Putting Test Center's 1998 Predictions to the Test

It is the media's dubious privilege this time of year to sit back and play pundit, bestowing accolades on persons and products for their influence and insight. These exaltations are sometimes dead-on, but just as often they turn out to be laughably off -- witness the pomp surrounding the debut of "push" technology in high-tech media circa 1996.

At InfoWorld, the Test Center annually recognizes the products that best implement the important IT technologies we reviewed throughout the year. Some products continue to be industry leaders, proving their mettle year after year, but others fade away in a constantly changing market. Last year was unusually kind to many of our 1998 Product of the Year winners.

As it did last year, network vulnerability topped IT managers' lists of concerns in 1998, so it was no surprise when a security product won the Network Hardware category. Internet Devices' Fort Knox Policy Router F-300 got the prize, but then failed to generate much market presence as the company was gobbled up by Alcatel. Alcatel has since partitioned the product into two models, a Professional Series for companies with as many as 15 sites and a Carrier/Enterprise Series for service providers. It lives on as a shrinking violet, vying for attention among Alcatel's diverse product offerings.

But Novell's ZENworks, which helps reduce the cost of supporting clients through its network administration capabilities, survived 1999 unscathed.

Currently in Version 2.0, ZENworks is gaining momentum and recognition. By bundling Greenwich Mean Time's Check 2000 with ZENworks earlier this year, Novell extended the package's market to NetWare customers looking for an efficient way to prepare their servers and clients for the year 2000.

The "gone, but not forgotten" nod goes to our 1998 pick for Internet/ intranet tools, Netscape Communicator 4.5. Communicator reached Version 4.7 last year, adding new shopping and electronic-commerce features to this excellent suite of front-and back-office tools for Web clients. But it is not likely to make another appearance as a commercial software offering.

Netscape's once-flagship Web-client software couldn't endure the transition to a loss-leader position, brought on by the dual pressures of the company's acquisition by America Online and Netscape's decreasing share of the Web-browser market to Microsoft's free Internet Explorer. Communicator lives on as an open-source project at Mozilla.org (Version 5.0 should be released soon), but the application has taken its last pass through the shrink-wrapper.

Our 1998 pick for the application development tool continued to be a leader in its area throughout 1999. Symantec's VisualCafe for Java 2.5 took the 1998 award, and Symantec followed up on that success in 1999 with VisualCafe for Java, Enterprise Suite 3.1. Although VisualCafe is a mature product with excellent tools for managing the development cycle, Symantec was forced to cede its Product of the Year title to IBM VisualAge for Java 3.0 when we put the two in a face-off last month (see our Test Center Comparison on integrated Java development tools, www.infoworld.com/printlinks). Does anyone else sense the beginning of a heated rivalry?

Finally -- and least surprising, in retrospect -- was our choice of Red Hat Linux 5.2 in the Operating Systems category. In 1998, this richly deserving Linux distribution won in the face of tough competition, taking the prize for a third year in a row. Thinking a three-peat not adequate acknowledgement of our respect, the Test Center stayed close to the hearth this year and voted for Red Hat Linux again. Even Michael Jordan never won four in a row.

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