When PC Week was launched in February 1984, pretty much everyone with an opinion agreed it was a bold move. Many of those same people added the word "foolhardy" to their analysis. Creating a magazine that was aimed at business readers, and yet focused on a single hardware platform-IBM PC-compatible computers-was a radical idea.
But it wasn't a huge surprise.
A sample version of PC Week-the newspaper that would eventually become the eWEEK magazine and online ecosystem we know today-first saw the light of day at the Comdex trade show in November 1983. At the time, Comdex was the largest trade show in a new industry devoted to small computers. The IBM PC was also new, and it was a growing area of interest for business users.
"The PC was the hottest thing out there," said John Dodge, PC Week's first news editor. "It was being adopted by corporations. It was being adopted by departments that found the spreadsheet revolutionary. Companies were buying IBM. It was pretty revolutionary."
Unless you look at the state of the industry at the time, it's hard to put into context just how radical the IBM PC was.
The Apple Macintosh had been introduced a few weeks earlier in a now-famous Super Bowl commercial. Microsoft was an important company, but its MS-DOS operating system was still competing with CP/M-86 from Digital Research. Windows didn't exist. Computers built to the IBM standard were just starting to emerge from AT&T, Tandy and Zenith. Digital Equipment Corp. was building a sort-of-compatible computer called the Rainbow. Zenith was selling its non-IBM PC-compatible Z-100, which was outselling most of the compatible machines because of a series of military contracts.
As it turned out, PC Week found acceptance because of two things: news and reviews. "IT customers were extremely frustrated because IBM gave out so little information," said Dodge, who now writes a blog called The Dodge Retort and contributes to eWEEK from time to time. "It was a monopoly, and it acted like one. A lot more people wanted to know what the immediate future looked like with regard to product introductions."
Of course, to those who were there when PC Week got its start, the future was anything but certain.
"I had no idea what it would grow into," said Dodge. "I was a news guy, but that turned out to be the formula. One of our main competitors would not run news stories until they got the press release. There wasn't a lot of journalism in the trade press."
"It was a very formative time," said Lois Paul, PC Week's first features editor. "Huge changes were happening. We always wrote for people in departments and on the IT side. IT people weren't sure what to make of these PCs moving in."
Paul, who joined PC Week and publisher Ziff Davis after working for another tech publication, wondered if this new idea would last. But she jumped on board anyway.
"It was extremely exciting," said Paul, now CEO of public relations firm Lois Paul and Partners, part of Fleishman-Hillard.
Indeed, it was an exciting time for the industry. PCs started to gain market share because IBM published specs (unlike Apple) and allowed anyone to build a compatible computer-another radical idea. This model, in turn, drove the growth of many vital software and hardware companies that seemed to shoot from obscurity to national prominence in an instant.
"I watched the emergence of the leaders," said Paul. "Ashton-Tate [maker of a software package called dBASE, which was a major player] was really influential at the time." Paul added that Mitch Kapor and Jim Manzi, the creators of Lotus 1-2-3-which many believe was the first "killer app" for the PC-were major figures.
As the industry flourished, so, too, did PC Week. As the PC grew more important to business, so did news coverage of the platform.
One person who was at the leading edge of that coverage was PC Week's first reporter, Sam Whitmore, who would go on to become editor in chief of the publication.
Like Dodge and Paul, Whitmore was at PC Week at the beginning.
"When I applied for work, they gave me a couple of these sample issues," Whitmore said. "I remember looking through them when I was waiting to get my hair cut. It seemed almost too good to be true. I was absolutely thrilled when John Dodge hired me. Six weeks after my first day, that was the official launch, the practice issues were done, and out it went."
Of course, working for a new publication covering a new industry wasn't exactly easy. "In the first couple of months, you had to start every interview explaining what PC Week was," said Whitmore, the founder and editor of Sam Whitmore's Media Survey, a tech media analysis firm. "After about the third month, you didn't have to explain who you were anymore. That's how you knew we were catching on."
Issue after issue, PC Week broke news.
"Our first really big news story was a new version of the Compaq," said Whitmore.
This was followed by a story about the IBM PC AT and the new Intel 80286 processor (which ran at a "blistering" 6MHz). PC Week also broke the story about the new AT&T PC, made by Olivetti (which also sold the same machine under its own name).
"We were gritty, kick the door down, break your secret plans," remembered Whitmore. "We had so much fun spoiling people's days. We were much more than news."
"We had direct contact with industry leaders," said David Strom, the executive editor who was in charge of reviews, opinion and analysis early in the life of PC Week. "We had no CEO who wouldn't return our phone calls. We were flying all over the place to conferences and trade shows." Strom is now technology editor at eWEEK sister publication Baseline and writes The Strominator blog.