Tag Archives | David Bunnell

More Computer Magazine Lore: A 1983 Nastygram from Wayne Green

Consider this post a piece of bonus material for David Bunnell’s book proposal about his career in tech publishing up to the early 1990s, which I posted yesterday.

Another computer magazine tycoon, Wayne Green (1922-2013), makes several cameos in David’s manuscript. When discussing IDG’s proposal that Apple fund the creation of Macworld, Steve Jobs brings up IDG having acquired Green’s magazines and says they look like “yesterday’s leftover oatmeal.” Later in the negotiations, Jobs talks about the unnerving possibility of Macworld‘s founders dying and IDG bringing in Green to run the publication. And when David attends the Mac launch on January 24, 1984, he runs into Green, who is toting two Radio Shack Model 100 laptops.

Wayne was a fabulous character and a preternaturally gifted huckster, and I’m afraid his perfunctory Wikipedia entry doesn’t capture that at all or even just cover his long career in adequate detail. He published 73, a long-running magazine for ham radio enthusiasts, which—like his later publications—featured his endless editorials on any topic that came into his head. Along with his ex-wife Virginia, he was involved with the founding of Byte magazine, though the exact nature of his contribution became a bone of contention after the magazine was sold—by Virginia and editor Carl Helmers, not Wayne—to McGraw-Hill. His other magazines covered topics as diverse as Radio Shack’s TRS-80 computers, cold fusion, stuff to do in New Hampshire, and compact discs. He started a software company, Instant Software, and acquired a chain of software retail stores, Softwaire (sic) Centre. He boasted of having cofounded Mensa, the organization for high-IQ people. He ran as an candidate for vice president (yes, of the U.S.) in 1988, sans running mate for the top job. A gleeful conspiracy theorist, he didn’t believe NASA landed on the moon and claimed to know what really happened to Amelia Earhart. His books included a guide to healthy living that came with a money-back guarantee if you followed its advice and didn’t live to at least 100. (Wayne himself came closer than most of us, making it to 91.)

Continue Reading →


The Inside Story of PC Magazine, PC World, and Macworld’s Origins, as Told by David Bunnell

In an unpublished manuscript, the cofounder of three enduring media brands looks back.

David Bunnell in PC World‘s office in 1984

Introduction by Harry: David Bunnell (1947-2016) didn’t create the idea of computer magazines. But he may have done more than anyone to turn them into a big business. In the 1970s, when David was working at pioneering PC company MITS, he published Computer Notes—as far as I know, the first periodical about the then-new devices known as microcomputers. Post-MITS, he launched and briefly ran Personal Computing, an early generalist computer magazine. Between 1982 and 1984, he cofounded PC MagazinePC World, and Macworld—three of the most successful computer magazines of all time, all of which are still with us in digital form. He also started the once-mighty Macworld Expo conference and numerous less well-remembered ventures, such as Macintosh Today (an Apple newsweekly), Publish (a fine magazine about desktop publishing), and BioWorld (a biotech magazine distributed by fax).

Sometime in the early 1990s, David wrote a proposal for an autobiography, Flying Upside Down. He intended his book to run to 400 pages and cover a lot of ground, including his Nebraska youth, anti-Vietnam War activism, support of the Wounded Knee Occupation. and time at MITS, where he was an eyewitness to Bill Gates and Paul Allen’s founding of a company they called Micro-Soft. But a sizable chunk of the tome would have concerned his activities as a quirky, innovative, highly successful media magnate.

“On the surface, Flying Upside Down is the history of the explosive personal computer industry as seen through the eyes of someone who has been intimately involved in virtually every ‘PC’ event beginning with the birth of the machine itself in 1974,” he explained. “But Flying Upside Down is more than that. It is also the story of a rebellious, pot-smoking hippy school teacher who becomes the founder of several of the most successful magazines of all time.”

As far as I know, David couldn’t get a publisher to bite and so didn’t write a full-blown book. What follows includes most of the computer magazine-related material from his unpublished proposal, re-digitized from paper and lightly copy-edited by me, with some tangents preserved to add color. Given that David hoped to turn this story into a book, I don’t think he’d have a problem with me sharing it here. And it’s full of history available nowhere else: For instance, Personal Computing, a pretty significant publication in its day, doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry.

A few notes about what you’re about to read. First, the bulk of it is drawn from chapter outlines summarizing what David intended to cover in his book. His level of detail varied considerably, and he included some notes directly addressing prospective publishers, which I have excised. That explains the choppiness of some sections, a few instances of the chronology lurching back and forth, and spots where he doesn’t fully identify individuals. It’s also why certain events that mattered a great deal to David—such as the untimely death of PC World and Macworld founding editor Andrew Fluegelman—are addressed only briefly.

For the founding story of Macworld, however, David wrote an entire sample chapter. To prevent that portion from completely overwhelming the rest of the tale, I trimmed some sections that didn’t relate directly to the magazine launch; a fuller version of the chapter was published in the 1992 book The Macintosh Reader, which you can read online.

Secondly, this is David’s very personal take on the stories behind the media brands he helped create. I spent enough time—separately—with him and IDG chairman Pat McGovern, the owner of PC World and Macworld, to witness their brilliant, radically different brains at work. You’ll get a sense of why they made such an odd couple here, but it’s from David’s perspective. (I once asked Pat if he’d ever write a memoir, and he looked horrified by the prospect—probably because he envisioned it as something he’d do only after retiring, which he had no intention of doing.)

Since this proposal isn’t the last word on David’s life and legacies, here’s some supplemental reading—including coverage of stuff that hadn’t happened yet when he pitched his book:

“My viewpoint may be iconoclastic, self-serving, and argumentative, but it is my truth, and it comes from personal experience,” David writes at one point in his proposal. “The facts, as I choose to remember them, back me up.” I’m glad his version of all this survives—even in less than fully-fleshed-out form—and hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I did.

Flying Upside Down

A book proposal from David Bunnell

Want to start a magazine? Starting my first magazine was ridiculously easy. One evening, I was smoking marijuana and drinking tequila at my artist friend Don Nace’s house when I had the inspiration to publish the first magazine for people who wanted to use computers but didn’t particularly care how they worked or how to program them. I decided to call this magazine Personal Computing.

To start Personal Computing magazine, I simply wrote a letter to the president of a small magazine company in Boston called Benwill. I knew about Benwill because we advertised the Altair in one of its magazines.

To my total surprise, the president of Benwill, George Palken, wrote back and said he liked my idea well enough to provide the seed money I would need to get the publication launched.

George set up a bank account in Albuquerque from which I could withdraw funds. I resigned from MITS and set up an office a few blocks away from my house. I hired an editor and a secretary, and we started Personal Computing magazine. Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen wrote columns for me.

David Bunnell as ASCII art, from the pages of Personal Computing

This was 1977, and in this one amazing year, Albuquerque was, for all practical purposes, the center of the personal computer universe. MITS was still the largest provider of hardware, Microsoft was already the leading software company, and Personal Computing was the most-read magazine. We were all in Albuquerque, but that couldn’t last long, and it didn’t.

Albuquerque turned sour when Ed Roberts sold MITS to a California computer company, Pertec, which in turn got into a protracted legal battle with Microsoft over the ownership of Altair BASIC. As publisher of Personal Computing, I had become closer than ever to both Bill and Ed. It pained me to hear them bad-mouth each other. Thanks in no small part to Bill Gates’ photographic mind, Microsoft won clear rights to BASIC during an arbitration settlement. Bill had had enough of the Southwest. He prepared to move his company to Seattle, his hometown.

The hobbyists who made up the first market for personal computers were mostly misfits who had to start their own companies because there was no way they could work for anyone else. Many of them believed that computers should be made available to everyone and that software, in particular, should be free. As publisher of Personal Computing, I traveled around the industry, visited many companies, and met with most of the true industry pioneers. On one illuminating trip, I spent some time with an organization in Berkeley, California, called “The People’s Computer Company.” Here I found a hardcore bunch of computer junkies who were determined to see that the personal computer realize its potential to liberate people in a political as well as an intellectual and creative way.

The first issue of Bunnell’s Personal Computing, a glossy, generalist computer magazine by 1970s standards

During the whole time I published Personal Computing, the people at Benwill never came out to Albuquerque—I wrote checks, and they replenished the bank account. I sold the ads by calling the presidents of the various personal computer companies and George took care of distribution by calling computer stores and getting them to put copies on their shelves. From the beginning, the magazine was well-received and grew quickly. Looking back, I can see that it was inevitable, as the magazine grew successful, that Benwill would want more control over it. Soon, I was feuding with the chairman of the company, Will Buchbinder, an absent-minded professor at Boston University who ran a program whose sole purpose, in my estimation, was to train editors for his publishing company. “I run the only technical publication writing program in an American university,” he liked to claim.

The people at Benwill fought about everything. Will liked a free-wheeling, highly emotional exchange among his employees, but ultimately, he was the boss, and ultimately, he liked to feel in control. One day, we endlessly debated what kind of pizza to order for our lunch. For what seemed like hours, Will, George, Digital Design publisher Yuri Spiro, and I argued about mushrooms and green peppers and anchovies until, in a fit of exasperation, Will magnanimously declared Yuri the winner.

A year following the launch of Personal Computing, Will decided he wanted the magazine to move into company headquarters in Boston. I went back to negotiate my position, but I was convinced that if I wanted to be truly involved in personal computing, I had to live near Silicon Valley. So I held out for more money, and when Will wouldn’t give it to me, we ended up in such a terrible argument that George had a heart attack while he attempted to negotiate our dispute. In our shame, Will and I made an agreement that neither one of us intended to keep. Soon thereafter, I quit Personal Computing magazine and moved to San Francisco. I had known since high school days that someday the time would come for me to move to California to seek fame and fortune. This was it, I was certain.

Beatnik at last! Beatnik at last!

In 1978, I moved to San Francisco, where I found plenty of freelance technical writing work so that, in addition to keeping up with the personal computer revolution, I could indulge in the Bohemian lifestyle that I had long fantasized about. Two or three days a week I wrote books on personal computing or manuals for computer games. On the other days, I wandered through Golden Gate Park and hung out in Haight Street coffee houses, writing endless poetry in notebooks.

My favorite evening spot was the Stranded Whale coffee shop, where I could read my own poetry to a small but appreciative audience of fellow beatnik poets and winos. I still dreamed of becoming the next Jack Kerouac, and when I ran out of money, I would call personal computer friends until I landed a freelance assignment to write a manual or create a marketing brochure or whatever.

It was during this time that I worked with the publisher of VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet program, which was credited with bringing personal computers out of the hobbyist realm squarely into the world of business. VisiCalc on an Apple II was something accountants, entrepreneurs, and CEOs could relate to. Many of them brought their own Apple IIs to work, and thus, the legend was created that the Apple II got into the business market “through the back door.”

David Bunnell's Personal Computing book

David’s 1978 guide to PCs, which had existed for about three years at the time

I divorced my wife and left my children with her in Albuquerque. It was a time of personal turmoil for me, and for San Francisco as well. I was hanging out in a coffee shop only a short distance from City Hall on the day Dan White unloaded his revolver on Mayor George Moscone, calmly reloaded it, and walked across the hall to repeat the act on Supervisor Harvey Milk, the nation’s first openly gay elected official.

I felt very sympathetic to San Francisco’s gay community and was totally outraged when Dan White got a light sentence after claiming he ate too many Twinkies on the day of the murders and was, therefore, in a diminished state of mind—the famous “Twinkie defense.” Having been tear-gassed in demonstrations before, I donned a scarf and put on a long-sleeve coat; then I stuffed gloves, vaseline, and rocks into my pockets and headed to the Civic Center, where rioters were already burning cop cars and smashing windows.

My girlfriend and I joined in the riot. Our faces covered with scarves, we ran up and down Market Street, setting fire to trash cans and throwing rocks at the police.

My luck ran out when Warner canceled the contract my friend Jim Edlin and I had to write the book, Micro: The Next Watershed Invention. We had put everything into this project, which had grown to over 1,000 pages and was not even half completed when our editor canceled our contract. He wanted us to write less of a book about the future and more of a buyer’s guide. We weren’t interested in buyer’s guides.

Fortunately, I met Jackie Poitier, who became my new girlfriend and happened to manage the word processing pool at the California State Bar. Jim and I could always get part-time work working for Jackie, a former dance photographer who hired mostly out-of-luck writers, painters, dancers, and other artists.

I moved in with Jackie, and she helped me create a polished-looking résume, which I sent off in response to a blind want ad in the San Francisco Examiner advertising for a “microcomputer book editor.” A few evenings later, the phone rang, and it was Adam Osborne, who was famous for writing books and columns on microcomputers and founding the first microcomputer publishing company.

An Introduction to Microcomputers book

An Osborne/McGraw-Hill book coauthored by David and Adam Osborne, once one of computing’s biggest celebrities

Osborne had recently sold his company to McGraw-Hill but was still managing it on a buyout contract. He needed someone else to edit books for him because he was also starting up Osborne Computers, which would be the first company to market a portable computer.

My part-time work as a word processor paid $7 an hour, so the next day, at lunch with Adam Osborne at the Fourth Street Bar and Grill in Berkeley, I almost croaked when I asked him how much the job paid. He replied, “Forty thousand dollars to start.”

I learned a great deal about the emerging personal computer publishing market. One important lesson was that machine-specific books out-sold general books four to one. In other words, a book about programming a computer in BASIC would only sell 25% as many copies as a book about programming in BASIC on an Apple computer. This idea inspired me to start the first machine-specific magazine, PC Magazine.

Let’s get married and start PC Magazine

Jackie and I got married by a hippy preacher at her house near Golden Gate Park, witnessed by a handful of friends. Afterward, we took the wedding party to a neighborhood Chinese restaurant called Tien Fu, where we ordered Beijing Duck.

Two weeks later, I came home from work to tell Jackie that I had decided to quit my job at Osborne/McGraw-Hill to start a new magazine. IBM had just announced its entry into the personal computer world, and my idea was to start a magazine just for it. An old friend of mine who worked with me at MITS, Eddie Currie, had introduced me to his boss, Tony Gold, who was the founder of Lifeboat Associates in New York City. Tony and I had struck a deal whereby he would put up the money for the magazine, which I would publish in return for a piece of the action—he called it “sweat equity.”

PC Magazine quickly consumed our lives and the lives of our children and our friends and coworkers. We called it a whale in a bathtub. Within a few short weeks, we had six outside offices on nearby Irving Street. My office, which I called corporate headquarters, was above a sushi restaurant. Jackie quit her job at the California State Bar to become PC Magazine‘s first director of art and production. Tony thought that was truly wonderful because he assumed Jackie would work without a salary. “Tell your friends if they want to pitch in, that would be fine with me,” he said.

1985 letter from Bill Gates to David Bunnell copy

A 1985 letter from Bill Gates to David Bunnell, including a tantalizing fact not mentioned in David’s book proposal: Microsoft considered buying PC Magazine

Tony Gold was one of the smartest people I ever met, but he had a very condescending personality that alienated almost everyone who worked with him. Within four months, we had a company of 40 people, but many of them would stay home on days Tony was out from New York for a visit. He once complained about this, saying, “David, for a company the size of PC Magazine, you have an extraordinarily high rate of absenteeism.” When new venture money came into Tony’s New York-based Lifeboat Associates, Tony lost his control of the board and was asked to leave. This put even more stress on our relationship, because Tony decided he wanted to move to San Francisco and assume the role of president of our company.

The employees went nuts at the idea and started refusing to cooperate with him. This led to a walkout during one of his visits and many ugly confrontations, which evolved into meetings with Tony and his lawyer, Cheryl Woodard and her lawyer, and me and my lawyer. Realizing that my first vesting period was coming up soon (which gave me 15% of PC Magazine), Tony tried to force me out of the company. This backfired on him very badly when the entire staff threatened to resign. So he agreed to a truce, which we worked out through our lawyers. Tony agreed to help us find a publishing company to invest in us. He would sell out his share and let us continue to build up PC Magazine. And he would never again bring up the possibility of getting involved with the daily management of the company. In fact, from now on, he wouldn’t come within three miles of the office. We called this the “three-mile limit.”

Tony lost the battle, but the war wasn’t over. In order to teach me a lesson, he sold the company without telling me. He represented to the new owners that he owned 100% of the stock. My 15% of the stock that was already vested and the 30% I had options on were suddenly gone, vanished like vaporware. Luckily, I had a letter from Tony, signed by both of us, that memorialized the agreement between us. Without this letter, I would have been screwed without recourse. With the letter, I had the recourse to spend five long, hard years seeking my share of Tony’s deal through the courts.

The 1982 PC Magazine profit-sharing letter from Tony Gold to David Bunnell, as reproduced in a bad court-filing photocopy of a crummy fax document

Once the new owners came in, most of us quit. We went to Pat McGovern, the publisher of Computerworld and InfoWorld, and asked him to bankroll us to start a new magazine. He agreed to give us “the same deal” we would have gotten if he had been successful in buying PC Magazine from Tony.

Thus, PC World, which would soon be in fierce head-to-head combat with PC Magazine, was born.

The first issue of PC World carried 170 pages of advertising, and we were off to a big start. Before the year was out, we would have over 150,000 subscribers and $10 million in advertising revenue. We were on a roll, and before I knew it, I was organizing the biggest party personal computing had ever seen, launching a book division with a $600,000 advance from Simon & Schuster, hosting a television show, producing how-to videos, and organizing trade shows.

The founding PC World staff

Our company, PC World Communications, which we later shortened to PCW, was one of the fastest-growing publishing startups in history. Within five years we had $70,000,000 in revenue, 250 employees, and four magazines, plus many auxiliary products.

We had lots of fun, and we also had terrible growing pains. This, plus our relationship with McGovern, and particularly with his corporate staff in Framingham, Massachusetts, were stormy and contentious from the very beginning. It started when someone in Massachusetts corporate headquarters noticed from the phone bill that some of the calls made by PC World employees were made to a 900-number horoscope service. Before long, Massachusetts-based IDG employees were sure we were totally spaced-out California idiots who would spend up the profits of the whole company.

Who was who in the above photograph

At the end of the first year, McGovern came around to the founders of the company—Cheryl Woodard, Jackie, Andrew Fluegelman, and me—and informed us that because we didn’t meet the numbers on our business plan, we owed him $150,000, which he didn’t expect us to pay right away. Instead, he would take it out of our bonus payments in future years.

The new publisher of PC Magazine, Ziff-Davis, sued us within days of our announcement that we were going to launch a new magazine called PC World. They claimed that the new name was too close to the old name and that we shouldn’t be allowed to publish in the same market. As my lawyer told me at the time, they wanted “to kill the baby in the crib.”

We sued them back for payment for our equity in the magazine. They sued IDG and Pat McGovern, and so IDG sued Ziff-Davis, Tony Gold, and Bill Ziff. A five-year legal battle that would consume enormous chunks of our time and millions of dollars was underway.

Pat McGovern and David Bunnell

Pat McGovern and David Bunnell celebrate their publishing partnership

During my deposition, I said that on Thanksgiving Day, which came a couple of days after the Ziff takeover, Jackie and I stayed home and that she had cooked a goose. I was mistaken about this, however. The goose was cooked on Christmas. On Thanksgiving, Jackie cooked a turkey.

When Jackie was deposed, they asked her if she cooked a goose on Thanksgiving, and she said no, she cooked a turkey. The Ziff lawyer, Raoul Kennedy, who is one of the toughest son-of-a-bitch lawyers west of the Mississippi, looked at her incredulously and scolded, “Are you sure you didn’t cook a goose, Ms. Poitier? Your husband said you cooked a goose.”

How Macworld magazine made the Macintosh

I took my first Macintosh home in October 1983, nearly four months before the machine was introduced at the 1984 Apple Annual Meeting. As founder of Macworld magazine, I had a rare inside view of the Macintosh development effort. I had access to Steve Jobs and Mike Murray. I could wander down to Apple and walk right into the Macintosh building (the one under the pirate flag) and just hang out if I wanted to.

My viewpoint may be iconoclastic, self-serving, and argumentative, but it is my truth, and it comes from personal experience. The facts, as I choose to remember them, back me up. I first heard about the Macintosh from Bill Gates in December 1982, when I interviewed him for PC World magazine. He said, “Apple’s got this great new machine that is going to change everything.” Then, as now, most large companies leak from the top.

I knew something about Apple’s Lisa computer and asked Bill if that was what he was referring to. “Oh no,” he replied, “this is a low-cost machine. It is a machine anyone can afford.”

“This is the first machine, ” Gates continued, “that is so easy to use that my mother could use it.”

Gates went on to say he was selling all of his stock in various companies and buying nothing but Apple stock. He was so convinced that the Macintosh would put Apple back into the driver’s seat in the personal computer market, ahead of IBM, that he was willing to bet his personal fortune on it. I’ve often wondered how much he lost on that deal.

The most compelling feature of the Macintosh, according to Bill Gates, was that it had a “bitmapped screen.” For one thing, this meant you could easily mix graphics with text. Unlike character-based IBM PCs, you could have different fonts and type styles. Bill also told me about the Mac’s mouse and its icons.

Soon after the Gates interview, I called Apple’s VP of Communications, Fred Hoar, and told him I wanted to start a magazine called AppleWorld. Fred was very interested in this idea and invited me to a meeting in Cupertino with some “key” Apple executives, none of whom I remember.

My concept was to publish a magazine that would cover all Apple computers. After starting PC Magazine and PC World, I was painfully bored with the spreadsheet-driven IBM DOS universe. I wanted to start a radically new computer magazine with sparkle and guts—something that didn’t need to be so stuffy, so corporate. Apple users were creative and relaxed. They wore blue jeans and sneakers. IBM users wore suits with starched shirts and ties so tightly knotted that their necks bulged out.

The key to my AppleWorld scheme was to build circulation by getting mailing rights to the Apple II warranty card list. Unfortunately, Apple had just two weeks earlier given exclusive mailing rights to the Apple II warranty card list to Ziff-Davis for use in the launch of an Apple II-specific magazine called A+.


The first issue of A+, which almost foiled David’s desire to publish an Apple-centric magazine

Upon hearing about the Ziff deal, I felt pretty bummed out. “Why exclusive?” I asked.

“Well,” Fred said, “We didn’t know about your plans, and the people from Ziff insisted upon exclusivity for nine months.”

“Nine months in personal computing,” I exclaimed, “is fucking eternity.”

On that sour note, everyone in the conference room fell silent. We hung our heads, fidgeted with pens and notebooks, and tapped our feet. It was the end of a dream. Think of the computer world as a Monopoly game except that when you get adventuresome and land on the wrong square you don’t go to jail. Worse, you go back to DOS.

I can only describe what followed as a moment of divine intervention. A little voice inside my head whispered, “Take a chance, tell them you know about the Macintosh and you’d really like to publish Macworld.”

“How about we publish Macworld?” I said.

Macworld, about the Macintosh, that’s a great idea,” Fred answered.”But how did you know about the Macintosh?”

“Bill Gates told me.”

“Well, we’re glad he did.” The whole room lit up, and thus Macworld was conceived.

Bill Gates and David Bunnell at PC World's office in the 1980s

Bill Gates and David Bunnell at PC World‘s office in the 1980s

Macworld‘s gestation and birth were tortuously tricky. Events were not always in my control.

Jumbo roadblock number one was to convince Pat McGovern, the chairman of our parent company, that it was worthwhile for us to even pursue the Macintosh. My editor-in-chief, Andrew Fluegelman, and myself (I was publisher) were very “Mac” eager, but McGovern was pushing us to publish a magazine for IBM’s new home computer, PCjr.

After much bickering, he agreed we could investigate the opportunity further, but if we wanted to publish Macworld we would have to get Apple to pay for it. If Apple agreed to underwrite the startup, he would give us the OK. If not, then we would publish PCjr World instead (again, back to DOS).

To me, it seemed ridiculous that we could convince Apple to pay us to start a magazine that IDG would own. But after racking my brain during a few sleepless nights, I came up with a potential resolution. Perhaps we could get Apple to pay for trial subscriptions if we offered them to Macintosh buyers in exchange for filling out their warranty cards.

I knew from my conversation with Fred Hoar that Apple was disappointed that more Apple computer buyers didn’t send in their warranty cards. It occurred to me that if we could offer Macintosh purchasers a free trial subscription to Macworld for sending in these cards, Apple was bound to capture a much higher percentage of names and addresses of Macintosh buyers. This they would pay for.

Out of the pressure from McGovern, an idea was born that later proved to drive the success of Macworld and become the envy of many a magazine publisher, namely, the Apple-Macworld warranty card subscription program.

Jumbo roadblock number two was getting Steve Jobs to like us. Steve had to approve any magazine project about his Macintosh. Fred set up a meeting for Andrew and me with Steve and Mike Murray at the Mac building on Brandy Drive in Cupertino. For me, just seeing Steve Jobs from a distance was a big thrill, so the mere concept of actually talking to him was totally nerve-wracking. I was so excited that Andrew insisted on driving when we went down to Cupertino.

Andrew, who invented shareware, only he called it “freeware,” was an extraordinary writer and unusually gifted ex-lawyer who had worked with Stewart Brand on the Whole Earth Quarterly. He was totally cool about meeting Jobs. We drove up to the Mac building on Brandy Drive, which in earlier days had been Apple headquarters.

Once inside, the receptionist asked us to wait in a small conference room just to the side of the reception area. “You can’t go inside the main area until Steve says you’re safe,” she said.

When at last Steve arrived, I wasn’t disappointed, but I was definitely startled by his informality, his bouncy steps, and his dark, penetrating, glittering eyes. “Hi guys,” said Macintosh product manager Mike Murray, who seemed invisible next to Steve. “This is Steve Jobs. Steve, this is David and Andrew.”

David Bunnell with Steve Wozniak, Oliver Strimpel, and a Kenbak-1 computer

I don’t have any photos of David with Steve Jobs. But here he is in 1986 along with Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, Computer Museum curator Oliver Strimpel, and an extremely early personal computer, the Kenbak-1.

We chatted about computers and magazines. Steve and Mike had been looking at PC World, and Steve could see from an aesthetic point of view that it was the best-looking magazine in the computer field. Compared to Byte magazine and PC Magazine, he liked us best, or at least he said he did.

“We like you guys, too,” Steve added. “You seem to be our kind of people.”

“Yeah,” chimed in Mike, “there were some other guys in here with a whole slick presentation. They wore suits. We didn’t like them very much.”

“So I guess you pass the test,” Steve said as he jumped up from his seat. “Follow me.” He bounded off. We hastily followed. We had just met, and Steve had us under his spell. He was the alchemist, and we were being put into the soup.

Steve led us into another conference room. As we sat down, he picked up a beige oversize box-shaped case by its handle and plopped it on the table in front of us. “Here’s a Macintosh,” he said. “Why don’t you take it out of the case and see if you like it.”

Blow this, and we’re dead, I thought. I turned to Andrew and said, “You’re the editor, Andrew, why don’t you try it.”

So Andrew opened the case, and for the first time, I saw a Macintosh. With very little coaxing from Steve or Mike, Andrew was able to figure out how to plug in the keyboard and the mouse. He stuck a disk into the machine and powered it up.

At this point, Mike took over the controls for a moment to show us how to boot up the first application, which was a buggy version of MacPaint. He showed us how you could draw images on the screen and do all sorts of things to them, like rotating them, moving them, filling them in, etc. I must say that coming from the world of the famous DOS “A:” prompt, MacPaint was like dying and going to heaven.

“Holy shit,” exclaimed Andrew, “this is going to knock the world out of orbit, that’s all.”

“Wow, this is just too cool,” I added.

Convinced we had a tiger by the tail, Andrew and I charged back to San Francisco to rally our staff and to work on the agreement. We wanted Apple to grant us access to the Macintosh’s development team and loan us a few early machines. With their help, we could do something that had never been done before. We could publish the first issue of Macworld on the very day Apple introduced the Macintosh—which was targeted to be January 24, 1984.

All systems were go, except for one little snag. I hadn’t yet screwed up the courage to tell Jobs we wanted Apple to buy enough trial subscriptions at $3 each to give every Macintosh owner who bought the machine during the first year a chance to read Macworld.

Steve told us he expected Apple to sell 600,000 Macs during the first twelve months after its introduction. That meant that the deal could be worth $1.8 million.

Soon, Andrew and I were back in Cupertino, meeting again with Jobs and Murray. I told Steve what we wanted, and to put it mildly, he was momentarily speechless.

Making matters worse, Steve had just heard a rumor that Pat McGovern had paid $6 million for a group of rather schlocky-looking computer magazines published by Wayne Green in Peterborough, New Hampshire. “You mean McGovern paid $6 million for Wayne Green’s magazines, and now he wants us to pay you $1.8 million to start Macworld?” he hollered.

“He didn’t pay $6 million for Wayne Green’s magazines,” I protested. “You should ask him if you don’t believe me.”

Steve took me up on this on the spot. He picked up the phone and called Pat McGovern’s main office in Framingham, Massachusetts. As luck would have it, Chairman Pat was at his desk.

Events were getting out of hand. Staring at me, Steve spoke into the phone, “Wayne Green’s magazines look like yesterday’s leftover oatmeal, and you want me to pay you to have David and Andrew start Macworld? You must be a terrible businessman if you paid Wayne Green $6 million. You should belly up to the bar if you want to own Macworld.”

Steve Jobs was telling my boss, who he had never met, that he was a crummy businessman, and here I was wondering if I’d ever be able to publish Macworld. I felt the dream slipping away.

Kicking me under the table, Andrew smiled and winked at me. Andrew sensed something I didn’t pick up. This was just Steve’s style of negotiation. He simply humiliated his opponent before going in for the kill. Sometimes, Steve gets what he wants; sometimes, he only takes a few bites. So, if you want to play, this is just something you put up with.

I could hear McGovern’s excited voice coming through the earpiece. And though I couldn’t tell exactly what he was saying, I sensed from the tone and Steve’s subsequent statements that Pat was explaining how Wayne Green didn’t get that much money. As a matter of fact, the magazines they bought were in such bad shape they would have to invest heavily in them. Because of this, they just didn’t have the money to invest in Macworld.

IDG didn’t have any money for Macworld, but they apparently had plenty of money for 80 Micro, which was a magazine for the Radio Shack computer. I had to admit, Steve had a point.

80 Microcomputing magazine cover

Wayne Green’s 80 Microcomputing was like a PC Magazine or Macworld for Radio Shack’s TRS-80, and preceded them

Mystically, we somehow still convinced Steve that the increase in people sending in the warranty card was worth $3 per subscription. By October 1983, we had the draft of an agreement that seemed acceptable to both sides.

So we set about creating Macworld. First, we commandeered the conference room at PC World Communications; we covered the windows with butcher paper and installed a new lock on the door. This would be the Mac war room. Here, still secret prerelease Macintoshes would be reviewed and used to produce Macworld copy. Only Andrew Fluegelman, Dan Farber, and people working directly for them could enter this room.

Our magazine designer, Marjorie Spiegelman, is the daughter of a very brilliant physicist, and for some reason, she just totally understood the Macintosh. At her suggestion, we designed Macworld to be an oversized magazine that was slightly wider than standard magazines. On one hand, the design incorporated graphic elements that reflected the icons and bitmapped graphics of the Macintosh; on the other hand, we splashed color across the pages in a dramatic fashion to counterbalance the fact that the early Mac only came with a black-and-white monitor.

Almost as neatly as it came together, the Apple-Macworld agreement was falling apart. McGovern was delighted that Apple was willing to pay us $1.8 million to deliver three issues of Macworld to the first 600,000 buyers to mail in their warranty cards, but he didn’t believe they could ship 600,000 machines. “Look at the Apple II,” he said. “What makes you think Apple can ever do anything right?” McGovern’s solution was to demand that Apple agree to a guaranteed payment plan. They would pay X amount on such and such a date, regardless of how many Macintoshes they had delivered. McGovern wanted to make sure he didn’t waste any money on the Macintosh. He was pretty much convinced it would fail.

The original Macintosh warranty registration card, which doubled as an ad for Macworld

Compounding matters, an article in the San Francisco Examiner reported that we were working on a magazine called Macworld and Apple expected to sell 600,000 the first year.

Steve suspected that I had tipped the reporter about the 600,000 figure. I hadn’t, but perception is reality, and he was pissed. “If you ever want to work with us again, you need to explain to my colleagues why you preannounced the details of our plans to the stupid San Francisco Examiner,” he said.

I wrote a letter to explain and to apologize for any misunderstanding. I printed out several copies of the letter and drove down to Cupertino to hand-deliver them to Steve and Mike and to anyone on the Macintosh team who cared to listen. I didn’t know what else to do.

This led up to another meeting between Steve and Mike and Jim Riding, who I had hired recently to be the executive vice president of PC World Communications, and me. Jim, who is a sort of fussy, old-boy, Time magazine kind of guy, was so out of his element at Apple that I think they found him very charming and likable.

Jim’s style was to very nicely tell you exactly what was going on. He didn’t hide any cards under the table.

“Listen, Steve, ” Jim said, “Macworld magazine is going to help you sell more Macintoshes, so let’s work this thing out. We’re on your side. David and I want to help you. Andrew and his editors are at this very moment creating a great magazine.”

Steve’s idea for this meeting seemed to be that he would beat us up until we were so tattered and weak we couldn’t do anything. McGovern was the enemy, and we were the pawns. He would make us cower, and then he would force McGovern to be more reasonable. “What if Andrew or David dies, ” Steve said to Jim Riding. “If they die, are you going to bring Wayne Green in to run Macworld?”

Steve wanted a death clause in the Apple-Macworld contract. If Andrew or I died, he wanted the right to veto IDG’s choice of a replacement. “What if Andrew gets AIDS, ” he said. “Who knows what kind of editor would replace him.”

This was definitely the downside of Macworld, and it only grew worse as Andrew and I began to uncover the real status of the Macintosh.

The Macintosh project was in complete disarray. Due to the unavailability of 64K memory chips, and in order to meet the introduction deadline of January 24, 1984, the initial Macintosh could only have 128K of memory. Considering the demands of the operating system and the bitmapped screen, this was not nearly enough memory to make the Macintosh competitive with the IBM PC in terms of functionality.

Pointing out this obvious shortcoming, the glaring lack of a hard disk drive, the amazing amount of bugs in the operating software, plus the lack of application software, Andrew wrote an open memo to the Macintosh development team urging them to postpone the introduction until these problems were fixed. This memo was posted on bulletin boards throughout the Mac development building.

I worried that Steve would be pissed off about Andrew’s memo and kick us out of the project. But he didn’t. Surprisingly, he and the rest of the team appreciated the thought that went into it, and they expressed deep concern about the issues Andrew raised. In the end, though, they did nothing about it. They were determined to have their fun at the annual meeting, and nothing like a lame computer was going to get in their way.

Articles were written. Illustrations were commissioned. Advertising was sold. With or without the contract, Macworld was approaching the day of reckoning, which was the day we sent film to the printer.

I called Steve Jobs to ask him if he would pose for the cover of the magazine. He said he would do it only if I hired a really great photographer, and even then, he would only give us a few minutes of his precious time. So we hired Will Mosgrove and crossed our fingers.

Will was top-notch. His work had appeared in many notable publications.

Will carefully set up the shot. Three Macintoshes on a tabletop, each showing a different screen image. Steve would stand behind the table, his hands outstretched, leaning on the two outside machines. A model was hired to stand in Steve’s position until the lighting was just right.

Steve was called in only when everything was perfect. All we needed was to have Steve stand in position for five minutes, and then he could go. It was just as he requested.

Steve walked into the room. He didn’t like the images on the three Macintosh monitors.

We worked feverishly to fix them.

Meanwhile, Steve glared at the photographer and said, “Are you one of those types of photographers who takes dozens of photos and hopes one turns out OK?”

“Take a picture of this,” Steve said, holding up his middle finger. We stared at him in disbelief.

We got our Steve Jobs photograph, and it is a classic, but if I wasn’t a nimble thinker, it would never have appeared. A couple of weeks after the photo shoot Steve called me and said, “Gee, I’ve changed my mind, I don’t want to be on the cover of Macworld.”

Macworld first issue cover

This most iconic computer magazine cover of all time, right?

“Too late, Steve,” I lied, “the cover is already at the printer and we can’t change it.”

Our reality was that some pages were being shipped to the printer, yet we didn’t have a signed agreement. Macworld was in danger of being stillborn. I called McGovern and said, “Listen, Pat, you’ve got to help me. Unless you come to Apple and settle on the terms of this agreement, we are going to end up wasting all the money we invested in Macworld so far.”

I had learned that the secret to working with McGovern was to tell him how much money we would lose if we didn’t do the things I wanted him to do.

Luckily, Steve Jobs withdrew from the negotiation process. He was too busy arguing with Sculley over the introductory price of the Macintosh to be bothered with us. Steve turned his part over to Apple lawyer David Kopf. “If you can work it out with the lawyers, I’ll sign the agreement,” he said.

In the end, McGovern got his guaranteed payment schedule, only it added up to $600,000 instead of $1.8 million. Pat still figured the whole thing would flop, and at least $600,000 would pay for the initial launch. We would break even and David and Andrew would learn their lesson. We would go back to DOS and be good boys once again.

January 24, 1984, turned out to be a crisp, bright-blue Northern California day—a good day to change the world of computing forever. I grew up dreading 1984. Nineteen eighty-four was supposed to herald an era of digital oppression. Humankind forever enslaved, cruelly manipulated, and alienated by IBM personal computers.

Five thousand copies of the premiere issue of Macworld had been air-freighted to Cupertino from our printer in Minnesota. Copies of Macworld were waiting at the doors to the auditorium at DeAnza College to be passed out to the devoted, right after the introduction.

Steve didn’t want us to pass them out before because he feared people would be looking through the pages instead of paying attention to his presentation.

I felt like a proud father. Macworld was gorgeous. What a triumph! Created in the conference room that had become our secret lab, its 148 pages included reviews of MultiPlan, MacPaint, MacWrite, and the ImageWriter. We had an in-depth interview with Bill Gates in which he claimed that 128K was more than ample memory for any personal computer. There were articles about how the Macintosh was pioneered and interviews from key members of the Macintosh development team. “Hardware Wizard” Burrell Smith explained how he came from a “lowly background as a service technician” to being promoted to a very top technical position. MacPaint author Bill Atkinson said his “central job has been to make sure that the Lisa and the Macintosh are compatible,” while Steve Jobs explained that to his employees, the Macintosh “is more important than their personal lives.”

At the Mac intro, there was a sign-up table in the parking lot. I walked up to it and said, “Hi, I’m David Bunnell from Macworld.”

“We know who you are, welcome,” responded the healthy, well-groomed young woman behind the table. Apple PR flack. I bet she knows every editor by sight.

Just being at the introduction was enough to give me goosebumps. People in suits buzzed about with people in blue jeans. Officially, this was Apple’s annual stockholders’ meeting. In reality, it was high-tech evangelism. It was a revival for those hip computer freaks who had been knocked out of orbit by the IBM PC and prayed for an Apple comeback. Big Blue was identified too much with the forces of evil. Don’t trust them. They’ll network everyone and seize back the power.

Wayne Green, the balding wizard of ham radio who had unknowingly rankled Steve Jobs, was standing bowlegged with a cup of tea. He had two Radio Shack laptop computers—one slung from each shoulder. Wayne was chatting with Maggie Canon, the brilliant, vivacious editor of A+. The irony was that if it wasn’t for A+, there wouldn’t have been a Macworld. I couldn’t help but chuckle, thinking of A+ as a magazine for users of Apple’s faltering Apple II. Has-beens. I felt smug. It was definitely my turn in the sun.

“Hi, Wayne, I haven’t seen you in a long time. You still publishing that laptop magazine?” I said.

Wayne smiled at me all too knowingly and replied, “Yeah, there’s a big future in laptops.”

“How come you got two computers, Wayne?”

“Well, each of these babies holds 32K of RAM, so I carry two of them. When one runs out of memory I go to the backup.”

“Think they’ll ever have laptops with floppies?” I asked.

“Sure, laptops are really the wave of the future. I hear this machine of Steve’s is a real loser.”

“Be nice, Wayne,” I warned. “The computer world needs Apple. Otherwise, we’ll be orbiting around IBM for eternity.”

I detected a flash of anger in Wayne’s eyes. He said, “Why should I be nice? Steve Jobs has never been nice to anyone. Why should I be nice to him?”

Moving inside the theater-style auditorium, I could hear loudspeakers blaring out rock music. Years later, the lyrics “It’s so exciting” still ring in my consciousness. There were several thousand people milling about, waiting for the great event. On the stage, you could see a small table upon which an object about the size of a watermelon turned on its end was draped with a black cloth. It was the Mac—ready (my fingers were crossed) for its first public unveiling.

The music stopped. The auditorium lights were dimmed and the announcer said, “Ladies and gentlemen, the chairman of Apple Computer, Steven P. Jobs.”

Beaming, the glitter in his eyes visible throughout the hall, Steve, who always walked fast, bounded across the stage to the podium. His jet-black hair hung over his forehead. His hawklike chin thrust forward, he smiled his evil-genius smile. The crowd went wild. Computer groupies are too conservative to take off their underpants and toss them up at their idols on the stage, yet on this day, even something like that seemed totally possible. We could have been visited by creatures from another planet, and no one there would have been totally blown away.

Steve was in his bow-tie phase. He wore double-breasted suits and bow ties. This made him look like a young Howard Hughes. He strutted onto the stage a lot like a young Howard Hughes. He bounced. He nearly skipped. He acted a little crazy. This was his moment, and he had triumphed. Today, Steve could rub dirt in the faces of his enemies and they would like it.

All he had to say was, “Hello, I’m Steve Jobs,” and the crowd went bananas.

Steve didn’t waste any time. He hopped over to the object under the black cloth; with a deft movement, he unveiled it. “Ohhhhh,” they moaned. He turned the Macintosh on and a little smiley icon was projected onto a gigantic screen behind his head. The cute little computer that could mimic its master said, “Hello, I’m Macintosh.”

The Macintosh sang to us. It performed mathematical calculations with the blinding speed of a desktop Cray. It drew beautiful pictures. It communicated with a mainframe and with other Macintoshes. It bounced rays off satellites, and it sent subversive messages to the Soviet Union. At this moment, the Mac seemed capable of doing anything Steve willed it to do. At the same time it was apparently easy as pie to use and as friendly as your kindergarten teacher. It was the first teddy bear computer.

The press gobbled this all up, and for a while, it seemed that Steve and his crew had pulled it off in spite of the warning from Andrew Fluegelman. People lined up at computer stores across the nation to look at the Macintosh. The “1984” commercial was so jarring to the Super Bowl audience that it was replayed on the CBS Evening News.

Once the hoopla receded, first the computer press and then the business press began to zero in on the Macintosh’s obvious shortcomings. Underpowered and inflexible but really cute, the Macintosh was called a “yuppy machine.” People complained about the lack of software. At the Mac introduction, Mitch Kapor from Lotus, Fred Gibbons from Software Publishing, and Bill Gates from Microsoft had all stood on the stage with Steve Jobs and proclaimed they would support the Macintosh with application software. Of the three, only Gates came through.

The first issue of Macworld sold out on the newsstands, and by the fourth issue, we were profitable. Profitable, but plenty worried. After an initial surge, sales of the Macintosh were dropping. Even when the 512K “fat” Mac came out a few months later, the market was very shaky. People wanted a hard disk. They wanted slots. And they wanted solid productivity software. Despite Steve Jobs’s better judgment, customers wanted a real computer.

Macworld ad

Apple salutes Macworld in an ad from the first issue

Surveys we took at the time showed that 90% of Macintosh owners read Macworld before they bought their machine. Furthermore, the owners of the Macintosh were not new to computing. The computer for the rest of us was selling to people who already had two or three computers. Early Macintosh owners, like the owners of other computers, were early adopters. They were technologists who simply had to have latest, hippest new machine.

Macworld was able to capture a much larger percentage of Macintosh owners than we had imagined, and this helped make up for the lack of shipments. The magazine was wildly successful. The computer was not.

Because so many Macintosh owners and potential buyers read Macworld, it was a very effective way for third-party developers to sell their products. One ad virtually reached the whole market. This fact helped developers achieve enough success to keep the market going.

I have launched four more magazines since Macworld, but none of them has captured the magic that that magazine seemed to have from day one. And I’m very proud to say that much of the magic is still there in the pages of what has to be the best computer magazine of all time.

I’m satisfied, but very aware that we were lucky to have pulled it off, and lucky that Apple survived. In turn, Apple was lucky that Jobs self-destructed, so they could fix the Macintosh and make it into the machine it should have been in the first place.

I went down the San Francisco peninsula to see Steve Jobs when he was starting his NeXT Computer company. He had traded in his Mercedes for a black Porsche convertible. Along with Dan’l Lewin, Steve drove me to the Stanford campus to have lunch in the student cafeteria. Upon arriving at the campus, Steve couldn’t find a parking space. He complained about the number of parking spaces for handicapped people that always seem to be empty, but he didn’t park in one of them. I guess he’d grown up a little.

About this time, Steve was considering running for the U.S. Senate. The fact that he hadn’t bothered to vote for his entire life didn’t deter him from entertaining the fantasy that he was just so popular he could overcome anything.

During lunch, Steve told me he had sold all his Apple stock except one share so he could continue to get stockholder reports. “Apple will fail,” he said.

Steve also told me that NeXT would deliver at least 40,000 machines in the first year, because there were at least that many people who would buy any computer he made. He didn’t seem concerned that the NeXT Computer had no floppy drive or that its Unix operating system was totally incompatible with all other Unix-based computers. The black cube was totally radical, and that was enough.

I knew then for certain that Steve Jobs lives in a fantasy world. The Macintosh startup was an elaborate make-believe mind trip that by a pure miracle turned out all right. It generated a mythology that will be held up for years as an example of how to do great things.

All I can say is, God help those who follow the Macintosh way.

Andrew jumps off the bridge

Andrew Fluegelman was a tremendously talented individual who had a sense of fair play and honesty. Andrew was outraged when IDG, without telling us, gave its overseas publishing units complete rights to all the art and articles in PC World and Macworld. Without any input from us, IDG launched dozens of scruffy, cheap-looking foreign editions of PC World and Macworld, none of which lived up to our standards and none of which paid us or our contributors for the use of our content. McGovern simply brushed aside our concerns by saying, “At IDG, we are a family, and people in a family share.”

After a confrontation with McGovern produced no change, Andrew quit working full-time at PCW so he could launch his own software company, which was based around a communications program he had authored called PC Talk. This program, which allowed PC users to send files back and forth to each other over a modem, was the first “shareware” program. The whole concept of “shareware,” which Andrew called “freeware,” was invented by him because he didn’t have the time or resources to market his software in the more traditional way.

Andrew Fluegelman in his office in 1982

Andrew Fluegelman in his office in 1982

One day, Harry Miller, editor of PC World and Andrew’s close friend, came into my office, shut the door, and said, “David, Andrew’s dead. He jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.”

Andrew’s death shocked me into realizing that there were many more important things in life than building a business. It also taught me that the saying “death is always over your shoulder” is really true.

One day, I received a letter from Governor Frank Harris of Georgia inviting me to attend a technology development conference in Atlanta aimed at promoting Georgia as the next Silicon Valley. I had read about Georgia’s discriminatory sodomy laws and felt very repelled by the notion that gays and lesbians could be shut out of a lot of opportunity in high-tech. There was no way I could go to such an event.

Needing to at least vent my strong emotions about the audacity of the Georgia law, I wrote to Frank Harris and challenged him to change the sodomy law. Only then could I consider supporting his high-tech development dreams.

Upon finding out that someone in Governor Harris’s office made copies of my letter available to Georgia computer companies that happened to advertise in PC World, I decided to take the issue public by writing an open letter to the governor as my next column. I published this column, which I titled “Out of the PC Closet,” in both PC World and Macworld. The maelstrom that followed, the incredible emotions released both inside and outside of the company itself, were totally unbelievable. Newspapers in Georgia and elsewhere published articles about the controversy. Several hundred subscribers canceled their subscriptions, and for a while, we lost a few pages of advertising from Georgia-based computer companies. But we survived, and in fact got a lot of positive support as well.

Bunnell responds to a reader unhappy about his column on Georgia’s sodomy law

I seemed to be going through a stage in my life where I needed a lot of controversy to keep me interested in carrying on. Otherwise, I had plenty of money and told myself that I should spend my days playing golf, reading poetry, and smoking pot.

It is the absurdity of my life at that time that I was managing the editorial of three giant magazines, starting a fourth one, running all around the world with Pat McGovern, and feeling alienated from my family and most of my friends. I was still angry that Andrew was dead, and I felt bewildered, betrayed, and abandoned. Andrew, who I could always count on to carry his part of the bargain in first-rate fashion, had missed desktop publishing!

The absurdity of the Georgia sodomy law episode, which resulted in my receiving an award from the National Gay Task Force alongside Dr. Ruth, is symbolic of the turmoil raging throughout much of America as well as the personal computer industry, PCW Communications, and in the reality of my dysfunctional life.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer and David Bunnell at the Howard J. Brown award ceremony in 1987

PCW Communications, born in San Francisco and founded by a pot-smoking, free-spirited hippy like myself, started out being one big happy commune. People brought their dogs and their children to work. They went barefoot in the summer, and we had parties every time we could come up with an excuse for having one. People worked very hard at PCW. We really did have a sense of mission there. But we also cared for each other in a very unusual way for business. At company meetings, Jackie would tell everyone that the most important thing in the company was love, and I would remind them that the earth is only a fleck of sand on a vast beach and that we are really just insignificant parts of the whole thing. Our employees loved it, especially during the time when we were growing and making money.

Our parent company, IDG, was more of a coat-and-tie, buttoned-down, East Coast company. Some of our Massachusetts-based colleagues were jealous and mad as hell, because they thought we were getting special treatment, which in a way we were. Even though our success would drive the overall success of IDG, it was always obvious that someone at headquarters didn’t like it that we could achieve all that we achieved without changing our West Coast, hippy, new-age behavior.

As my magazines grew, I began to feel like I had a very important voice in the shape of things to come. During an emotionally charged moment at Esther Dyson’s high-level executive conference in Phoenix in 1983, I accused the leaders of the nation’s retail computer stores of being shortsighted because they wanted to control the growth of the PC industry by limiting the number of products they would sell to their customers. “You’re all a bunch of dinosaurs,” I told them in exasperation. “As time goes by, more and more products will be sold directly to PC users through mail-order advertising in PC World and other magazines.”

While this was one prediction I was very right about, I didn’t make too many friends when I said it, or when it was picked up by The Wall Street Journal. Over the next few years mail-order companies like Dell Computer made tremendous inroads into the industry while computer retailers like Businessland, ComputerLand, and others went down the tubes.

Looking back with 20-20 hindsight, it is amazing to me how fast a young industry can create dinosaurs. I have seen many colossal failures, including the above-mentioned retail chains; VisiCorp, which was once larger than Microsoft; the Lisa Computer; Lotus’s spreadsheet named Jazz for the Macintosh; and hundreds of software and hardware companies, mail-order companies, etc. In most cases, the people involved in these companies and products simply regroup and try again. To be a mover and shaker in the personal computer industry, you have to have something special in your genes. Everyone realizes that the bottom line is that “luck” has a lot to do with success in a hypergrowth industry.

Stealing Sculley’s silverware

I drove my black, five-speed Mustang convertible down to the Mission Rock Bar on San Francisco Bay, where I could get an Anchor Steam beer and a greasy burger and sit out on the back patio overlooking the water and read the newspaper. This was one of my favorite ways to spend some quiet time at lunch away from PCW.

One day in 1987, my solitude was not to be. As I walked up to the San Francisco Examiner rack outside the Mission Rock, I was shocked to see a banner headline about leaks at Apple Computer, which my new publication, Macintosh Today, had broken when one of our correspondents came in with a technical document he had found in the trash outside one of the Apple development buildings.

Instead of having lunch, I jammed a quarter in the rack, took out all the newspapers, and headed back to work. This would really put Macintosh Today on the map, but would it spoil our relationship with Apple? Would Sculley kid around with me and tell me things about his family?

I made peace with Pat McGovern, at least to the degree that I got to travel to many of the various foreign editions of PC World and Macworld so I could at least lobby my ideas, if not impose them on my hapless little publishing brothers.

My experiences helping launch magazines in the already apparently crumbling Soviet Union as well in China just before Tiananmen Square include an absurd banquet at the Hall of the People in Beijing and a press conference in Moscow where I got into some hot water by saying, “It is about time that the Soviet Union, which is the most revolutionary society in the world, started using personal computers, which are also revolutionary.”

The lawsuit over PC Magazine grew geometrically for five years before it literally came apart at the seams on the courthouse steps in a settlement that didn’t seem to make anyone happy.

Having reached an agreement in principle with Ziff chairman Bill Ziff, I felt that they had been pretty reasonable in the end, and at least we could get on with our lives.

For five years, this battle, which involved dozens of countersuits and cross-claims and which ate up millions in legal fees, had robbed us of so much of our time and energy that we could never seem to get away from our magazine lives. Jackie and I needed a break. And the money was nice. We bought a new house in the exclusive rolling hills of upper Hillsborough.

Macintosh Today was, in the end, up against too many obstacles. The publisher of InfoWorld was pissed off at me for “being disloyal to IDG.” IDG was appalled at how much it was costing, Macweek was proving to be a formidable competitor, and the advertising wasn’t developing fast enough. Late one Friday, I got a call from one of Pat’s hatchet men. The message was, “It is time to shut it down.”

For me, this was the final straw. Everyone was pointing fingers and it just wasn’t going to be fun again at PCW Communications.

From McGovern’s point of view, it was time to get me out of there, and I was willing, as long as the terms didn’t deprive me of the rewards from the buyout provision of my contract. So I left, and within a couple weeks, I was launching my own publishing company, which I named “Io Publishing” after the volatile moon of Jupiter. “Io is small,” I would tell people, “but because it is the only known moon with volcanoes in the solar system, it gets a lot of attention.”


A 1983 look at the computer magazine wars

First, an apology: I’m sorry I haven’t acknowledged the 40th anniversary of PC World. I feel slightly less guilty since—as far as I know—even PC World itself has not celebrated the 40th anniversary of PC World. Earlier this year, another magazine I used to work for, TIME, did remember to mark its 100th birthday; given that personal computers as we know them have been around for less than 50 years, PC World‘s long history and continued existence strikes me as worth celebrating,

Back when I worked there, we weren’t sure precisely when our first issue was published—oddly enough, it carried no month. We decided to celebrate our 20th anniversary in our March 2003 issue, which came out in February. That turned out to be a good call: Years later, when my friend Karen Wickre gave me a copy of the press release announcing the first issue, it was dated February 1983 and said the issue would be out that month.

The original PC World staff. Read to the bottom of this article and I promise to share a guide to who’s who, including David Bunnell and his cofounder Cheryl Woodard.

Lately, however, I have been partial to declaring that PC World was born on November 29, 1982, the day it was announced at COMDEX. For one thing,  it’s nice to narrow it down to a specific day. For another, it has the best origin story in computer magazine history: The publication’s staff consisted of nearly the entire staff of PC Magazine, who’d walked out after it was sold to Ziff-Davis. There’s no truly detailed account of how that all went down on the internet, or the years of lawsuits that followed—a sad situation I hope to rectify one of these days.

In the meantime, here’s an August 1983 article on the magazine and its rivalry with its slightly older eternal bête noire, PC Magazine. It comes from the collection of my late friend David Bunnell, who cofounded both magazines. This story was originally published in something called Bay Area Computer Classifieds, which is otherwise unknown to me. The layout looks just like an early issue of PC World, so I assume that David got permission to reprint and distribute the article, then reformatted it.

The bulk of the piece is an interview with David about the state of the computer-magazine market. It touches on the PC World origin story and says that “for the time being” there is room for both it and PC Mag. (Forty years later, on the web, there still is.)

David maintains that PC World has the larger circulation and higher revenue, and says that it plans to stay at a convenient 400 pages—since, hey, a 700 or 800-page computer magazine would be awfully inconvenient. It wasn’t just a theoretical problem: PC Mag‘s September 1983 issue, which came out around when this article was published, was so thick with ads that it did hit an unwieldy 663 pages. But Ziff apparently agreed with David, and soon switched to twice-monthly publication. For a time, that resulted in two PC Mag issues a month of approximately 400 pages each. (I haven’t heard lately of any print magazines having much difficulty accommodating all the ads they’re able to sell.)

I got to PC World well after David left, but his contention in this interview that the original staff was publishing the magazine to benefit society resonates with me. At least some of that idealism remained when I worked there. It still helps explain why I get out of bed and go to work today.

Page one of 1983 article on PC World

Page two of 1983 article on PC World

Page three of 1983 article on PC World

Page four of 1983 article on PC World

Here’s the guide to the staff photo near the top of this post. I’m happy to know (or at least have had some contact with) several of these people, and grateful to all of them for creating something that turned out to matter so much to to my life and career—even though my earliest memory of PC World is not caring in the least about its existence when my father told me about it in late 1982 or early 1983.

No comments