The 20 most innovative products of the 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 US$149 for the Home and Student edition to US$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 (US$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 US$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 US$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.

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