When a magazine called PC World hit newsstands a quarter century ago, the odds weren't exactly stacked in its favor. The mortality rate for new magazines has always been extremely high. And in the technology realm, even the most successful of brands rarely have infinite shelf lives. Early issues of PCW featured products such as VisiCalc, WordStar, and the Hayes Smartmodem--all dominant in that era, all long dead.
PC World, however, didn't just survive, it thrived--and continues to do so. Much of what has made us successful is visible in those early issues, including an unblinking willingness to serve readers with honest reviews and reporting even when doing so tended to tick off the industry we covered.
But if there's been a secret to our success it's that we--like the technology we cover--have never stopped evolving. A publication founded to help people use a desktop box that was bought almost exclusively by businesses now covers an array of products and services for work, home, and everywhere in between. And while plenty of readers still look forward to receiving PCW in dead-tree form, today PCWorld.com serves even more people.
We tried to keep the self-congratulatory stuff in this special issue to a minimum. But would you mind if I took a couple of pages to look back at some of the moments that made us...well, us?
January 1982: San Francisco entrepreneur David Bunnell starts a magazine to cover the new computer known as the IBM PC. That publication is an instant hit...but it's not PC World. Bunnell's brainchild is PC Magazine, and multiple publishers soon angle to buy it.
One bidder is Patrick McGovern, founder of Computerworld and other major tech publications. But after agreeing to sell to McGovern, investor Tony Gold, who owns a majority stake in the fledgling magazine, instead arranges a sale to New York publisher Ziff-Davis, the company that continues to publish PC Magazine to this day.
Unfazed, McGovern contacts Bunnell and his business partner, Cheryl Woodard. Are they interested in starting a rival publication? They are--and all but four of PC Magazine's 52 staffers join them (see the photo at left). PC World is formally announced on November 29, 1982, at the Comdex trade show; the first issue appears in early 1983, the fattest debut in magazine history up to that time. Our first editor is Andrew Fluegelman, whose popular PC-Talk program had recently introduced the shareware concept (see this month's Full Disclosure column, "25 Years Ago: Free, Easy, Software Begins").
September 1983: We publish our first World Class Awards, a roundup of the year's top products. The judging system and the name changed over time--we now call the winners the 100 Best Products of the Year--but the tradition continues. (Check out the most recent version of this perennial favorite, "The 100 Best Products of 2007.")
November 1983: PC-Welt, our German edition, debuts. It's the first of dozens of international versions, making the "World" in "PC World" most fitting.
February 1984: We launch a section called PCjr World, devoted to IBM's new home PC and declare that we expect the Jr. to revolutionize the way we learn and live," and that PCjr World will soon morph into a stand-alone magazine. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
June 1987: We introduce Consumer Watch, a section dedicated to helping readers avoid shopping and customer-service pitfalls. It's still with us (see this month's article, "The Top 10 Most Annoying, Frustrating, Irritating, and Sinister Online Ads") and still a PCW flagship.
July 1987: For reasons lost to time, we decide to publish our first centerfold. It's of glamour boy Bill Gates--fully clothed, thank heavens.
May 1988: Steve Bass, president of a user group in Southern California, contributes a guest column bemoaning the state of IBM's service. Today, he's still writing up a storm for us--in Steve Bass's Hassle-Free PC (see this month's article "Five Smart Fixes for Dumb PC Annoyances") and in his Tips and Tweaks blog and newsletter.