PC WEEK/eWEEK: Chronicler of the PC Revolution for 25 years

By John Pallatto  |  Posted 2009-02-27

PC WEEK/eWEEK: Chronicler of the PC Revolution for 25 years

Working as a member of the editorial team that launched eWEEK in early 1984 was a heady and sometimes chaotic time.

Not only were we dealing with the confusion and uncertainty that usually accompanies the launch of a brand-new publication, but we were all learning about enterprise desktop computing as we went along.

When Ziff- Davis Publishing officially launched PC WEEK on Feb. 28, 1984, nobody knew whether the market would have any interest in a weekly newspaper on enterprise desktop computing. Many in the publishing industry were skeptical.

Some of the early staff had experience working with IBM PCs, or everything from Apple IIs to Tandy TRS 80s and Osborne portables. But we were still in the early stages of learning how PCs work in a business environment. We had to prove to many derisive IT managers that businesspeople could use PCs effectively and efficiently in the office. 

In those days, corporate IT meant mainframes, minicomputers and "dumb terminals." Most IT managers told us that PCs were toys that their kids played with and had no place in a major enterprise. But microcomputers and PC software evolved explosively.

Within two years a lot of opinions had changed and those same IT managers were facing irresistible demands from businesspeople to acquire ever more PCs with word processing, spreadsheet and database software. Soon those PC users would be clamoring for access to corporate data stored away on mainframes and minicomputers.

In the meantime, PC WEEK reporters, editors and product reviewers were having a lot of fun playing with some of the hottest new PCs on the market. My first assignment as a PC WEEK feature writer in March 1984 was to produce a buyers' guide on the full array of available DOS-compatible PCs. I frankly felt totally overwhelmed when I realized how many different machines, models and options there were on the market. Our first PC buyers' guide included more than 40 different models that were PC-DOS- or MS-DOS-compatible. A few even let you switch between DOS and the earlier CP/M operating system.

Later we got our hands on the first of the original Compaq and IBM "portables," which were truly more luggable than portable, built as they were in heavy, boxy cases with tiny amber and green CRT screens.

But the first primitive LCD-screen laptop portables that debuted in 1984 and 1985 rapidly evolved into the reliable machines that were a must-have for business road warriors everywhere.

Practicing What We Preached

By the end of 1984, the PC WEEK features department had access to the first 3Com LAN installed outside the lab for daily business purposes. We were able to send e-mail and story files to each other. We burned a lot of time sending humorous e-mails to each other. In those days, that was the closest thing we had to blogs. And wonder of wonders, we eventually got access to a networked dot-matrix printer.

But the most exciting thing about working at PC WEEK was the way we were embraced by our audience, the people who were building, buying and using the PC hardware. We told readers about the latest PC hardware and software. And they couldn't wait to tell us about their experiences, good and bad, as they worked with the products.

The early days at PC WEEK were laid-back. In the spring of 1984 there was time for staff Frisbee competitions in the office parking lot in Needham Heights, Mass. There was also time for frequent late-afternoon beer calls. But as the publication started to take off, the Frisbee games ended and pressing deadlines meant the writers had to forget the cocktail hour to get their copy in on time.

Then the cocktail hour gave way to Thursday-night deadline beer and pizza bashes as the writers and copy desk worked to get PC WEEK safely into the printer's hands. But later this was modified to just Thursday-night pizza when we realized that the beer was getting in the way of putting the book to bed on time.

By the fall of 1984 it was clear that we were a hit. Advertising sales had gone through the roof and our page counts kept expanding. More advertising meant more editorial, and we had to add more writers, editors, reviewers and freelancers to keep up with the growth.

Anybody who had anything to do with buying PC products in a corporate environment wanted one of those free PC WEEK subscriptions. But you couldn't buy PC WEEK on newsstands. You had to "qualify" for a free subscription. In the 1980s there was always a long waiting list for subscribers.

By early 1985 we were a publishing phenomenon. Hardware manufacturers, software developers and the producers of all manner of PC peripherals and add-on devices vied for our attention. Because in those days a few column inches of editorial in PC WEEK could lend the momentum a product needed to become a hit in the business market.

By 1985 it was clear we weren't just covering technology or even an industry. We were covering a social phenomenon. The most sought-after status symbol on Wall Street in 1985 was not a new BMW. It was the key to unlock the power switch on an IBM PC AT with its second-generation Intel 80286 processor and maximum memory of a whopping 16MB. That key was one of the best marketing gimmicks IBM ever came up with. It suggested the owner was a number-cruncher par excellence and on the fast track up the corporate ladder.

It was clear that the PC was not a fad that would quickly fade from the news. PCs were tools that would allow people to forever find new ways to do business faster and more efficiently. Wave after successive wave of new technologies kept the PC revolution going through the 1980s to the 1990s and the early days of the World Wide Web.

The concept of personal computing continues to the present day with the idea that the Internet is our worldwide oyster and any conceivable information or service is just a mouse click away as long as we have a desktop, laptop, netbook or smartphone at our fingertips.

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