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Always intriguing, often useful, and sometimes surprising, these 20 products showcase some of the best in tech this year.

A PC that’s half desktop, half notebook. An operating system that runs entirely on the Web. A radically made-over office suite. A thin, superstylish handheld with both Wi-Fi and a usable QWERTY keyboard. Our Innovations Award winners exemplify the best kinds of breakthroughs–ones you can get right now.

1. Microsoft Office 2007

Innovation? Microsoft? Yes, we were surprised, too, but the Redmond giant’s latest upgrade of the world’s most popular productivity suite introduces several new features that revolutionize how people work with documents. The most striking change is a “ribbon” at the top of the interface that replaces the traditional cascading menus and taskbars, and can expose functions you never knew were there. Through the suite’s handy new Live Preview feature, you can see how formatting changes, for example, will affect your document prior to your making them. You get greater XML-format support, too. Prices range from $149 for the Home and Student edition to $679 for the Ultimate edition.

2. Intel Core 2 Duo

As by far the fastest desktop chips we’ve ever tested, the Core 2 Duo series might have the greatest impact of any product on this list. Most of Core 2 Duo’s technological advances are obscured under titles like Advanced Smart Caching, Smart Memory Access, and Wide Dynamic Execution. Intel’s truly innovative accomplishment was managing to bundle all of those technologies together, while significantly reducing power consumption.

3. Parallels Desktop for Mac

The idea of running Windows on a Mac made plenty of headlines this year. While this Hades-freezing development is undeniably cool and useful, it’s hard to pin down which implementation is most innovative. We chose the slick virtualization software Parallels ($80), because it’s arguably the most useful way to run key Windows apps on your Mac. But we also want to give a nod to Blanka and Narf, the two coders who wrote the WinXPonMac hack that seemed to prod Apple to rush out Boot Camp.

4. Nintendo Wii

The $250 Wii video game console boasts powerful new motion-sensing controllers that make game play both more entertaining and more active. In specially designed games, you can swing the Wii Remote or the joystick-like Nunchuck to have your character smash a tennis ball or throw a nasty left hook. It’s fun and addictive, and ushers in a new era for gaming.

5. Samsung 32GB SSD

Bringing a flash drive of usable size to notebooks, the Samsung 32GB SSD hard disk (price not set at press time) heralds a new age in fast laptop storage, and sets the stage for upcoming hybrid drives.

6. Sony Reader

E-books have yet to truly make it in the mass market, but Sony’s $350 Reader may buck the trend. The device boasts a glare-free screen and innovative E Ink technology, which gives you the same resolution as newsprint and looks better than typical LCDs do in bright light. The Reader, slightly larger than a standard paperback, is easy to use and weighs only 9 ounces.

7. YouOS

Do you ever wonder how far the whole Ajax-based applications-in-a-browser craze can go? How about an entire operating system that runs in your browser? That’s what YouOS, WebShaka’s intriguing free site currently in alpha testing, is all about. Applications, data, and settings all live on the server. Set up an account, and you can access your YouOS desktop from anywhere, which gives a whole new meaning to remote access.

8. Dell XPS M2010

Sporting a cutting-edge design, the Dell XPS M2010 (starting price $2999) makes a bold and immediate statement. Not quite a desktop and definitely less portable than a standard notebook, this hybrid system neatly balances elements of both. You get a 20.1-inch screen, a slot-loading DVD drive, and a detachable, full-size Bluetooth keyboard, plus an integrated Webcam, eight built-in speakers, and a subwoofer. Powering this entertainment system are ATI graphics, an Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, and up to 4GB of RAM. It also folds up into a briefcase-like bundle, complete with a handle–but it weighs a hefty 18-plus pounds.

9. Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 750GB

With the growing popularity of video and music files in the past few years, storage capacity once again became an issue for PCs as hard drives’ conventional longitudinal recording technology reached its limit. Enter perpendicular magnetic recording technology, which allows vendors to pack more data onto one platter than in the traditional approach. Laptops were the first to benefit from drives with the new technology, followed shortly by our pick, the $400750GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 desktop model. Not only does this drive boast the highest capacity we’ve seen in a single desktop disk, but it outperforms standard drives–especially in write tests and on tasks that involve sustained throughput with sizable files.

10. T-Mobile Dash

The slim Motorola Q brought a usable QWERTY keyboard to Windows Mobile smart phones–and then the T-Mobile Dash came along and got the rest of the package right. Combining a stylish, superthin design with sculpted keys that correct the deficiencies we found on the Q, and offering both cellular service and integrated wireless capabilities, the Dash makes a great impression. You also get a 1.3-megapixel camera and a miniSD slot for expansion in this 4.2-ounce handset, and it’s an affordable $250 with a two-year contract. Our minor pet peeves: The device’s software bundle isn’t as robust as that of some of its competitors, and its built-in user-accessible memory is a paltry 23MB.

11. Pioneer Inno

Satellite radio reaches a new level of portability with Pioneer’s $299 Inno XM Radio receiver. Earlier devices simply recorded snippets of radio shows. This is a real live-radio receiver that can record and store songs, too, and it lets you bookmark tunes you want to buy later. (Samsung’s Helix, which we didn’t test, is a nearly identical model.)

12. Farecast

Lots of sites help you find the best airfares if you’re buying tickets right now. But what looks like a great deal one day can seem overpriced the next. Farecast tracks fares over time, telling you whether prices are likely to go up or down over the next week.

13. Sony BWU-100A Blu-Ray Disc Rewritable Drive

Sony’s $750 BWU-100A wasn’t the first internal Blu-ray Disc burner we saw (that honor went to Pioneer’s $1000 BDR-100A), but it offers the most complete package at the best price, and unlike some others it can write to both 25GB single-layer and 50GB dual-layer discs.

14. Olympus EVolt E-330

The $950 Olympus EVolt E-330 digital SLR introduces a unique feature to this class of camera: an LCD that can provide a live preview of your shot. In particular macro shooters and users with glasses should appreciate this, as it will save them some struggle with the viewfinder. To use the LCD this way, simply press the Live View button. You can see the scene at 92 percent (and have it autofocus), or at 100 percent (focusing manually) with accurate depth of field and the ability to magnify details to ensure that your shot is sharp. Image quality was good in our tests, and the camera includes Olympus’s top-notch cleaning mechanism to keep dust from marring your photographs.

15. Google SketchUp

This drawing program makes creating 3D structures supereasy. You can have a model done in minutes, then save, print, or add it to Google Earth to share it with other users. You also have access to a plethora of ready-made structures via Google’s 3D Warehouse, and Google SketchUp’s thorough online documentation can help you past any rough patches as you build. The program works with both Windows and the Mac OS–and best of all, it’s free.

16. Sony PlayStation 3

A multicore cell processor. Blu-ray. Wi-Fi. A custom-designed nVidia graphics chip. A motion-sensing, wireless controller. We’ve seen many of these technologies before, but Sony gets major points for managing to pack all of them into one machine. And while $599 sounds like a lot for a game console, the 60GB Sony PlayStation 3 probably has more power than your average budget PC (a slightly less powerful version is available for $499). The PS3 is truly focused on high definition, and our first tests showed that it’s arguably a better Blu-ray Disc player than Samsung’s first $1000 effort.

17. RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8100

We’ve seen business-oriented smart phones and multimedia phones, but the BlackBerry Pearl 8100 brings those two worlds together and backs everything up with RIM’s network, which is still the best for always-on connectivity. The sleek Pearl ($350 from T-Mobile) adds a 1.3-megapixel camera, an audio player, and a video player to the usual BlackBerry features. Caveats: The unit lacks a full QWERTY keyboard, and its trackball navigation and compact keys can be awkward.

18. Rhapsody 4.0

The most evolved of the music streaming services, Rhapsody has added two features that further liberate it from the PC. With the Sonos Digital Music System, you can connect directly to Rhapsody, no PC needed. And if you tell the $10-to-$15-per-month service which kinds of music you like, it’ll load new songs in that genre when you connect a compatible portable player.

19. Logitech NuLooq

The $70 NuLooq, a heavy hockey puck-size dome that sits stationary on your desk, gives you lots of new ways of moving around your PC. Though it’s targeted at design pros, it can help anyone who needs more control than a mouse and a scroll wheel offer.

20. Shure E500PTH Sound Isolating Earphones

These in-ear, sound-isolating headphones nestle themselves in your ear canal and block 20 dB of outside noise, leaving you with a remarkably quiet listening environment even on a crowded bus or plane. Though that’s great for listening to music, it can be a pain if you have to talk to someone for a bit. In the $500 E500PTH, however, Shure found a unique way around the problem by embedding a small microphone in the cord. Flick a switch on the Push To Hear module, and the outside world is piped in through the headphones–you have no need to remove them from your ears.

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  1. This blog’s great!! Thanks :).

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  2. This blog’s great!! Thanks :).

    Thanks… 😀

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