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40 Years of PCMag: An Illustrated Guide (pcmag.com)
123 points by susam on Dec 22, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 27 comments

Quite a few of us got our start by writing for PC Mag. Don Box offered me a job at DevelopMentor on the basis of having read an article I wrote on ATL in PC Mag on the flight up to Microsoft to attend the COR design review in 1997 (the tech that the COM team was building that would pivot to became .NET years later). I wound up owning COM at Microsoft over a decade later.

There was a wonderful community of people who made PC Magazine happen. It was fun to see their names in the credits to some of those issues. I even got a chance to meet them in person one time I was in NYC on business, sadly after they moved out of their iconic 1 Park Avenue offices.

In the early days of the PC revolution one of the best things about PC Mag was it was absolutely gigantic and most of it was advertising- there was still great content, but much of the value was in reading the ads.

Ads were the best because they were the only way to hear about certain products.

Computer Shopper holds a special place my heart.

I remember when in the Bay Area there were hundreds on independent computer shops. Now there is hardly any left.

Not so much hardly as basically none other than Central.

I think it peaked at over 1100 pages around 1992ish.

The ads and content were both good, and so were the free PC utilities in it.

Wow you were not kidding!

> PC goes bi-weekly. Issues are, on average, 400 pages.

This happened partly because the number of companies making personal computers and basic office software for end users was radically greater than the number that we have today. One PC Magazine cover boasted "PC Labs Tests 55 Word Processors"; another advertised tests of 43 database packages [1].

And no one here who lived through the era – before the mid-1990 – will fail to remember that the number of firms competing to sell personal computers was far greater back then. It seems that we have a lot more concentration of firms in these areas today.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26693006

Another way of looking at it is that the advertising followed eyeballs from print magazines to Google and App Stores. I’m betting if you compare websites like g2 or Capterra to the old magazine ads, you’d find much more choice and selection online. For physical computing goods, even Amazon is basically stuffed full of ads these days.

But yes, I do miss reading magazines for the ads ;-)

Heard a lot of startups and smaller companies first got their employees often from PC Mag ads. Is this true?

I had a shareware software business for a number of years that was originally built on various iterations of PC Mag DOS file managers. [1] The assembly language listings for many years were great.

[1] http://bitmasons.com.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/bitm...

I have great memories of my childhood spending hours reading through Computer Shopper Magazine. So many crazy looking laptops with expandable bays, trackballs, and other oddities to set each one apart. Then the catalog slowly started to shrink each month like a dying plant until it disappeared from the shelves.

PC Magazine was well-written, nicely designed, run by people who understood tech, and managed to include everything from long assembly language listings to business software reviews to a genuinely funny humor column. I was happy to pay for a subscription. It was an essential component of my education, because I was self-taught in both programming and business. I’ll be forever grateful to those who contributed to the printed incarnation.

PC Magazine is in Google books so you can browse those to your hearts content.

Fun to read the old reviews and columns from time to time, as well as look at the old ads


I knew and have an enduring fondness for PCMag founder David Bunnell, who also started PC World and MacWorld and ran/edited for many years Upside Magazine, the first mass audience publication at the intersection of business and tech. He was from New Mexico and got his start in the industry as a marketing person at MITS, maker of the Altair, where he met Bill Gates and Paul Allen (they worked at MITS before starting Microsoft in Albuquerque). He stayed in touch with Gates for years including at Upside. I have a vague memory Gates invested in one or more of his publications. Or maybe he was just an advertiser. In the end those are pretty similar roles.

I’m not sure my point here but I do think this gives reason to pause before you dismiss a marketing “droid” or whatever in the industry. The actual engineering of personal computing has always been intertwined with communicating about it to people.

My PC-porn mag of choice was PCW (or "Personal Computer World" if you prefer). I used to hang around the computer-room at school in the eighties waiting for break time when the CS ("Computer Studies" not Computer Science :) teacher delivered it.

I now have PDF's of a lot of those issues, and I even found them useful. I'm having some fun writing a toy compiler for the 6502, and the "Subset" pages have turned out to be a treasure-trove of 6502 assembly language :)

PCMag, Maximum PC, CPU, these were some of the smut mags I remember flipping through with hardware lust as a young enthusiast.

Before high speed internet access took over it was definitely the best way to get high resolution photos of the hardware you’d never touch. Not to mention the exciting world of case/pc modding usually in a few pages at the back.

Dell always had an ad on the back cover. The first thing I did with every edition was flip it over to see the price and specs of their latest system. Those were the days when CPU speeds really were doubling at a regular clip. It was an exciting time to be into PCs.

The article admits it first mentioned Linux in the magazine by 1996 - clearly they weren't interested too much in software innovation being so late to the party. While I did often browse through copies of PC Magazine in the early '90s it was mainly to gauge where the hardware market was at - as far as being interesting to nerdy types like myself I think Byte and Dr Dobbs were much more interesting.

I subscribed to all 3.

It was a pretty siloed world back then. Even if you were a power user and/or hobbyist PC user who was part of the BBS scene etc., you probably didn't interact a whole lot with either Unix or nascent open source communities. And, as a product manager of Unix systems in the late 90s, I know I was only vaguely aware of Linux.

PC Mag was definitely the lead magazine of the PC community from mainstream corporate users to assembly language programmers. (There was also PC Tech Journal, I think, which more consistently got into the tech weeds.)

Dr. Dobbs and Byte were always more eclectic--to the point they could be hit and miss--but were certainly more likely to get into more obscure technical topics.

There seems to have been a brief surge of interest in Unix-style systems when the 286 (and maybe 386) first came to market, since there was enough hardware to do a full-fat protected-mode OS now. The first exposure I had to Unix concepts was some old (already at the time, this was probably like 1993 or so) library book discussing "things to do with your shiny new IBM AT."

I suspect Unix on Early PCs fell to business concerns. If you bought an AT (or 286/386 in general) it was going to come with DOS, because anything Unix flavoured was an expensive aftermarket add-on.

Would it have been different if the AT&T/BSD legal hassles had finished earlier? Imagine if there was a "286BSD" available at basically the same time as the AT; IBM would have an affordable OS that made a good demo for the kit they were selling, and being able to offer it for essentially the cost of the floppies might have made it the obvious "grown up" alternative to DOS. There would have been less need for the grand OS/2 effort, and probably far less effort devoted to DOS extensions.

One of the alternate histories of the modern computer era is one in which AT&T made peace with BSD. There were of course also many minicomputer OSs that were no longer of significant commercial interest by, say, the mid-80s that could have been interesting as open source options. Something like Linux was probably inevitable but Linux itself was probably not.

In college I read PCMag and Byte voraciously, and all that knowledge helped me land a really good summer co-op job using C and Fortran and Bash to program utilities for scientists at a seismology/oceanography lab. Meanwhile, fellow students ended up with boring IT jobs doing inventory or working as Tape Ape.

So thanks, PCMag!

1988 pic: "... for 1.200/2.400-bps service at $12.50 per hour ..."

What about those ads in the back of Fry's and Incredible Universe weeklies? $0 for 50 CD-RWs with mail-in rebate. Did that shit the second I got home.

I wonder what happened tonPC Format. It was such a great magazine. All editions have been scaned and uploaded to archive.org

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