Good Grief, BYTE is Coming Back!

By  |  Wednesday, December 22, 2010 at 10:25 pm

The December 1975 BYTE cover, the first by Robert Tinney

What’s the most-loved computer magazine of all time? There’s really only one contender: BYTE, which was founded in 1975 and ceased print publication a dozen years ago. If you worked in computer magazines, as I did, you got used to old-timers comparing your publication unfavorably to BYTE. (And actually, come to think of it, BYTE aficonados also liked to compare the current BYTE unfavorably to BYTE as it was in its golden age–which lasted roughly from its inception until the magazine stopped running a cover painting by Robert Tinney on every issue circa 1987. It remained a very solid publication until the end, though.)

BYTE was one of the first major computer magazines (it was preceded by the similarly influential Creative Computing); it was the first massively successful one; it spawned BIX, an online service which I still miss. Most important, it was just plain good–well-written, well-edited, and as sophisticated and technical as the people who read it. (I learned a lot from Phil Lemmons, a BYTE editor who later became my boss at PC World.) Its review of the original Mac is a nice example of what made BYTE, well, BYTE.

It died  shortly after tech publisher CMP acquired it and the rest of McGraw-Hill’s tech division in 1998. Given the resonance of the BYTE name, shutting it down seemed like an odd, ill-advised move at the time, even though the magazine, once morbidly obese with advertising, was no longer a cash cow. CMP did keep the Web site alive for years, in increasingly unambitious form, but even that bit the dust a few years ago.

But now United Business Media–the current owner of what was once CMP–is brining BYTE back. BYTE.com is relaunching in the second quarter of next year, and my friend Gina Smith will be the editor.

Back in BYTE’s glory days, it was highly technical and dedicated to in-depth coverage of every significant computing platform, even as IBM PC clones came to dominate. The new BYTE doesn’t sound like it’ll pick up precisely where the old one left off, but it does sound like it’ll have a useful mission.

Here’s part of the press release, with a quote from another friend, Fritz Nelson:

Byte, which originally started in 1975, will serve as the professional’s guide to consumer technology, providing news, analysis, reviews, and insight across the media gamut – from slide shows and video, to written columns and news commentary.  The site will launch in Q2 2011 as part of UBM TechWeb’s growing digital portfolio.

[snip]

“IT is faced with new, pervasive user expectations – that all technology should work like the technology end users have at home, and that they can actually bring that technology into the work place,” said InformationWeek editorial director Fritz Nelson.  “This includes smart phones, tablets, social networks, and a host of gadgets and productivity software.  IT needs to both manage and exploit the business value of these technologies.”

That does reflect at least a slice of the old BYTE. If it had never stopped publishing, I’d sure be curious to hear what it had to say about the iPhone, tablets, Facebook, and other stuff which didn’t exist in BYTE’s heyday.

I suspect some old-time BYTE fans won’t be thrilled by any incarnation of the brand that doesn’t have a hardcore technical focus, Tinney art, a column by Jerry Pournelle, and other signature features from the first time around. That’s okay: If they grumble that the new BYTE isn’t as good as the old BYTE, they’ll just be giving it the same treatment that a multitude of other tech-media brands have gotten. Me, I’m glad it’s coming back–I mean, BYTE.com is one of the best domain names on the planet, and there should be something worthwhile there…

 
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23 Comments For This Post

  1. Joshua Weinberg Says:

    What’s the most-loved computer magazine of all time?

    I was much more a fan of Creative Computing!

  2. Jay Says:

    I'd rather have UNIXWorld back,, or even just decent archives of it.

  3. jsg Says:

    My only question. Will the new Byte be the crap-fest it was in the late 1980s and on, or will it be the wholesome goodness that gave Dr. Dobb's a run for its technical depth as in the 1970s and early 1980s? Just asking.

  4. JohnP Says:

    I suppose it's too much to hope that all the paid-up Byte subscribers who had their subs cancelled with no refund, will get a complementary sub this time round?

  5. dholyer Says:

    I remember first seeing BYTE Mag my sophomore year of High school (Aug. 1975). I did not know it had just started publication, because this magazine at the time seemed to have every thing there was about computers. It was my second year of 4 years of high school and by the end of that school year I was introduced to computers, if you call playing games an introduction. That summer I tought myself how to program them, from wishing to know how to write the program of the game Star Trek, 18 months later I was helping a friend create a text adventure called Star Wars (Rescue the Princess from the Death Star). This was the fall of 1977 as Star Wars began playing on my birthday, and there was a line for 11 months to get in to see it (I saw it 8 times until the next one came out, and that one was 7, the third one was 5 times)

  6. dholyer Says:

    And I forgot to add, I subscribed until May 1981, in the fall of 1980 I bought an Atari 800, that spring I started getting Atari Computer Magazines, namely Compute Mag.

  7. Harry McCracken Says:

    I loved Creative Computing more myself (and wrote for it–it was the first publication that paid for my work). But I think we're outnumbered by the BYTE contingent.

    –Harry

  8. Harry McCracken Says:

    The new BYTE is a Web site, and I'm assuming it will be free for all.

    –Harry

  9. NuShrike Says:

    It's going to have to beat Ars Technica, at this point.

  10. Brett Glass Says:

    I was a columnist for Byte in its heyday (1984) and miss it. Would be glad to see it back and even gladder to write for it!

  11. Terje Mathisen Says:

    I really don't expect them to require a subscription this time, but like you I had a year or two prepaid when they folded. :-(

  12. Jerry Pournelle Says:

    I'd love to see BYTE come back. We never had problems with readers. There was something for everyone, from my User's Column to highly technical pieces about new chip technology. BYTE had great circulation, the problem was advertising revenue. It was an expensive magazine, both in print and as a web site.

    Jerry Pournelle.

  13. davezatz Says:

    Byte is no Technologizer!

  14. kjc Says:

    I loved Jerry Pournelle's column. To be Byte, it must have Jerry.

  15. Old Farmer Davy Says:

    I used to read BYTE all the time, especially Dr. Pournelle's column, going all the way back to my first computer, a DEC Rainbow, which Jerry modded as much as it could be back then. I hope it comes back at at least the same technical level as before, with Jerry and Brett, et. al. and a new advertising model to perhaps reflect contemporary internet realities.

  16. David Says:

    Glad to see all the comments here about Byte. Rest assured, we're paying attention and our hope is of course not to let anybody down. Just as an fyi, we run Dr. Dobbs as well.

    David Berlind
    Chief Content Officer
    UBM TechWeb

  17. dholyer Says:

    I remember reading in a Dr. Dobbs that fact, in one of your reader letter reply's.

    Unlike Byte which seemed to cover everything, Dr. Dobbs was a fine focused topic newletter marketed as a Magazine. The problem was my budget shrunk so my magazine field had to shrink also. But in the 80's-90's I read about any thing that had computer articles.

    Now to get tech/computer news I have to rely on others, and thankx to this website for it's work.

  18. J.L.Lee Says:

    I want it in paper! I learned more sitting on the commode reading byte than I ever learned by other “formal” methods.

  19. Rich Says:

    Steve Ciarcia's Circuit Cellar was my favorite column… Ah, the good old days!

  20. Mark Dulcey Says:

    BYTE was special because it didn’t only talk about what to do or buy now – it also looked at what we would be doing NEXT YEAR, and five years out.

    Circuit Cellar, by the way, lives on as its own magazine and at circuitcellar.com

  21. Blaise Liffick Says:

    I was Senior Editor of BYTE in the late 70's, early 80's…glad to see it back! I have many fond memories of the time. I met a lot of amazing people and played with a lot of cool technology! It was a great time to be involved in the small computing field.

  22. Lars Says:

    Right on! Just what I told my wife yesterday or so (really). PCI was "reviewed" long before the items actually could be bought.

  23. Joseph Gerth Says:

    If it doesn't have Chaos Manor and Circuit Cellar, it's just not Byte.

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