Like most everyone in the industry, the Lab Guys spend most of our time looking forward. We wait for the next release of software, anticipate new and more powerful platforms, and search for a killer new product that will set the industry on its collective ear. The rest of the time, we are firmly rooted in the present. We wrestle with software features that don't work as documented, fight hardware components that defy the laws of physics, and struggle to make products jump through the hoops that their four-color printed advertisements show.

The opportunity to look back is rare. In fact, we usually look back only during our paranoid periods, but in this case, we looked back for a worthwhile cause--to reflect on the products we tested in 1997 and recall those that really caught our attention. After giving this subject much thought, we came up with a list of 10 (OK, 11 because of a tie) products that caught our interest and deserve special recognition. Without further ado, here are our "Labsolutely" favorite products from 1997.

Favorite Workstation

Picking our favorite workstation was our most difficult choice. Over the past year, we had several 500MHz Alpha workstations in the Lab that were both works of art and powerful workhorses. But in the final analysis, we all agreed that Compaq's Professional Workstation 5000 was the unit we'd most like on our desktops. Equipped with dual 200MHz Pentium Pros, a high-end 2D or 3D graphics adapter, sound, and an Ultra Wide SCSI controller, the Professional Workstation 5000 puts the power of a server on your desktop.

Reviewed in Lab Reports, July 1997, page 74
Contact: Compaq Computer · 281-370-0670 or 800-345-1518
Web: http://www.compaq.com
Price: $8636

Favorite Server

We've seen a lot of servers come into and go out of the Lab over the past year, but only one server brought tears to our eyes when we saw it crated up and carted out of the Lab. That system was Data General's NT Cluster-in-a-Box. The Cluster-in-a-Box combines two interconnected quad 200MHz Pentium Pros in one cabinet. The cabinet also houses a shared RAID
subsystem and a keyboard-video-mouse sharing unit so that you can manage both internal systems with one keyboard-video-mouse setup. Sniff. Just thinking about this server chokes us up.

Reviewed in Lab Reports, June 1997, page 82
Contact: Data General
508-898-5000 or 800-328-2436
Web: http://www.dg.com
Price: $110,000

Favorite Pocket Technology

Choosing a winning handheld computer resulted in a tie. This category caused more of a religious debate than an analytical discussion about the pros and cons of U.S. Robotics' Pilot and Compaq's PC Companion. Pilot advocates harp about its ease of use, its interface, and how it fits in a pocket. PC Companion advocates spout about the power and flexibility of the Windows CE operating system and the benefits of combined keyboard and pen input. We decided that this technology speaks to our inner child: One Lab Guy's inner child is the next Lab Guy's inner enemy.

Pilot 1000 reviewed in Lab Reports, February 1997, page 71
Contact: U.S. Robotics (a division of 3Com)
408-848-5604 or 800-881-7256
Web: http://www.3com.com
Price: $249

For information about the PC Companion, see Tim Daniels, "Windows CE Meets Windows NT," April 1997, page 135
Contact: Compaq Computer · 281-370-0670 or 800-345-1518
Web: http://www.compaq.com
Price: Call for pricing

Favorite Gee Whiz Gadget

We get a lot of strange, futuristic looking devices in the Lab. Most of these devices turn out to be pretty mundane, but Wyse's Winterm Wireless 2930 tablet lived up to our Buck Rogers expectations. The Winterm Wireless tablet functions as a thin client on a Citrix WinFrame server and lets you rove around while running standard Windows NT applications. Our favorite form of entertainment was to use the Winterm Wireless tablet as a roving Web browser--we could browse the Web no matter where we were.

Reviewed in Lab Reports, December 1997, page 108
Contact: Wyse Technology · 800-438-9973
Web: http://www.wyse.com
Price: Call for pricing

Favorite Security Product

As ex-IS administrators and consultants, the Lab Guys have learned to function on very little sleep. One product that robbed us of what little sleep we get was AbirNet's SessionWall-3. SessionWall-3 is a combination network monitor and firewall that reassembles email, Web pages, and other forms of TCP/IP traffic so that you can see what users are doing and block traffic based on content. At first, this technology scared us, but then we realized all the problems this product could solve. Now we stay up late at night coming up with new applications for SessionWall-3.

Reviewed in Lab Reports, October 1997, page 85
Contact: AbirNet · 817-251-7000 or 800-245-1688
Web: http://www.abirnet.com
Price: Starts at $995

Favorite Test Product

We live to test products in the Lab, and running benchmarks is a maze we wake up and face every day. Any product that gives us dependable, reproducible, analytical results about server and NT software performance is a winner in our books. That's why Bluecurve's Dynameasure Enterprise 1.5 is our favorite test tool. Dynameasure gives us solid information on database and file sharing performance and lets us stress test all kinds of servers and server software. Dynameasure is at the heart of our NT scalability tests, our NT versus NetWare tests, and our forthcoming database tests.

Reviewed in Lab Reports, September 1997, page 81
Contact: Bluecurve · 510-267-1500
Web: http://www.bluecurve.com
Price: $29,995

Favorite Administration Utility

Face it: If you hose the NT Registry, you hose your system. Oh, sure, you can always use your Emergency Repair Disk to restore your Registry to a previous state that you don't recall. But often, that restoration is as painful as reinstalling NT from scratch. That's why we were thrilled when we encountered Artisoft's ConfigSafe. ConfigSafe lets you take a snapshot of your Registry (and other critical files and directories). If (or in our case, when) you run into trouble, you can tell ConfigSafe to restore the Registry to the state of the last snapshot. This product offers simple, painless protection.

Reviewed in Lab Reports, October 1997, page 124
Contact: Artisoft · 800-846-9726
Web: http://www.artisoft.com
Price: $39.95

Favorite Microsoft Product

One test of a favorite product is whether you still like it no matter how many times it blows up or how often it totally frustrates you. That was clearly the case with Microsoft's BackOffice Small Business Server (SBS). Despite the trouble we had with the beta and release candidates of SBS (and we had plenty), we still think SBS is one of the most significant products to come out of Redmond for a long time. SBS combines the power of NT Server, Exchange, SQL Server, and Proxy Server, with new NT capabilities (e.g., fax serving and modem pooling) to address the needs of small businesses.

Reviewed in Lab Reports, December 1997, page 68
Contact: Microsoft · 800-426-9400
Web: http://www.microsoft.com
Price: Call for pricing

Most Borrowed Product (Hi Tech)

Another way to measure the appeal of a product is to see how long you can keep your hands on it. After we reviewed Microtest's Compas, we had trouble keeping it in the Lab. All the technical people in the company wanted to borrow it. Compas is a handheld unit that diagnoses cabling and protocol problems in Ethernet networks. Think you have a bad cable run? Plug in Compas and find out. Do you wonder where a cable goes? Plug in Compas and it will blink a hub light to tell you where a cable terminates. The Compas is truly useful--if you can keep your hands on it.

Reviewed in Lab Reports, September 1997, page 98
Contact: Microtest · 602-952-6400 or 800-526-9675
Web: http://www.microtest.com
Price: $2595

Most Borrowed Product (Consumer)

We rarely get a product in the Lab that attracts the interest of every breathing creature in the company. In 1997, that product was Agfa's ePhoto 307 digital camera. The ePhoto 307 camera is so easy to use and produces such high-quality digital images, we had to implement a waiting list so that people could get a chance to use it. In a Lab that's full of expensive and sophisticated computer hardware and software, the most sought after device is a $299 camera. Smile!

Reviewed in Lab Reports, October 1997, page 121
Contact: Agfa-Gevaert Group · 508-658-5600
Web: http://www.agfahome.com
Price: $299