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.
In addition to hard news, PC Week during this time focused on “first looks” and treating reviews as news.
“We could get a product in on Wednesday, [review it] and have it on the front page on Monday,” said Jim Louderback, who started his PC Week career as its labs director in 1991. “That was something we were the first to do.”
The drive to treat reviews and testing as news resulted in a number of breaking stories, even before PC Week had a formal lab organization.
Perhaps the best-known was the famous 1994 flaw in the numerical processor in Intel’s Pentium chip. Long-time technology analyst Peter Coffee, now director of platform research at Salesforce.com, said that the news came out as a result of a floating-point computational benchmark he had written to determine the severity of the flaw orignially discovered by Lynchburg College math professor Thomas Nicely. The severity of the Pentium flaw was a matter of dispute between Intel (claiming it wasn’t a big deal) and IBM and others who said it was a problem. eWEEK, using Coffee’s benchmark, was able to weigh in as an independent third party to resolve the conflict and uncover the truth.
The news, combined with similar findings from other researchers, got the industry’s attention. “It hit the wires, and Intel offered new chips,” said Coffee. “It really hit the mainstream.”
Reviews became integral to the publication’s ability to meet its readers’ needs. And PC Week/eWEEK employed-and employs-some of the smartest analysts in the business. The Labs tested products that no one else could test, under real-world conditions and rigors. In addition to early tests of Web and Wi-Fi technology, as well as database server benchmarking that still turns heads, highlights include the Labs’ OpenHack and Y2K testing.
As the industry changed, so, too, did PC Week-to the point that the publication’s name no longer aligned with its content.
By the year 2000, the Web was not only the next big thing but the future of computing. To signal its coverage of all things related to enterprise IT, the decision was made to change PC Week’s name to eWEEK. “No longer would we define ourselves as a journal on any one vendor’s technology model,” said Coffee.
Overseeing that change was Eric Lundquist, editor in chief of the publication at the time. Lundquist said that much of the success of PC Week and then eWEEK can be attributed to how the publication approached its mission-to provide unbiased, authoritative coverage of the technology that matters most to enterprise IT professionals.
“We really tried to be the voice of the community,” said Lundquist, who noted that one of the reasons for PC Week’s/eWEEK’s huge impact was its devotion to journalism. “The news operation was a top-flight, take-no-prisoners, go-dig-out-the-information organization,” he said. “They had to be accurate with two or three sources. We brought a journalist’s expectations to the technology news operation.”
But the publication’s influence did not stop at the printed page.
Lundquist noted that PC Week/eWEEK was a leader in a series of innovations. Most notably, it was one of the first technology publications to boast an online presence in the form of a Website. Indeed, the publication identified early on the significance of the Web. “We had reviews and coverage of the emergence of the World Wide Web that were really ahead of the game,” said Lundquist. “We expected the Labs to be the first and the best, and they took that to heart.”
PC Week/eWEEK was also noted for its fictional gossip columnist, Spencer F. Katt, and his lavish trade show parties.
“The Spencer Katt parties were legendary,” said David Berlind, who was a director of PC Week Labs and is now chief content officer and editor in chief for TechWeb.
Berlind said that he still likes to think about Bill Gates dancing the night away at the legendary parties. Lundquist remembered one specific Spencer party-at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas during Comdex. “We could stand a couple of levels up and look down and see Bill Gates dancing in one corner, Michael Dell in another, Ted Waitt in another. It really was the center of the technology universe.”
The eWEEK print publication of today looks very different from the PC Week of 25 years ago.
With the advent of the Web-and later the widespread availability of broadband and robust mobile devices-print became a poor vehicle for news. The publication shifted from news to news analysis and, now, to Labs-based product evaluation-reflecting the increasing need for unbiased, expert testing of the technology that is now driving business, not just supporting it.
But is eWEEK still relevant in these days of failing magazines, the disappearance of print and the profusion of blogs?
“There is a lot of value in what print provides to our audience,” said Debra Donston, the current editor of eWEEK. “There are things you can do in print that you can’t do online. But the converse is also true. eWEEK the print publication is just one element in a media ecosystem that provides our audience with 360 degrees of insight into enterprise technology.”
Lundquist added that the real secret to eWEEK’s long-term success will be offering many ways to use the information it provides.
“I think if you look at the future, rather being than one big publication or Website, there will be a whole range of ways to communicate with the buying community,” he said. “This will include seminars, video and all those engagement models. It’s as successful as when we went from print to the Web; now it will be face-to-face seminars, Webcasts, virtual trade shows, online community activities, blogs, forums, social networking sites and so on.”
Lundquist noted that eWEEK will have to find a way to be relevant and important on all those platforms.
“What’s exciting is all the directions we can go in to offer relevant content to our audience,” said Donston. “eWEEK-and PC Week before it-has been a very important resource for IT professionals. We take that job very seriously, and we’ll continue to do so.”
Wayne Rash, who first wrote for PC Week in 1985, is an eWEEK Labs contributing analyst.
Editor’s Note: This story was changed to clarify eWEEK Labs’ role in the 1994 discovery of a flaw in Intel’s Pentium. eWEEK Labs’ benchmarks were used to help determine the severity of the problem.