Tag Archives | PC World

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.

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What if There is No Tablet Market?

Last month, a PCWorld contributor named Katherine Noyes wrote a blog post whose very title invited incredulous mockery: “Why Tablets Are Just a Fad.” One hundred percent of the responses I saw said that she was wrong, wrong, wrong (some politely, some less so).

I thought her take was epically myopic myself. Still do. But right now, if you want to make the case that tablets aren’t a fad, there’s one major piece of evidence in your favor: the iPad is a monstrous hit. Beyond that? I’m not sure if there’s a single data point yet that proves that tablets are a robust product category that’s here for the long haul.

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Is There Any Chance at All That Tablets Are a Fad?

I’m not sure whether tablets are going to become the dominant form of computing device over the next few years, or just a very successful one that peacefully coexists alongside phones, traditional PCs, TV, and other gizmos. But I can’t see a scenario in which the iPad and its rivals (once good ones arrive in force) are simply irrelevant.

Others, however, aren’t so sure that these newfangled gadgets are here for the long haul. In “Why Tablets Are Just a Fad” (a story that’s been widely, um, commented on), PCWorld’s Katherine Noyes says she doesn’t like ’em–especially the iPad–and believes that everyone else will come around to her way of thinking:

It’s no secret that I am not an Apple fan, as its devices are so closed and restrictive. For that reason, I’d be far more inclined to look at Android tablets such as the Motorola Xoom–which, I should add, could certainly be useful in niche applications such as health care and inventory control.

For my purposes, though, I just can’t be bothered. I see no reason to own a tablet, and fully expect them to fade out of the mainstream over the next few years.

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PCWorld Yanks iPhone 4 From Top Spot in Smartphone Chart

At Apple’s iPhone 4 press conference on Friday morning, Steve Jobs included PCWorld’s ranking of the handset as the top smartphone in his list of iPhone 4 achievements. But Jobs’ presentation and the measures Apple is taking to respond to the antenna controversy didn’t leave my former coworkers at PCW confident that its original recommendation had been validated.

Actually, they found the latest developments so lackluster that they bumped the iPhone 4 off the chart entirely. Its rating is now “pending,” and HTC’s EVO 4G is the #1 phone. (The iPhone 3GS remains on the chart, in the #8 slot.)

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Me on PC World's Podcast

Yesterday afternoon, I returned to the scene of my many crimes at PC World to make a guest appearance on the PC World Podcast. PCW’s Robert Strohmeyer and Jason Cross, my pal David Spark, and I gabbed about the news of the week, including the Facebook privacy kerfuffle, the Google-Verizon tablet, Sprint’s EVO 4G phone, and more.  Have a listen here.

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My Declaration of Independence

Introducing Technologizer: A Smarter Take on Tech.

My name is Harry McCracken. I’m the founder of Technologizer. We haven’t officially launched yet, but I’m glad you found us.

Technologizer will cover the fun, fascinating, and sometimes frustrating world of personal technology–from the Web to digital entertainment to both PCs and Macs. My goal is to create a site that’s always forthright, always opinionated, and always entertaining. Whenever possible, we’ll put products through their paces in hands-on tests before we write about them. And I want all the folks who visit the site to have the opportunity to share their opinions and expertise, too.

I feel like my whole life has led to this project. I’ve been an avid user of personal computers and related stuff for almost as long as there have been “personal computers.” For almost fourteen years, I was a journalist at PC World, the planet’s largest computing magazine and one of its biggest tech sites. I worked with amazing colleagues, helped PCW win a bunch of awards, and ended up as editor in chief. And in general, I had a ball. But in May, 2008 I resigned to try my hand at building something from scratch. Technologizer will be that something.

Technologizer will be an independent site, owned and operated by me. (If you don’t like it, you’ll know who to blame.) But I’m extremely pleased to say that I’m starting it in partnership with the smart people at Federated Media. FM will be handling ad sales for the site and providing other forms of help on the business side–just as they do for a bunch of the biggest blogs on the Web, including several of my favorites.

The site will launch…well, I’m saying later this summer, but it won’t be very long. And I may blog a bit on this preview site a bit before the full-blown Technologizer site goes live.

Meanwhile, here’s some shameless self promotion for me. And if you want to reach me for some reason, you can do so here.

See you soon!

(Photo credit: Marie Domingo)