kareem Amer; and the passage by the United Nations of a resolution that provides justification for blasphemy-based imprisonment and torture.
Repressive governments around the world have proven much quicker to understand and accept the power of the social web than the world’s media or business leaders have. Want to know where the online world is headed? Watch the internal police services of China, Iran and Egypt. They know.

Computer Warfare on Industrial Targets: Outside of the security field, the idea of a computer virus tailored to a specific country and a specific undertaking was the stuff of paranoid thrillers. This year, the reality of country-to-country viral warfare was brought home with the unleashing of the Stuxnet virus. As the story played out, a number of eye-widening facts came to light. The virus was made by a highest-level digital team over a prolonged period. It was aimed solely at supervisory control and data acquisition systems, used only on large industrial machinery. Further, it was aimed directly at particular frequency converter drives from specific vendors. Those vendors exist only in Finland and Iran. It was designed, in fact, to change motor speed on, among other things, uranium processing facilities in Iran.  The ubiquity of digital communication pathways mean that this is only the most dramatic event in governments targeting each other in this manner, not the last one. When Old Communist Apparatchiks Think You’ve Gone Too Far, You’ve

Gone Too Far: China is the gold standard for censorship. Pioneering what one specialist called “networked authoritarianism,” the leadership of the country knows it cannot flick a switch and shut down criticism. The Internet, especially China’s, is too big to scientifically restrict, so in a sense terror must be used. It employs a combination of technical filtering, legal restrictions on free speech and social restrictions. A sort of social terror keeps the population in line enough for its Internet police to stomp down on real trouble-makers.
Privacy Intrusion of Mammoth Proportions: When India, the second largest country, and the largest democracy, on Earth starts up an allegedly elective, and practically mandatory, public ID program, the fiction of the Internet as liberator sinks right in. India’s record on privacy was not great prior to this announcement. It has demanded, for instance, that Blackberry-maker RIM decrypt its user records for the government or it will be thrown out. They extended this demand to every device-maker that uses encryption. But the project to force every one of its one billion citizens to carry a card or other device linked to a central record, or risk denial of everything from housing loans to water, is one step beyond.

Google Investigated, Sued for Privacy Offenses: When it was revealed that software in Google’s Street View photo cars gathered not just general information on Wi-Fi locations for Google Maps, but also private information such as photos and emails, all hell broke loose for the company. In quick succession, the company was investigated by Germany, France, Spain, Australia, Canada, Italy, Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States and South Korea. Attorneys General from over two-thirds of the states in the U.S. even met to arrange concerted action against Google. Oh, and there were private suits too of course. Google eventually agreed to start sharing information on their collection process and software. Although the U.K. found the company innocent of criminal wrong-doing, investigations led to the ability of Germans to opt out of inclusion in the mapping service.
Better. Stronger. Faster. As much as technology is said to change and as operant as Moore’s law may be, the basic nuts and bolts of computing haven’t seemed radically different to the vast majority of users for who knows how long. Now, however, work is being done that is leading to, and in some cases has already led to, a whole different kettle of computational fish. First, there’s graphene and water. Now it’s the strongest, thinnest, most conducive material on earth. Its potential for exponentially speeding up computing centers on using (how am I not making this shit up?) water. OK. Now, IBM has thrown the giant Frankenstein-switch on its Watson Research Center for a five-year quantum computing project. Finally, they are now making computers out of brains. A Columbia University group is using “cortically coupled computer vision” and an EEG cap to united those things the brain does better than a computer and those thing a computer does better than a human brain. It works.

YouTube Grows Up: It may seem like a rough thing to say, but it may be that a technology like photo-sharing can only be said to really grow when it comes face to face with the ugly realities of life. And no reality of life is uglier than death. And no death uglier than murder. Last month, a drug gang from the Mexican state of Guerrero placed a video on YouTube showing members of a rival gang bound, confessing to the murders of a more than a dozen tourists from the neighboring state of Michoacan, whom they had mistaken for members of yet another gang. If a bunch of inbred criminal thugs know about you, yours is no longer a developing technology. It is a grown-up technology in a grown-up world that is too often every bit as ugly as it is beautiful. And it’s awfully beautiful.

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