What’s the most-loved computer magazine of all time? There’s really only one contender: BYTE, which was founded in 1975 and ceased print publication a dozen years ago. If you worked in computer magazines, as I did, you got used to old-timers comparing your publication unfavorably to BYTE. (And actually, come to think of it, BYTE aficonados also liked to compare the current BYTE unfavorably to BYTE as it was in its golden age–which lasted roughly from its inception until the magazine stopped running a cover painting by Robert Tinney on every issue circa 1987. It remained a very solid publication until the end, though.)
BYTE was one of the first major computer magazines (it was preceded by the similarly influential Creative Computing); it was the first massively successful one; it spawned BIX, an online service which I still miss. Most important, it was just plain good–well-written, well-edited, and as sophisticated and technical as the people who read it. (I learned a lot from Phil Lemmons, a BYTE editor who later became my boss at PC World.) Its review of the original Mac is a nice example of what made BYTE, well, BYTE.
It died shortly after tech publisher CMP acquired it and the rest of McGraw-Hill’s tech division in 1998. Given the resonance of the BYTE name, shutting it down seemed like an odd, ill-advised move at the time, even though the magazine, once morbidly obese with advertising, was no longer a cash cow. CMP did keep the Web site alive for years, in increasingly unambitious form, but even that bit the dust a few years ago.
But now United Business Media–the current owner of what was once CMP–is brining BYTE back. BYTE.com is relaunching in the second quarter of next year, and my friend Gina Smith will be the editor.
Back in BYTE’s glory days, it was highly technical and dedicated to in-depth coverage of every significant computing platform, even as IBM PC clones came to dominate. The new BYTE doesn’t sound like it’ll pick up precisely where the old one left off, but it does sound like it’ll have a useful mission.
Here’s part of the press release, with a quote from another friend, Fritz Nelson:
Byte, which originally started in 1975, will serve as the professional’s guide to consumer technology, providing news, analysis, reviews, and insight across the media gamut – from slide shows and video, to written columns and news commentary. The site will launch in Q2 2011 as part of UBM TechWeb’s growing digital portfolio.
“IT is faced with new, pervasive user expectations – that all technology should work like the technology end users have at home, and that they can actually bring that technology into the work place,” said InformationWeek editorial director Fritz Nelson. “This includes smart phones, tablets, social networks, and a host of gadgets and productivity software. IT needs to both manage and exploit the business value of these technologies.”
That does reflect at least a slice of the old BYTE. If it had never stopped publishing, I’d sure be curious to hear what it had to say about the iPhone, tablets, Facebook, and other stuff which didn’t exist in BYTE’s heyday.
I suspect some old-time BYTE fans won’t be thrilled by any incarnation of the brand that doesn’t have a hardcore technical focus, Tinney art, a column by Jerry Pournelle, and other signature features from the first time around. That’s okay: If they grumble that the new BYTE isn’t as good as the old BYTE, they’ll just be giving it the same treatment that a multitude of other tech-media brands have gotten. Me, I’m glad it’s coming back–I mean, BYTE.com is one of the best domain names on the planet, and there should be something worthwhile there…