SSD secrets, Windows 8 unveiled, Mac malware: my top 10 for 2011

Which posts were most popular among this site's visitors in 2011? Well, you care a lot about speeding up Windows 7, you're curious about Windows 8, and you know that security issues affect Macs and PCs. Here's my year-end review.

No, the PC is not dead, and there's plenty of life left in Windows. Those are the unmistakable conclusions I draw when I look at the topics that my readers zeroed in on this year.

A record number of visitors stopped by this site in 2011. (Thanks to all of you for that support!) With the help of Google Analytics, I went back through all the posts I published during the year to see which ones had the highest readership. It’s a fascinating and ultimately useful exercise, one that helps me get a better handle on what you care about most.

The Year in Review, the Year Ahead

Before I get to the actual Top 10 list, I'll mention a few popular pages that I excluded from the list. Two posts I wrote at the end of 2009 were still among the best-read in 2011:

They qualify as genuine evergreens, but they make this list only with an asterisk.

My best-read article of the year wasn't a blog post at all. So I'll cheat just a little and put it at the beginning of the list without making it part of the top 10...

Ten tricks every Windows 7 power user should know

I scoured my archive of tips, shortcuts, and secrets to find the hidden gems even some Windows experts don't know about. These aren't esoteric tweaks - they're honest-to-goodness productivity boosters that will save you time and keystrokes. In this case, the gallery format was the best way to illustrate some of my absolute favorite expert tips and tricks for Windows.

And with that exception out of the way...

#1: Windows 7 and SSDs: Setup secrets and tune-up tweaks

This post on how to get the best results out of upgrading your system with a solid-state drive (SSD) is the hands-down winner among every post I published in 2011. That shouldn’t be surprising. Switching to an SSD is the single most effective upgrade you can make these days, and the cost of SSDs has dropped substantially over the course of the year.

The other two installments in my three-part series on Windows 7 and SSDs were pretty popular, too:

#2: Stay safe online: 5 secrets every PC (and Mac) owner should know

When I talk to computer users, I hear a depressing amount of mythology and misinformation about computer security. Part of that is the fault of the security software industry, which does its best to scare the crap out of you so that you’ll buy their wares. The reality, as I documented in several posts over the course of the year, is that most malware makes it onto PCs and Macs via social engineering. Making smart decisions is much more important than choosing an antivirus program.

#3: Should you install Windows 7 Service Pack 1?

Microsoft released its long-awaited first service pack for Windows 7 back in May. As with most such big updates, there were a few initial glitches, all of which were fixed in short order. (For a follow-up, see Patch Tuesday updates fix a trio of Windows 7 SP1 glitches.) The short answer today: Yes, you absolutely should install SP1.

#4: Windows 8 unveiled

After providing a few teasing glimpses of Windows 8, Microsoft finally gave the new OS an official public debut. If you’re curious about what’s in store for Windows users next year, this is a good overview.

#5: Trojans, viruses, worms: How does malware get on PCs and Macs?

When Mac Defender and its variants hit the Mac community this spring, one of the most common refrains I heard was that the attacks on Apple didn’t really count, because they were Trojans and required the user to participate in the installation process. The reality, as I explain in this post, is that the same is true for Windows PCs. PCs and Macs are both reasonably safe, as long as you stay up to date and avoid falling for scams and social engineering. This post is still well worth reading and sharing.

#6: Apple vs. Microsoft: Which user interface do you prefer?

OS X apps are intuitive, Windows apps are clunky. Right? Wrong. In this post, I took a detailed look at the user interface design decisions made by Microsoft and Apple for their two flagship consumer photo-editing programs. I report, you decide.

#7: Apple to support reps: "Do not attempt to remove malware"

In 2011, Mac users got their first taste of what PC users have been dealing with for the past decade, when an Eastern European gang targeted Mac users with a sustained and successful malware campaign. What was most interesting about the story was not the malware itself but Apple’s panic-stricken, customer-hostile response. Even the most partisan among the Mac faithful were disappointed by Apple’s cover-up attempt. A close second was this exclusive interview at the height of the attack: An AppleCare support rep talks: Mac malware is "getting worse"

#8: The one security tool every Windows user should know about

I was surprised by the popularity of this post, which looks at a frankly geeky Microsoft utility called the Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit, also known as EMET. If you use Windows XP, you’ll want to check it out. For more recent versions, it's still worth a look, especially in corporate environments where targeted attacks are a possibility.

#9: Why Internet Explorer will survive and Firefox won't

2011 marked an unfortunate turning point for Firefox, which had enjoyed a sustained run as the safer, faster alternative to Internet Explorer. Google’s phenomenal success with its Chrome browser took a big chunk out of both Microsoft and Mozilla. In this post, I make the case that Firefox might slide into irrelevance in a world where browsers are tightly wedded to platforms. See if you agree.

#10: IE9 versus Chrome: which one blocks malware better?

Internet Explorer 9 is a potential game-changer for Microsoft, which has put an enormous effort into making its next-generation browser both standards-compliant and secure. This in-depth look at IE9’s security underpinnings is one of three IE9 posts I wrote in 2011 that wound up in a virtual dead heat. The others:

Thanks again for all the support in 2011. I appreciate your feedback and suggestions.