When it comes to new technology, 2007's destined to be remembered as "The Year of the iPhone"—but a whole lot more went on in the past 12 months besides Apple's much-hyped gadget launch. From significant upgrades to apps we already know and love, to major operating system releases, to a few new tools that help us get things done (or at least point toward the future), '07 was a good year in software and productivity. Over the last 12 months we've literally reviewed thousands of new releases, features, and upgrades here at Lifehacker. Today we've boiled them all down to a bird's eye view: our top 10 best new and improved desktop and web applications of 2007. Get the list after the jump and vote on your pick of the year.
10. Zoho Suite (Online office suite, most improved)
Google Docs is good, but another online office suite has been rolling out upgrade after upgrade this year, slowly, steadily, and consistently trouncing GDocs in the features department. Zoho Suite makes collaborating and editing documents, spreadsheets, presentations (and way more) better and easier straight from your browser. Most of you said you hadn't tried Zoho because you already had a Google Account, but if collaborating and editing office documents from your browser is in your future in '08, bite the bullet for a Zoho account and you won't be sorry. Here's more on how Zoho stacks up against Google Docs.
9. Joost (Internet television streamer, new)
When you don't want to install a TV capture card on your 'puter but you still want your shows streamed fresh off the internet at high quality on your schedule, you want Joost. Lifehacker readers were clamoring for a coveted Joost beta invite earlier this year (622 comments asking for one!) but now the download's available to the public. Check out Adam's screenshot tour and full review of Joost from back in April.
8. Mint (Online money manager, new)
Even in 2007, organizing your finances with the usual suspects (like Quicken and Microsoft Money) is a hair-pulling, teeth-clenching, mind-melting crash course in accounting that invariably leaves you with a 42 cent balance inconsistency after hours of data entry. Newly launched webapp Mint aims to change all that. Instead of spending your money on an expensive, complicated desktop app to manage your money (ironic, no?), Mint is free and easy to use. Log in, enter your bank's details and Mint automatically downloads your transactions, generates charts and graphs, automatically alerts you to events like low balances or high charges, and offers ways for you to save money based on your spending. If organising your dollars and cents is on the agenda in '08 but you're worried about privacy and features, do check out our full-on, screenshot-laden Mint review.
7. VMWare Fusion (Mac virtualization, new)
Last year 'round this time we were gaga for Parallels Desktop, virtualization software that put Windows on the Mac (without having to reboot with Boot Camp.) This year after a few too many Parallels-induced spinning beach balls of death, we're moving over to VMWare's Fusion product. The virtualization company's answer to Parallels is more stable, can import Parallels disk images, and works with crazy configurations like a Vista Boot Camp partition. Lifehacker readers are still on the fence in the tight Mac virtualization race between Parallels and Fusion; they're neck and neck in our recent faceoff.
6. Microsoft Office 2007 (Desktop office suite, most improved)
It was a bumpy launch for Microsoft Office 2007, a major upgrade to the dominant desktop office suite that replaced familiar menus with a totally new "ribbon" interface. At first glance, most people hated it, because change is bad, especially when it makes you hunt for buttons you used to get to without looking. But when venerable WSJ reviewer Walt Mossberg gave it his thumbs-up, we gave it a chance, and the changes grew on us. If you're still using Office 2003 and want to see what all the fuss is about, check out our screenshot tour of Word and Excel 2007. We also love the fabulous keyboard interface to the new Office. (Finally, be sure to grab Office '07's recently released Service Pack 1.)
5. Gmail (Web-based email, most improved)
Just when we accused Gmail of stagnating in the features department, the Gmail team answered with a steady barrage of updates that secured Gmail's place in our hearts as our favourite web-based mail (this year, anyway.) Now with IMAP access, AIM support, coloured labels, improved contacts and keyboard shortcuts, speedier performance, and a Greasemonkey-friendly interface, Gmail's earned its most improved place on this list. For a peek behind the scenes, see our exclusive interview with Googler Keith Coleman, Gmail's Product Manager.
Honorable Mention: The other Google product that improved at a steady clip this year was Google Maps, which added features like Street View, Mapplets, My Maps, traffic info, and drag and drop route changes.
4. Ubuntu 7.10 "Gutsy Gibbon" (Operating system, most improved)
Vistwho? There's no better time than now to switch to a free operating system with the latest release of "Linux for humans," Ubuntu 7.10 (code-named "Gutsy Gibbon"). The best Ubuntu yet for average users, Gutsy includes built-in WPA detection, the ability to read/write Windows drives (hello dual boot), quick multimedia setup and built-in Compiz Fusion for customising your desktop to the hilt. Check out Kevin's detailed screenshot tour of Gutsy, and our exclusive interview with Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth.
3. GrandCentral (Virtual telephone line PBX, most improved)
If you've got a home phone, office phone, personal cell phone, and work cell phone, keeping track of who calls where and what number to give out is a pain. With GrandCentral, you can ring all your phones with a call to a single GC-issued number, filter, screen, forward to voicemail, and otherwise customise how you handle incoming calls on a per-contact basis, too. Get all your voicemail online at GrandCentral and email/SMS alerts to new messages as well. Here's how to consolidate your phones with GrandCentral. (Ok, so GrandCentral didn't launch this year—in fact, we first wrote it up late last year—but switching over to a GC number in '07 confirmed our love for the app.)
Honorable Mention: Also telephony-related, reminder and messaging system Jott ("use the web with your voice") launched this year, with lots of interfaces to various webapps you already know and love (like Remember the Milk, I Want Sandy, Google Calendar, Twitter, Blogger) and subsequent cheers.
2. Google Gears (Firefox extension for offline web access, new)
"But what about when I'm on an airplane?" is the resounding question when you consider moving your email, documents, and other critical work onto a hosted webapp. When you're offline, it's not available—unless it's Gears-enabled. Google's beta extension syncs your online data to your local desktop so you can modify it even when you're offline. Then, when you connect to the 'net again, your offline changes sync up to the cloud. Gears hasn't made as big a splash this year as some of the other items on this list, and it's still pretty half-baked, but it is a glimpse at the future of working in your web browser (whether it's Gears or offline access built into an upcoming Firefox release). Not a whole lot of webapps are Gears enabled, but currently the roster does include Google Reader, Remember the Milk, and Zoho Writer.
Honorable Mention: Also in the "didn't change the world but still really damn cool" category, Yahoo Pipes is like a virtual lego set for geeks who want to mash, filter, and otherwise manipulate web feeds. Here's how to create a personal, master feed with Yahoo Pipes.
1. Mac OS X Leopard (Operating system, most improved)
We were nervous when Apple delayed the release of Mac OS 10.5 because of the iPhone this year. But when it finally did drop in October, Leopard didn't disappoint. Over 300 new features include lots of polish and functionality you knew you wanted (and sometimes didn't). We're fans especially of Time Machine, the improved Finder, Stacks, Spaces, Quick Look, and Boot Camp. If you haven't already, when you do upgrade to Leopard, have a helping of 20 apps to rebuild your Mac.
Honorable Mention: We do software 'round these parts, not gadgets, but—ok fine, you can't have a 2007 best-of technology list without mentioning the iPhone. So here it is: iPhone! iPhone! iPhone! Oh yeah, and iPhone book. There, we said it.
Now it's up to you to tell us which one of our picks was your favourite for this year. Cast your vote!
Finally, for nostalgia's sake, take a look how far we've come from the best apps of 2006.
Anything rock your socks in 2007 that we missed? Tell us about it in the comments.