When the editors first sat down to plan this 20th-anniversary edition, we agreed it should not be too self-congratulatory. Anniversary or not, we felt you would still want the latest information on great technology, not chest-thumping essays on the PC's history or foggy guesses concerning its future.
So, we're celebrating with an issue that delivers the same great value you expect from PC World, though we couldn't quite resist the "20" theme of several major stories (see, for example, "20 Things You Didn't Know Your PC Could Do").
Before you get started, though, please forgive me for recounting a few of the facts about how PC World came to be.
The story begins with a boyish entrepreneur named David Bunnell, who had written manuals for the Altair 8080--the first truly personal computer--and had edited books for Adam Osborne, creator of the first "transportable" computer. "The revelation at Osborne," recalls Bunnell, "was that you could sell more books if they applied to a specific machine--not just 'How to Program in Basic,' but 'Basic for the Apple II.'" When IBM brought out its PC in 1981, Bunnell saw an opportunity for a single-machine magazine. He raised the money, hired a youthful staff, and published the first issue in 1982.Right Idea, Wrong Title
However, that magazine was not PC World. It was PC Magazine, which would later become our archcompetitor. When its print run swelled to over 150,000 by the fourth issue, Bunnell and crew realized they needed more funding. The majority owner, software executive Tony Gold, shopped the magazine to potential buyers--including two big names in publishing, Ziff-Davis and IDG. Bunnell and his crew openly preferred the latter. "Pat McGovern [IDG's founder and chairman] flew out to meet us, and we liked him," Bunnell says, whereas the Ziff-Davis people seemed to him aloof by comparison.
On Friday, November 19, 1982, McGovern and the owner both called to say the deal was done and that IDG was the buyer. But when he arrived for work the following Monday, Bunnell found two Ziff executives waiting for him. Apparently they had gone to see the owner late Friday night and had made him a better offer. "I said, 'I have to talk to my attorney,'" Bunnell recalls, "and walked out."
McGovern, an amiable bear of a man with razor-sharp competitive instincts, showed up in San Francisco the next day. "We met him at his hotel room," says Cheryl Woodard, Bunnell's business partner. "He wanted to put out a magazine called 'PC World' to compete with PC Magazine. We drew up a contract, created a budget, and wrote the business plan over the next few days."
The following Monday, Bunnell, Woodard, McGovern, and a handful of others were prowling the vast Comdex trade show in Las Vegas wearing homemade "PC World" buttons and passing out business cards fresh from the printer. "We came back with orders for over 100 pages of advertising, so it was a good start," Bunnell says.
They were soon joined by all but 4 of the original 52 PC Magazine staffers. Bunnell moved this crew into a former soap factory, where they worked out of two giant rendering vats that had been turned into offices, rushing to publish an issue before Ziff-Davis could obtain a court injunction to forbid its appearance.
That 324-page inaugural issue, with its odd green logo and cover story written by Karl Koessel (still one of our senior technical editors), has many features that seem quaint today--such as a list of modem-based PC bulletin boards that could accommodate only one user at a time. But it set the tone for all the issues that followed.
Under the leadership of editor Andrew Fluegelman, PC World went beyond simple technology to cover how people were using PCs for everything from financial management to games. It battled for less repressive software copy protection, among other causes. And it launched a companion publication, Macworld, to bring the same uncompromising journalism to the realm of Apple machines.The Early Years
Those first issues included a few elements that didn't quite hit the mark--like the cover showing a fellow sipping a drink while working on a huge portable computer by a swimming pool. Or the time we sent an editor to the tropics to learn if his laptop could survive in the jungle.
And as time went by, the magazine weathered many storms. It survived the tech collapse of 1985, which drove a number of PC companies out of business. It endured the tragic loss of Fluegelman, who apparently took his own life by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. And it grew up along with its readers: "They were buying computers based on business decisions, not their love of PCs," remembers Richard Landry, editor in chief from 1987 to 1991. So the magazine concentrated on serving tech-savvy business people, a focus that survives today.
In 1991, then-CEO Pat Kenealy (now CEO of parent company IDG) and editor in chief Philip Lemmons set out to close the gap between PC World and its old rival PC Magazine. "The research showed that readers wanted hands-on reviews, and lots of them," Lemmons says. So the team created the PC World Test Center and used it to produce monthly rankings of the most important products--launching the forerunner of today's Top 100.
It also introduced the ongoing Reliability and Service reader survey.Fast Forward
Today, PC World reaches more U.S. readers than any other technology magazine, according to syndicated studies. We've also won more awards since the mid-1990s than all our competitors combined. And PC World appears in more than 60 versions that span the world from Germany to Kenya to China to Iran.
Still, the magazine is evolving. With the help of editor Harry McCracken, creative director Robert Kanes, and a supremely talented staff, PC World now devotes much more coverage to Web sites, wireless, and networks. We have reshaped the Top 100 to add cameras and optical drives, among many other products. We beefed up PCWorld.com so that you can easily compare prices on everything we cover. And we continue to tackle controversial issues, ranging from Internet privacy and security (see our regular Privacy Watch column) to hard-hitting investigative stories like February's "Camera Confidential," which exposed the dubious practices of some online retailers.
However much PC World changes, though, I doubt that it will stray far from its founders' vision. "The PC was a great equalizer, just like the pistol in the Old West," observes Bunnell. True to its subject, this magazine was born in a spirit of rebellion--and it will continue to cover disruptive new technologies, those that reshape our professional and private lives, for many anniversaries to come.
is editorial director of
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