Macworld Expo Best of Show award winners

Wednesday we had the pleasure of presenting the Macworld Best of Show awards on stage during a feature presentation at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

There were a lot of new Mac, iPod and iPhone products to choose from this year, which made it a really tough decision for the editors of Macworld. The whole editorial staff contributed to spirited arguments about what products were sure to be the talk of the show. In the end, we managed to narrow the list down to 11 deserving products.

This year’s winners are:

Photoshop Elements 6.0, from Adobe: It’s been a long time coming, but it looks to be worth the wait: two years after releasing the last edition, Adobe is finally releasing Photoshop Elements 6.0 ($89) for the Mac. But anticipation alone does not make it Best of Show. Rather, it’s the improvements Adobe’s packed into its consumer-level photo editor. It’s quicker to launch, sports a dramatically revised interface, is a Universal Binary, and is packed with all sorts of tools that amateur photographers—for whom the full-fledged Photoshop is overkill—will appreciate. It’s a great update for a much-loved product.

MacBook Air, from Apple: In the history of Apple announcements, this was one of the least surprising: Pretty much everyone in the room at Steve Jobs’s Expo keynote was expecting a thin notebook. But they probably weren’t expecting this: The MacBook Air ($1,799( is almost frighteningly skinny. And yet it really is a full-fledged Mac, with a 1.6GHz or 1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU and reasonable quantities of RAM, hard drive, keyboard, and screen. Sure, you have to give up an optical drive, Ethernet, FireWire, stereo speakers, and a few other amenities. But tell that to the hundreds of Mac users who crowded the Apple booth at Expo, balancing their MacBook Air daintily on their fingertips, and beaming widely.

Guitar Hero III, from Aspyr: The Guitar Hero games ($80) let you live out your rock star fantasies as you “play” guitar or bass along with your favorite rock songs. (In this case, “playing” means pressing colored buttons on the guitar-like game controller’s neck in sync with the notes on the screen.) The better you play, the more money you earn to buy new gear, new stage outfits, and new songs; you can also unlock bigger and better venues on your way to superstardom. Guitar Hero III doesn’t radically alter the basic premise, but the music this time around ranges from classic rock like Heart to the Sex Pistols, Smashing Pumpkins and beyond. Guitar Hero III may not teach you anything about playing the guitar, but it’s a load of fun and way more social than any solo shooter.

BusySync, from BusyMac: One of the nicest improvements in Leopard is iCal’s ability to do group scheduling. You can now browse your coworkers’ calendars, find meeting times that work for everyone, and more. The only catch: iCal’s group-scheduling requires Leopard Server. That’s why BusySync ($25 for the forthcoming 2.0 version) is so cool: It lets you share iCal calendars on a local network or over the Internet without a dedicated server. BusySync installs a preference pane where you can select the calendars you want to share, specify read and write privileges to them, and assign passwords. That done, co-workers (or family members) who have the program installed can subscribe to your calendars, then browse and edit them. The latest version also lets you sync iCal with Google Calendar. It’s a neat, simple way to do something that would otherwise require you to invest time and money in Leopard Server.

Eye-Fi card, from Eye-Fi: At first, you think it’s just another SD card. It pops into your digital camera just like one. It stores your digital photographs—2GB worth—just like one. But it doesn’t upload those photos like one. Instead of unplugging the Eye-Fi card ($100) from your camera and then plugging it into a card reader connected to your Mac, it uploads your digital photos from your camera to your Mac wirelessly—no plugging or unplugging, no card readers. You will need to have the Eye-Fi Manager software installed on your Mac; that software can automatically route the uploaded images to iPhoto or to your favorite photo-sharing site.

Flow, from GridIron Software: If you do any kind of creative work, for Web or print, you generate masses of interlinked files of all sorts. Flow is a tool for organizing and tracking the relationships between all those assets. It knows which files are used in which documents, which fonts are used in each file, and knows what will happen to your projects if you delete a particular file from your system. Its Visual Versioning feature lets you go back and restore older versions of a file; it’s a bit like Time Machine, except that it lets you specify which file types it’ll store, how much space to devote to them, or how much time or how many versions you want to go back. It also lets you package up all the elements used in a particular project. Pricing hasn’t been announced and Flow doesn’t ship until the second quarter of this year, but as long as the prices is reasonable, it could save you all kinds of time and hassle.

Dictate, from MacSpeech: While we like to think that Macs outstrip their Windows counterparts in many ways, we have to admit that speech recognition hasn’t been one of them. For years now, if you wanted to do speech recognition, you pretty much had to use a Windows PC. Dictate ($99) could change that. It’s built from the ground up for Intel Macs, yet uses the same acclaimed recognition engine as Dragon Naturally Speaking. It’ll catalog your hard drive, so you can just say, “Open application,” and the program will open. It’ll transcribe your words in word processors, spreadsheets, e-mail, chat—pretty much any program you use.

NEC MultiSync LCD3090WQXi, from NEC: For starters, the MultiSync LCD3090WQXi ($2,200) is huge, a nice, big 30-inch display. But that’s not unique. What sets it apart is a faster pixel response time, higher contrast ratio, and wider viewing angle than the Apple 30-inch Cinema Display. It also features several built-in tools that automatically adjust backlight and individual pixels to ensure color uniformity across the screen and over time. Unlike the Apple display, the NEC can be hardware calibrated and its onscreen menus let you easily fine tune color, brightness, and black level adjustment. At this price, it’s not for everyone. But it’s hard to imagine any Mac user who wouldn’t want one.

OmniFocus, from Omni Group: Plenty of Mac programs will help you manage your to-do list (including a few that are built right into OS X), but OmniFocus ($80) is one of the nicest ones we’ve seen. Like many of these to-do apps, it’s optimized for the Getting Things Done task-management system: That means Omnifocus makes it easy to capture new to-do items anytime one occurs to you, and it lets you assign to-do items to both projects and contexts (the latter being GTD-speak for where or how you’ll accomplish the job). Omnifocus also integrates nicely with OS X: it’ll sync with iCal, you can add tasks via e-mail, and you can search your to-do list with Spotlight. You can view your upcoming tasks from multiple perspectives—by project, context, as part of a project-planning outline—yet the interface is nice and clean.

Parallels Server, from SWSoft: You’ve heard about Parallels Desktop, the software that lets you run Windows on an Intel Mac. Now the same company has a new product, Parallels Server, that does the same thing for server operating systems: Install Parallels Server on an Intel-based machine running OS X (either the client or the server version), and you can then run Windows, Linux, or Novell server operating systems on the same machine at the same time. It’ll even let you run OS X Server as a virtual machine on OS X Client. The upshot is that Parallels Server enables you to run almost any server OS from a Mac—and that’s something you can’t do today on a Windows machine.

VectorDesigner, from TweakerSoft: Tweakersoft intended VectorDesigner to be a simple, intuitive and powerful vector drawing tool. From what we’ve seen, they succeeded. Based on OS X’s Core Image technology, it has an integrated Flickr browser that lets you search for images by color, or tags, fairly complete vector controls (including tools for turning rasters into vectors) and some interesting effects. At $70, it’s an intriguing competitor to Adobe Illustrator.

Congratulations to all the winners, and thanks to the audience that gave all the winners a great reception when we unveiled their names at Moscone West this afternoon.

This article was update at 8:10 p.m. PT to include more information on the winners.

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