Author Archive | Harry McCracken

More Computer Magazine Lore: A 1983 Nastygram from Wayne Green

Consider this post a piece of bonus material for David Bunnell’s book proposal about his career in tech publishing up to the early 1990s, which I posted yesterday.

Another computer magazine tycoon, Wayne Green (1922-2013), makes several cameos in David’s manuscript. When discussing IDG’s proposal that Apple fund the creation of Macworld, Steve Jobs brings up IDG having acquired Green’s magazines and says they look like “yesterday’s leftover oatmeal.” Later in the negotiations, Jobs talks about the unnerving possibility of Macworld‘s founders dying and IDG bringing in Green to run the publication. And when David attends the Mac launch on January 24, 1984, he runs into Green, who is toting two Radio Shack Model 100 laptops.

Wayne was a fabulous character and a preternaturally gifted huckster, and I’m afraid his perfunctory Wikipedia entry doesn’t capture that at all or even just cover his long career in adequate detail. He published 73, a long-running magazine for ham radio enthusiasts, which—like his later publications—featured his endless editorials on any topic that came into his head. Along with his ex-wife Virginia, he was involved with the founding of Byte magazine, though the exact nature of his contribution became a bone of contention after the magazine was sold—by Virginia and editor Carl Helmers, not Wayne—to McGraw-Hill. His other magazines covered topics as diverse as Radio Shack’s TRS-80 computers, cold fusion, stuff to do in New Hampshire, and compact discs. He started a software company, Instant Software, and acquired a chain of software retail stores, Softwaire (sic) Centre. He boasted of having cofounded Mensa, the organization for high-IQ people. He ran as an candidate for vice president (yes, of the U.S.) in 1988, sans running mate for the top job. A gleeful conspiracy theorist, he didn’t believe NASA landed on the moon and claimed to know what really happened to Amelia Earhart. His books included a guide to healthy living that came with a money-back guarantee if you followed its advice and didn’t live to at least 100. (Wayne himself came closer than most of us, making it to 91.)

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The Inside Story of PC Magazine, PC World, and Macworld’s Origins, as Told by David Bunnell

In an unpublished manuscript, the cofounder of three enduring media brands looks back.

David Bunnell in PC World‘s office in 1984

Introduction by Harry: David Bunnell (1947-2016) didn’t create the idea of computer magazines. But he may have done more than anyone to turn them into a big business. In the 1970s, when David was working at pioneering PC company MITS, he published Computer Notes—as far as I know, the first periodical about the then-new devices known as microcomputers. Post-MITS, he launched and briefly ran Personal Computing, an early generalist computer magazine. Between 1982 and 1984, he cofounded PC MagazinePC World, and Macworld—three of the most successful computer magazines of all time, all of which are still with us in digital form. He also started the once-mighty Macworld Expo conference and numerous less well-remembered ventures, such as Macintosh Today (an Apple newsweekly), Publish (a fine magazine about desktop publishing), and BioWorld (a biotech magazine distributed by fax).

Sometime in the early 1990s, David wrote a proposal for an autobiography, Flying Upside Down. He intended his book to run to 400 pages and cover a lot of ground, including his Nebraska youth, anti-Vietnam War activism, support of the Wounded Knee Occupation. and time at MITS, where he was an eyewitness to Bill Gates and Paul Allen’s founding of a company they called Micro-Soft. But a sizable chunk of the tome would have concerned his activities as a quirky, innovative, highly successful media magnate.

“On the surface, Flying Upside Down is the history of the explosive personal computer industry as seen through the eyes of someone who has been intimately involved in virtually every ‘PC’ event beginning with the birth of the machine itself in 1974,” he explained. “But Flying Upside Down is more than that. It is also the story of a rebellious, pot-smoking hippy school teacher who becomes the founder of several of the most successful magazines of all time.”

As far as I know, David couldn’t get a publisher to bite and so didn’t write a full-blown book. What follows includes most of the computer magazine-related material from his unpublished proposal, re-digitized from paper and lightly copy-edited by me, with some tangents preserved to add color. Given that David hoped to turn this story into a book, I don’t think he’d have a problem with me sharing it here. And it’s full of history available nowhere else: For instance, Personal Computing, a pretty significant publication in its day, doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry.

A few notes about what you’re about to read. First, the bulk of it is drawn from chapter outlines summarizing what David intended to cover in his book. His level of detail varied considerably, and he included some notes directly addressing prospective publishers, which I have excised. That explains the choppiness of some sections, a few instances of the chronology lurching back and forth, and spots where he doesn’t fully identify individuals. It’s also why certain events that mattered a great deal to David—such as the untimely death of PC World and Macworld founding editor Andrew Fluegelman—are addressed only briefly.

For the founding story of Macworld, however, David wrote an entire sample chapter. To prevent that portion from completely overwhelming the rest of the tale, I trimmed some sections that didn’t relate directly to the magazine launch; a fuller version of the chapter was published in the 1992 book The Macintosh Reader, which you can read online.

Secondly, this is David’s very personal take on the stories behind the media brands he helped create. I spent enough time—separately—with him and IDG chairman Pat McGovern, the owner of PC World and Macworld, to witness their brilliant, radically different brains at work. You’ll get a sense of why they made such an odd couple here, but it’s from David’s perspective. (I once asked Pat if he’d ever write a memoir, and he looked horrified by the prospect—probably because he envisioned it as something he’d do only after retiring, which he had no intention of doing.)

Since this proposal isn’t the last word on David’s life and legacies, here’s some supplemental reading—including coverage of stuff that hadn’t happened yet when he pitched his book:

“My viewpoint may be iconoclastic, self-serving, and argumentative, but it is my truth, and it comes from personal experience,” David writes at one point in his proposal. “The facts, as I choose to remember them, back me up.” I’m glad his version of all this survives—even in less than fully-fleshed-out form—and hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I did.

Flying Upside Down

A book proposal from David Bunnell

Want to start a magazine? Starting my first magazine was ridiculously easy. One evening, I was smoking marijuana and drinking tequila at my artist friend Don Nace’s house when I had the inspiration to publish the first magazine for people who wanted to use computers but didn’t particularly care how they worked or how to program them. I decided to call this magazine Personal Computing.

To start Personal Computing magazine, I simply wrote a letter to the president of a small magazine company in Boston called Benwill. I knew about Benwill because we advertised the Altair in one of its magazines.

To my total surprise, the president of Benwill, George Palken, wrote back and said he liked my idea well enough to provide the seed money I would need to get the publication launched.

George set up a bank account in Albuquerque from which I could withdraw funds. I resigned from MITS and set up an office a few blocks away from my house. I hired an editor and a secretary, and we started Personal Computing magazine. Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen wrote columns for me.

David Bunnell as ASCII art, from the pages of Personal Computing

This was 1977, and in this one amazing year, Albuquerque was, for all practical purposes, the center of the personal computer universe. MITS was still the largest provider of hardware, Microsoft was already the leading software company, and Personal Computing was the most-read magazine. We were all in Albuquerque, but that couldn’t last long, and it didn’t.

Albuquerque turned sour when Ed Roberts sold MITS to a California computer company, Pertec, which in turn got into a protracted legal battle with Microsoft over the ownership of Altair BASIC. As publisher of Personal Computing, I had become closer than ever to both Bill and Ed. It pained me to hear them bad-mouth each other. Thanks in no small part to Bill Gates’ photographic mind, Microsoft won clear rights to BASIC during an arbitration settlement. Bill had had enough of the Southwest. He prepared to move his company to Seattle, his hometown.

The hobbyists who made up the first market for personal computers were mostly misfits who had to start their own companies because there was no way they could work for anyone else. Many of them believed that computers should be made available to everyone and that software, in particular, should be free. As publisher of Personal Computing, I traveled around the industry, visited many companies, and met with most of the true industry pioneers. On one illuminating trip, I spent some time with an organization in Berkeley, California, called “The People’s Computer Company.” Here I found a hardcore bunch of computer junkies who were determined to see that the personal computer realize its potential to liberate people in a political as well as an intellectual and creative way.

The first issue of Bunnell’s Personal Computing, a glossy, generalist computer magazine by 1970s standards

During the whole time I published Personal Computing, the people at Benwill never came out to Albuquerque—I wrote checks, and they replenished the bank account. I sold the ads by calling the presidents of the various personal computer companies and George took care of distribution by calling computer stores and getting them to put copies on their shelves. From the beginning, the magazine was well-received and grew quickly. Looking back, I can see that it was inevitable, as the magazine grew successful, that Benwill would want more control over it. Soon, I was feuding with the chairman of the company, Will Buchbinder, an absent-minded professor at Boston University who ran a program whose sole purpose, in my estimation, was to train editors for his publishing company. “I run the only technical publication writing program in an American university,” he liked to claim.

The people at Benwill fought about everything. Will liked a free-wheeling, highly emotional exchange among his employees, but ultimately, he was the boss, and ultimately, he liked to feel in control. One day, we endlessly debated what kind of pizza to order for our lunch. For what seemed like hours, Will, George, Digital Design publisher Yuri Spiro, and I argued about mushrooms and green peppers and anchovies until, in a fit of exasperation, Will magnanimously declared Yuri the winner.

A year following the launch of Personal Computing, Will decided he wanted the magazine to move into company headquarters in Boston. I went back to negotiate my position, but I was convinced that if I wanted to be truly involved in personal computing, I had to live near Silicon Valley. So I held out for more money, and when Will wouldn’t give it to me, we ended up in such a terrible argument that George had a heart attack while he attempted to negotiate our dispute. In our shame, Will and I made an agreement that neither one of us intended to keep. Soon thereafter, I quit Personal Computing magazine and moved to San Francisco. I had known since high school days that someday the time would come for me to move to California to seek fame and fortune. This was it, I was certain.

Beatnik at last! Beatnik at last!

In 1978, I moved to San Francisco, where I found plenty of freelance technical writing work so that, in addition to keeping up with the personal computer revolution, I could indulge in the Bohemian lifestyle that I had long fantasized about. Two or three days a week I wrote books on personal computing or manuals for computer games. On the other days, I wandered through Golden Gate Park and hung out in Haight Street coffee houses, writing endless poetry in notebooks.

My favorite evening spot was the Stranded Whale coffee shop, where I could read my own poetry to a small but appreciative audience of fellow beatnik poets and winos. I still dreamed of becoming the next Jack Kerouac, and when I ran out of money, I would call personal computer friends until I landed a freelance assignment to write a manual or create a marketing brochure or whatever.

It was during this time that I worked with the publisher of VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet program, which was credited with bringing personal computers out of the hobbyist realm squarely into the world of business. VisiCalc on an Apple II was something accountants, entrepreneurs, and CEOs could relate to. Many of them brought their own Apple IIs to work, and thus, the legend was created that the Apple II got into the business market “through the back door.”

David Bunnell's Personal Computing book

David’s 1978 guide to PCs, which had existed for about three years at the time

I divorced my wife and left my children with her in Albuquerque. It was a time of personal turmoil for me, and for San Francisco as well. I was hanging out in a coffee shop only a short distance from City Hall on the day Dan White unloaded his revolver on Mayor George Moscone, calmly reloaded it, and walked across the hall to repeat the act on Supervisor Harvey Milk, the nation’s first openly gay elected official.

I felt very sympathetic to San Francisco’s gay community and was totally outraged when Dan White got a light sentence after claiming he ate too many Twinkies on the day of the murders and was, therefore, in a diminished state of mind—the famous “Twinkie defense.” Having been tear-gassed in demonstrations before, I donned a scarf and put on a long-sleeve coat; then I stuffed gloves, vaseline, and rocks into my pockets and headed to the Civic Center, where rioters were already burning cop cars and smashing windows.

My girlfriend and I joined in the riot. Our faces covered with scarves, we ran up and down Market Street, setting fire to trash cans and throwing rocks at the police.

My luck ran out when Warner canceled the contract my friend Jim Edlin and I had to write the book, Micro: The Next Watershed Invention. We had put everything into this project, which had grown to over 1,000 pages and was not even half completed when our editor canceled our contract. He wanted us to write less of a book about the future and more of a buyer’s guide. We weren’t interested in buyer’s guides.

Fortunately, I met Jackie Poitier, who became my new girlfriend and happened to manage the word processing pool at the California State Bar. Jim and I could always get part-time work working for Jackie, a former dance photographer who hired mostly out-of-luck writers, painters, dancers, and other artists.

I moved in with Jackie, and she helped me create a polished-looking résume, which I sent off in response to a blind want ad in the San Francisco Examiner advertising for a “microcomputer book editor.” A few evenings later, the phone rang, and it was Adam Osborne, who was famous for writing books and columns on microcomputers and founding the first microcomputer publishing company.

An Introduction to Microcomputers book

An Osborne/McGraw-Hill book coauthored by David and Adam Osborne, once one of computing’s biggest celebrities

Osborne had recently sold his company to McGraw-Hill but was still managing it on a buyout contract. He needed someone else to edit books for him because he was also starting up Osborne Computers, which would be the first company to market a portable computer.

My part-time work as a word processor paid $7 an hour, so the next day, at lunch with Adam Osborne at the Fourth Street Bar and Grill in Berkeley, I almost croaked when I asked him how much the job paid. He replied, “Forty thousand dollars to start.”

I learned a great deal about the emerging personal computer publishing market. One important lesson was that machine-specific books out-sold general books four to one. In other words, a book about programming a computer in BASIC would only sell 25% as many copies as a book about programming in BASIC on an Apple computer. This idea inspired me to start the first machine-specific magazine, PC Magazine.

Let’s get married and start PC Magazine

Jackie and I got married by a hippy preacher at her house near Golden Gate Park, witnessed by a handful of friends. Afterward, we took the wedding party to a neighborhood Chinese restaurant called Tien Fu, where we ordered Beijing Duck.

Two weeks later, I came home from work to tell Jackie that I had decided to quit my job at Osborne/McGraw-Hill to start a new magazine. IBM had just announced its entry into the personal computer world, and my idea was to start a magazine just for it. An old friend of mine who worked with me at MITS, Eddie Currie, had introduced me to his boss, Tony Gold, who was the founder of Lifeboat Associates in New York City. Tony and I had struck a deal whereby he would put up the money for the magazine, which I would publish in return for a piece of the action—he called it “sweat equity.”

PC Magazine quickly consumed our lives and the lives of our children and our friends and coworkers. We called it a whale in a bathtub. Within a few short weeks, we had six outside offices on nearby Irving Street. My office, which I called corporate headquarters, was above a sushi restaurant. Jackie quit her job at the California State Bar to become PC Magazine‘s first director of art and production. Tony thought that was truly wonderful because he assumed Jackie would work without a salary. “Tell your friends if they want to pitch in, that would be fine with me,” he said.

1985 letter from Bill Gates to David Bunnell copy

A 1985 letter from Bill Gates to David Bunnell, including a tantalizing fact not mentioned in David’s book proposal: Microsoft considered buying PC Magazine

Tony Gold was one of the smartest people I ever met, but he had a very condescending personality that alienated almost everyone who worked with him. Within four months, we had a company of 40 people, but many of them would stay home on days Tony was out from New York for a visit. He once complained about this, saying, “David, for a company the size of PC Magazine, you have an extraordinarily high rate of absenteeism.” When new venture money came into Tony’s New York-based Lifeboat Associates, Tony lost his control of the board and was asked to leave. This put even more stress on our relationship, because Tony decided he wanted to move to San Francisco and assume the role of president of our company.

The employees went nuts at the idea and started refusing to cooperate with him. This led to a walkout during one of his visits and many ugly confrontations, which evolved into meetings with Tony and his lawyer, Cheryl Woodard and her lawyer, and me and my lawyer. Realizing that my first vesting period was coming up soon (which gave me 15% of PC Magazine), Tony tried to force me out of the company. This backfired on him very badly when the entire staff threatened to resign. So he agreed to a truce, which we worked out through our lawyers. Tony agreed to help us find a publishing company to invest in us. He would sell out his share and let us continue to build up PC Magazine. And he would never again bring up the possibility of getting involved with the daily management of the company. In fact, from now on, he wouldn’t come within three miles of the office. We called this the “three-mile limit.”

Tony lost the battle, but the war wasn’t over. In order to teach me a lesson, he sold the company without telling me. He represented to the new owners that he owned 100% of the stock. My 15% of the stock that was already vested and the 30% I had options on were suddenly gone, vanished like vaporware. Luckily, I had a letter from Tony, signed by both of us, that memorialized the agreement between us. Without this letter, I would have been screwed without recourse. With the letter, I had the recourse to spend five long, hard years seeking my share of Tony’s deal through the courts.

The 1982 PC Magazine profit-sharing letter from Tony Gold to David Bunnell, as reproduced in a bad court-filing photocopy of a crummy fax document

Once the new owners came in, most of us quit. We went to Pat McGovern, the publisher of Computerworld and InfoWorld, and asked him to bankroll us to start a new magazine. He agreed to give us “the same deal” we would have gotten if he had been successful in buying PC Magazine from Tony.

Thus, PC World, which would soon be in fierce head-to-head combat with PC Magazine, was born.

The first issue of PC World carried 170 pages of advertising, and we were off to a big start. Before the year was out, we would have over 150,000 subscribers and $10 million in advertising revenue. We were on a roll, and before I knew it, I was organizing the biggest party personal computing had ever seen, launching a book division with a $600,000 advance from Simon & Schuster, hosting a television show, producing how-to videos, and organizing trade shows.

The founding PC World staff

Our company, PC World Communications, which we later shortened to PCW, was one of the fastest-growing publishing startups in history. Within five years we had $70,000,000 in revenue, 250 employees, and four magazines, plus many auxiliary products.

We had lots of fun, and we also had terrible growing pains. This, plus our relationship with McGovern, and particularly with his corporate staff in Framingham, Massachusetts, were stormy and contentious from the very beginning. It started when someone in Massachusetts corporate headquarters noticed from the phone bill that some of the calls made by PC World employees were made to a 900-number horoscope service. Before long, Massachusetts-based IDG employees were sure we were totally spaced-out California idiots who would spend up the profits of the whole company.

Who was who in the above photograph

At the end of the first year, McGovern came around to the founders of the company—Cheryl Woodard, Jackie, Andrew Fluegelman, and me—and informed us that because we didn’t meet the numbers on our business plan, we owed him $150,000, which he didn’t expect us to pay right away. Instead, he would take it out of our bonus payments in future years.

The new publisher of PC Magazine, Ziff-Davis, sued us within days of our announcement that we were going to launch a new magazine called PC World. They claimed that the new name was too close to the old name and that we shouldn’t be allowed to publish in the same market. As my lawyer told me at the time, they wanted “to kill the baby in the crib.”

We sued them back for payment for our equity in the magazine. They sued IDG and Pat McGovern, and so IDG sued Ziff-Davis, Tony Gold, and Bill Ziff. A five-year legal battle that would consume enormous chunks of our time and millions of dollars was underway.

Pat McGovern and David Bunnell

Pat McGovern and David Bunnell celebrate their publishing partnership

During my deposition, I said that on Thanksgiving Day, which came a couple of days after the Ziff takeover, Jackie and I stayed home and that she had cooked a goose. I was mistaken about this, however. The goose was cooked on Christmas. On Thanksgiving, Jackie cooked a turkey.

When Jackie was deposed, they asked her if she cooked a goose on Thanksgiving, and she said no, she cooked a turkey. The Ziff lawyer, Raoul Kennedy, who is one of the toughest son-of-a-bitch lawyers west of the Mississippi, looked at her incredulously and scolded, “Are you sure you didn’t cook a goose, Ms. Poitier? Your husband said you cooked a goose.”

How Macworld magazine made the Macintosh

I took my first Macintosh home in October 1983, nearly four months before the machine was introduced at the 1984 Apple Annual Meeting. As founder of Macworld magazine, I had a rare inside view of the Macintosh development effort. I had access to Steve Jobs and Mike Murray. I could wander down to Apple and walk right into the Macintosh building (the one under the pirate flag) and just hang out if I wanted to.

My viewpoint may be iconoclastic, self-serving, and argumentative, but it is my truth, and it comes from personal experience. The facts, as I choose to remember them, back me up. I first heard about the Macintosh from Bill Gates in December 1982, when I interviewed him for PC World magazine. He said, “Apple’s got this great new machine that is going to change everything.” Then, as now, most large companies leak from the top.

I knew something about Apple’s Lisa computer and asked Bill if that was what he was referring to. “Oh no,” he replied, “this is a low-cost machine. It is a machine anyone can afford.”

“This is the first machine, ” Gates continued, “that is so easy to use that my mother could use it.”

Gates went on to say he was selling all of his stock in various companies and buying nothing but Apple stock. He was so convinced that the Macintosh would put Apple back into the driver’s seat in the personal computer market, ahead of IBM, that he was willing to bet his personal fortune on it. I’ve often wondered how much he lost on that deal.

The most compelling feature of the Macintosh, according to Bill Gates, was that it had a “bitmapped screen.” For one thing, this meant you could easily mix graphics with text. Unlike character-based IBM PCs, you could have different fonts and type styles. Bill also told me about the Mac’s mouse and its icons.

Soon after the Gates interview, I called Apple’s VP of Communications, Fred Hoar, and told him I wanted to start a magazine called AppleWorld. Fred was very interested in this idea and invited me to a meeting in Cupertino with some “key” Apple executives, none of whom I remember.

My concept was to publish a magazine that would cover all Apple computers. After starting PC Magazine and PC World, I was painfully bored with the spreadsheet-driven IBM DOS universe. I wanted to start a radically new computer magazine with sparkle and guts—something that didn’t need to be so stuffy, so corporate. Apple users were creative and relaxed. They wore blue jeans and sneakers. IBM users wore suits with starched shirts and ties so tightly knotted that their necks bulged out.

The key to my AppleWorld scheme was to build circulation by getting mailing rights to the Apple II warranty card list. Unfortunately, Apple had just two weeks earlier given exclusive mailing rights to the Apple II warranty card list to Ziff-Davis for use in the launch of an Apple II-specific magazine called A+.


The first issue of A+, which almost foiled David’s desire to publish an Apple-centric magazine

Upon hearing about the Ziff deal, I felt pretty bummed out. “Why exclusive?” I asked.

“Well,” Fred said, “We didn’t know about your plans, and the people from Ziff insisted upon exclusivity for nine months.”

“Nine months in personal computing,” I exclaimed, “is fucking eternity.”

On that sour note, everyone in the conference room fell silent. We hung our heads, fidgeted with pens and notebooks, and tapped our feet. It was the end of a dream. Think of the computer world as a Monopoly game except that when you get adventuresome and land on the wrong square you don’t go to jail. Worse, you go back to DOS.

I can only describe what followed as a moment of divine intervention. A little voice inside my head whispered, “Take a chance, tell them you know about the Macintosh and you’d really like to publish Macworld.”

“How about we publish Macworld?” I said.

Macworld, about the Macintosh, that’s a great idea,” Fred answered.”But how did you know about the Macintosh?”

“Bill Gates told me.”

“Well, we’re glad he did.” The whole room lit up, and thus Macworld was conceived.

Bill Gates and David Bunnell at PC World's office in the 1980s

Bill Gates and David Bunnell at PC World‘s office in the 1980s

Macworld‘s gestation and birth were tortuously tricky. Events were not always in my control.

Jumbo roadblock number one was to convince Pat McGovern, the chairman of our parent company, that it was worthwhile for us to even pursue the Macintosh. My editor-in-chief, Andrew Fluegelman, and myself (I was publisher) were very “Mac” eager, but McGovern was pushing us to publish a magazine for IBM’s new home computer, PCjr.

After much bickering, he agreed we could investigate the opportunity further, but if we wanted to publish Macworld we would have to get Apple to pay for it. If Apple agreed to underwrite the startup, he would give us the OK. If not, then we would publish PCjr World instead (again, back to DOS).

To me, it seemed ridiculous that we could convince Apple to pay us to start a magazine that IDG would own. But after racking my brain during a few sleepless nights, I came up with a potential resolution. Perhaps we could get Apple to pay for trial subscriptions if we offered them to Macintosh buyers in exchange for filling out their warranty cards.

I knew from my conversation with Fred Hoar that Apple was disappointed that more Apple computer buyers didn’t send in their warranty cards. It occurred to me that if we could offer Macintosh purchasers a free trial subscription to Macworld for sending in these cards, Apple was bound to capture a much higher percentage of names and addresses of Macintosh buyers. This they would pay for.

Out of the pressure from McGovern, an idea was born that later proved to drive the success of Macworld and become the envy of many a magazine publisher, namely, the Apple-Macworld warranty card subscription program.

Jumbo roadblock number two was getting Steve Jobs to like us. Steve had to approve any magazine project about his Macintosh. Fred set up a meeting for Andrew and me with Steve and Mike Murray at the Mac building on Brandy Drive in Cupertino. For me, just seeing Steve Jobs from a distance was a big thrill, so the mere concept of actually talking to him was totally nerve-wracking. I was so excited that Andrew insisted on driving when we went down to Cupertino.

Andrew, who invented shareware, only he called it “freeware,” was an extraordinary writer and unusually gifted ex-lawyer who had worked with Stewart Brand on the Whole Earth Quarterly. He was totally cool about meeting Jobs. We drove up to the Mac building on Brandy Drive, which in earlier days had been Apple headquarters.

Once inside, the receptionist asked us to wait in a small conference room just to the side of the reception area. “You can’t go inside the main area until Steve says you’re safe,” she said.

When at last Steve arrived, I wasn’t disappointed, but I was definitely startled by his informality, his bouncy steps, and his dark, penetrating, glittering eyes. “Hi guys,” said Macintosh product manager Mike Murray, who seemed invisible next to Steve. “This is Steve Jobs. Steve, this is David and Andrew.”

David Bunnell with Steve Wozniak, Oliver Strimpel, and a Kenbak-1 computer

I don’t have any photos of David with Steve Jobs. But here he is in 1986 along with Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, Computer Museum curator Oliver Strimpel, and an extremely early personal computer, the Kenbak-1.

We chatted about computers and magazines. Steve and Mike had been looking at PC World, and Steve could see from an aesthetic point of view that it was the best-looking magazine in the computer field. Compared to Byte magazine and PC Magazine, he liked us best, or at least he said he did.

“We like you guys, too,” Steve added. “You seem to be our kind of people.”

“Yeah,” chimed in Mike, “there were some other guys in here with a whole slick presentation. They wore suits. We didn’t like them very much.”

“So I guess you pass the test,” Steve said as he jumped up from his seat. “Follow me.” He bounded off. We hastily followed. We had just met, and Steve had us under his spell. He was the alchemist, and we were being put into the soup.

Steve led us into another conference room. As we sat down, he picked up a beige oversize box-shaped case by its handle and plopped it on the table in front of us. “Here’s a Macintosh,” he said. “Why don’t you take it out of the case and see if you like it.”

Blow this, and we’re dead, I thought. I turned to Andrew and said, “You’re the editor, Andrew, why don’t you try it.”

So Andrew opened the case, and for the first time, I saw a Macintosh. With very little coaxing from Steve or Mike, Andrew was able to figure out how to plug in the keyboard and the mouse. He stuck a disk into the machine and powered it up.

At this point, Mike took over the controls for a moment to show us how to boot up the first application, which was a buggy version of MacPaint. He showed us how you could draw images on the screen and do all sorts of things to them, like rotating them, moving them, filling them in, etc. I must say that coming from the world of the famous DOS “A:” prompt, MacPaint was like dying and going to heaven.

“Holy shit,” exclaimed Andrew, “this is going to knock the world out of orbit, that’s all.”

“Wow, this is just too cool,” I added.

Convinced we had a tiger by the tail, Andrew and I charged back to San Francisco to rally our staff and to work on the agreement. We wanted Apple to grant us access to the Macintosh’s development team and loan us a few early machines. With their help, we could do something that had never been done before. We could publish the first issue of Macworld on the very day Apple introduced the Macintosh—which was targeted to be January 24, 1984.

All systems were go, except for one little snag. I hadn’t yet screwed up the courage to tell Jobs we wanted Apple to buy enough trial subscriptions at $3 each to give every Macintosh owner who bought the machine during the first year a chance to read Macworld.

Steve told us he expected Apple to sell 600,000 Macs during the first twelve months after its introduction. That meant that the deal could be worth $1.8 million.

Soon, Andrew and I were back in Cupertino, meeting again with Jobs and Murray. I told Steve what we wanted, and to put it mildly, he was momentarily speechless.

Making matters worse, Steve had just heard a rumor that Pat McGovern had paid $6 million for a group of rather schlocky-looking computer magazines published by Wayne Green in Peterborough, New Hampshire. “You mean McGovern paid $6 million for Wayne Green’s magazines, and now he wants us to pay you $1.8 million to start Macworld?” he hollered.

“He didn’t pay $6 million for Wayne Green’s magazines,” I protested. “You should ask him if you don’t believe me.”

Steve took me up on this on the spot. He picked up the phone and called Pat McGovern’s main office in Framingham, Massachusetts. As luck would have it, Chairman Pat was at his desk.

Events were getting out of hand. Staring at me, Steve spoke into the phone, “Wayne Green’s magazines look like yesterday’s leftover oatmeal, and you want me to pay you to have David and Andrew start Macworld? You must be a terrible businessman if you paid Wayne Green $6 million. You should belly up to the bar if you want to own Macworld.”

Steve Jobs was telling my boss, who he had never met, that he was a crummy businessman, and here I was wondering if I’d ever be able to publish Macworld. I felt the dream slipping away.

Kicking me under the table, Andrew smiled and winked at me. Andrew sensed something I didn’t pick up. This was just Steve’s style of negotiation. He simply humiliated his opponent before going in for the kill. Sometimes, Steve gets what he wants; sometimes, he only takes a few bites. So, if you want to play, this is just something you put up with.

I could hear McGovern’s excited voice coming through the earpiece. And though I couldn’t tell exactly what he was saying, I sensed from the tone and Steve’s subsequent statements that Pat was explaining how Wayne Green didn’t get that much money. As a matter of fact, the magazines they bought were in such bad shape they would have to invest heavily in them. Because of this, they just didn’t have the money to invest in Macworld.

IDG didn’t have any money for Macworld, but they apparently had plenty of money for 80 Micro, which was a magazine for the Radio Shack computer. I had to admit, Steve had a point.

80 Microcomputing magazine cover

Wayne Green’s 80 Microcomputing was like a PC Magazine or Macworld for Radio Shack’s TRS-80, and preceded them

Mystically, we somehow still convinced Steve that the increase in people sending in the warranty card was worth $3 per subscription. By October 1983, we had the draft of an agreement that seemed acceptable to both sides.

So we set about creating Macworld. First, we commandeered the conference room at PC World Communications; we covered the windows with butcher paper and installed a new lock on the door. This would be the Mac war room. Here, still secret prerelease Macintoshes would be reviewed and used to produce Macworld copy. Only Andrew Fluegelman, Dan Farber, and people working directly for them could enter this room.

Our magazine designer, Marjorie Spiegelman, is the daughter of a very brilliant physicist, and for some reason, she just totally understood the Macintosh. At her suggestion, we designed Macworld to be an oversized magazine that was slightly wider than standard magazines. On one hand, the design incorporated graphic elements that reflected the icons and bitmapped graphics of the Macintosh; on the other hand, we splashed color across the pages in a dramatic fashion to counterbalance the fact that the early Mac only came with a black-and-white monitor.

Almost as neatly as it came together, the Apple-Macworld agreement was falling apart. McGovern was delighted that Apple was willing to pay us $1.8 million to deliver three issues of Macworld to the first 600,000 buyers to mail in their warranty cards, but he didn’t believe they could ship 600,000 machines. “Look at the Apple II,” he said. “What makes you think Apple can ever do anything right?” McGovern’s solution was to demand that Apple agree to a guaranteed payment plan. They would pay X amount on such and such a date, regardless of how many Macintoshes they had delivered. McGovern wanted to make sure he didn’t waste any money on the Macintosh. He was pretty much convinced it would fail.

The original Macintosh warranty registration card, which doubled as an ad for Macworld

Compounding matters, an article in the San Francisco Examiner reported that we were working on a magazine called Macworld and Apple expected to sell 600,000 the first year.

Steve suspected that I had tipped the reporter about the 600,000 figure. I hadn’t, but perception is reality, and he was pissed. “If you ever want to work with us again, you need to explain to my colleagues why you preannounced the details of our plans to the stupid San Francisco Examiner,” he said.

I wrote a letter to explain and to apologize for any misunderstanding. I printed out several copies of the letter and drove down to Cupertino to hand-deliver them to Steve and Mike and to anyone on the Macintosh team who cared to listen. I didn’t know what else to do.

This led up to another meeting between Steve and Mike and Jim Riding, who I had hired recently to be the executive vice president of PC World Communications, and me. Jim, who is a sort of fussy, old-boy, Time magazine kind of guy, was so out of his element at Apple that I think they found him very charming and likable.

Jim’s style was to very nicely tell you exactly what was going on. He didn’t hide any cards under the table.

“Listen, Steve, ” Jim said, “Macworld magazine is going to help you sell more Macintoshes, so let’s work this thing out. We’re on your side. David and I want to help you. Andrew and his editors are at this very moment creating a great magazine.”

Steve’s idea for this meeting seemed to be that he would beat us up until we were so tattered and weak we couldn’t do anything. McGovern was the enemy, and we were the pawns. He would make us cower, and then he would force McGovern to be more reasonable. “What if Andrew or David dies, ” Steve said to Jim Riding. “If they die, are you going to bring Wayne Green in to run Macworld?”

Steve wanted a death clause in the Apple-Macworld contract. If Andrew or I died, he wanted the right to veto IDG’s choice of a replacement. “What if Andrew gets AIDS, ” he said. “Who knows what kind of editor would replace him.”

This was definitely the downside of Macworld, and it only grew worse as Andrew and I began to uncover the real status of the Macintosh.

The Macintosh project was in complete disarray. Due to the unavailability of 64K memory chips, and in order to meet the introduction deadline of January 24, 1984, the initial Macintosh could only have 128K of memory. Considering the demands of the operating system and the bitmapped screen, this was not nearly enough memory to make the Macintosh competitive with the IBM PC in terms of functionality.

Pointing out this obvious shortcoming, the glaring lack of a hard disk drive, the amazing amount of bugs in the operating software, plus the lack of application software, Andrew wrote an open memo to the Macintosh development team urging them to postpone the introduction until these problems were fixed. This memo was posted on bulletin boards throughout the Mac development building.

I worried that Steve would be pissed off about Andrew’s memo and kick us out of the project. But he didn’t. Surprisingly, he and the rest of the team appreciated the thought that went into it, and they expressed deep concern about the issues Andrew raised. In the end, though, they did nothing about it. They were determined to have their fun at the annual meeting, and nothing like a lame computer was going to get in their way.

Articles were written. Illustrations were commissioned. Advertising was sold. With or without the contract, Macworld was approaching the day of reckoning, which was the day we sent film to the printer.

I called Steve Jobs to ask him if he would pose for the cover of the magazine. He said he would do it only if I hired a really great photographer, and even then, he would only give us a few minutes of his precious time. So we hired Will Mosgrove and crossed our fingers.

Will was top-notch. His work had appeared in many notable publications.

Will carefully set up the shot. Three Macintoshes on a tabletop, each showing a different screen image. Steve would stand behind the table, his hands outstretched, leaning on the two outside machines. A model was hired to stand in Steve’s position until the lighting was just right.

Steve was called in only when everything was perfect. All we needed was to have Steve stand in position for five minutes, and then he could go. It was just as he requested.

Steve walked into the room. He didn’t like the images on the three Macintosh monitors.

We worked feverishly to fix them.

Meanwhile, Steve glared at the photographer and said, “Are you one of those types of photographers who takes dozens of photos and hopes one turns out OK?”

“Take a picture of this,” Steve said, holding up his middle finger. We stared at him in disbelief.

We got our Steve Jobs photograph, and it is a classic, but if I wasn’t a nimble thinker, it would never have appeared. A couple of weeks after the photo shoot Steve called me and said, “Gee, I’ve changed my mind, I don’t want to be on the cover of Macworld.”

Macworld first issue cover

This most iconic computer magazine cover of all time, right?

“Too late, Steve,” I lied, “the cover is already at the printer and we can’t change it.”

Our reality was that some pages were being shipped to the printer, yet we didn’t have a signed agreement. Macworld was in danger of being stillborn. I called McGovern and said, “Listen, Pat, you’ve got to help me. Unless you come to Apple and settle on the terms of this agreement, we are going to end up wasting all the money we invested in Macworld so far.”

I had learned that the secret to working with McGovern was to tell him how much money we would lose if we didn’t do the things I wanted him to do.

Luckily, Steve Jobs withdrew from the negotiation process. He was too busy arguing with Sculley over the introductory price of the Macintosh to be bothered with us. Steve turned his part over to Apple lawyer David Kopf. “If you can work it out with the lawyers, I’ll sign the agreement,” he said.

In the end, McGovern got his guaranteed payment schedule, only it added up to $600,000 instead of $1.8 million. Pat still figured the whole thing would flop, and at least $600,000 would pay for the initial launch. We would break even and David and Andrew would learn their lesson. We would go back to DOS and be good boys once again.

January 24, 1984, turned out to be a crisp, bright-blue Northern California day—a good day to change the world of computing forever. I grew up dreading 1984. Nineteen eighty-four was supposed to herald an era of digital oppression. Humankind forever enslaved, cruelly manipulated, and alienated by IBM personal computers.

Five thousand copies of the premiere issue of Macworld had been air-freighted to Cupertino from our printer in Minnesota. Copies of Macworld were waiting at the doors to the auditorium at DeAnza College to be passed out to the devoted, right after the introduction.

Steve didn’t want us to pass them out before because he feared people would be looking through the pages instead of paying attention to his presentation.

I felt like a proud father. Macworld was gorgeous. What a triumph! Created in the conference room that had become our secret lab, its 148 pages included reviews of MultiPlan, MacPaint, MacWrite, and the ImageWriter. We had an in-depth interview with Bill Gates in which he claimed that 128K was more than ample memory for any personal computer. There were articles about how the Macintosh was pioneered and interviews from key members of the Macintosh development team. “Hardware Wizard” Burrell Smith explained how he came from a “lowly background as a service technician” to being promoted to a very top technical position. MacPaint author Bill Atkinson said his “central job has been to make sure that the Lisa and the Macintosh are compatible,” while Steve Jobs explained that to his employees, the Macintosh “is more important than their personal lives.”

At the Mac intro, there was a sign-up table in the parking lot. I walked up to it and said, “Hi, I’m David Bunnell from Macworld.”

“We know who you are, welcome,” responded the healthy, well-groomed young woman behind the table. Apple PR flack. I bet she knows every editor by sight.

Just being at the introduction was enough to give me goosebumps. People in suits buzzed about with people in blue jeans. Officially, this was Apple’s annual stockholders’ meeting. In reality, it was high-tech evangelism. It was a revival for those hip computer freaks who had been knocked out of orbit by the IBM PC and prayed for an Apple comeback. Big Blue was identified too much with the forces of evil. Don’t trust them. They’ll network everyone and seize back the power.

Wayne Green, the balding wizard of ham radio who had unknowingly rankled Steve Jobs, was standing bowlegged with a cup of tea. He had two Radio Shack laptop computers—one slung from each shoulder. Wayne was chatting with Maggie Canon, the brilliant, vivacious editor of A+. The irony was that if it wasn’t for A+, there wouldn’t have been a Macworld. I couldn’t help but chuckle, thinking of A+ as a magazine for users of Apple’s faltering Apple II. Has-beens. I felt smug. It was definitely my turn in the sun.

“Hi, Wayne, I haven’t seen you in a long time. You still publishing that laptop magazine?” I said.

Wayne smiled at me all too knowingly and replied, “Yeah, there’s a big future in laptops.”

“How come you got two computers, Wayne?”

“Well, each of these babies holds 32K of RAM, so I carry two of them. When one runs out of memory I go to the backup.”

“Think they’ll ever have laptops with floppies?” I asked.

“Sure, laptops are really the wave of the future. I hear this machine of Steve’s is a real loser.”

“Be nice, Wayne,” I warned. “The computer world needs Apple. Otherwise, we’ll be orbiting around IBM for eternity.”

I detected a flash of anger in Wayne’s eyes. He said, “Why should I be nice? Steve Jobs has never been nice to anyone. Why should I be nice to him?”

Moving inside the theater-style auditorium, I could hear loudspeakers blaring out rock music. Years later, the lyrics “It’s so exciting” still ring in my consciousness. There were several thousand people milling about, waiting for the great event. On the stage, you could see a small table upon which an object about the size of a watermelon turned on its end was draped with a black cloth. It was the Mac—ready (my fingers were crossed) for its first public unveiling.

The music stopped. The auditorium lights were dimmed and the announcer said, “Ladies and gentlemen, the chairman of Apple Computer, Steven P. Jobs.”

Beaming, the glitter in his eyes visible throughout the hall, Steve, who always walked fast, bounded across the stage to the podium. His jet-black hair hung over his forehead. His hawklike chin thrust forward, he smiled his evil-genius smile. The crowd went wild. Computer groupies are too conservative to take off their underpants and toss them up at their idols on the stage, yet on this day, even something like that seemed totally possible. We could have been visited by creatures from another planet, and no one there would have been totally blown away.

Steve was in his bow-tie phase. He wore double-breasted suits and bow ties. This made him look like a young Howard Hughes. He strutted onto the stage a lot like a young Howard Hughes. He bounced. He nearly skipped. He acted a little crazy. This was his moment, and he had triumphed. Today, Steve could rub dirt in the faces of his enemies and they would like it.

All he had to say was, “Hello, I’m Steve Jobs,” and the crowd went bananas.

Steve didn’t waste any time. He hopped over to the object under the black cloth; with a deft movement, he unveiled it. “Ohhhhh,” they moaned. He turned the Macintosh on and a little smiley icon was projected onto a gigantic screen behind his head. The cute little computer that could mimic its master said, “Hello, I’m Macintosh.”

The Macintosh sang to us. It performed mathematical calculations with the blinding speed of a desktop Cray. It drew beautiful pictures. It communicated with a mainframe and with other Macintoshes. It bounced rays off satellites, and it sent subversive messages to the Soviet Union. At this moment, the Mac seemed capable of doing anything Steve willed it to do. At the same time it was apparently easy as pie to use and as friendly as your kindergarten teacher. It was the first teddy bear computer.

The press gobbled this all up, and for a while, it seemed that Steve and his crew had pulled it off in spite of the warning from Andrew Fluegelman. People lined up at computer stores across the nation to look at the Macintosh. The “1984” commercial was so jarring to the Super Bowl audience that it was replayed on the CBS Evening News.

Once the hoopla receded, first the computer press and then the business press began to zero in on the Macintosh’s obvious shortcomings. Underpowered and inflexible but really cute, the Macintosh was called a “yuppy machine.” People complained about the lack of software. At the Mac introduction, Mitch Kapor from Lotus, Fred Gibbons from Software Publishing, and Bill Gates from Microsoft had all stood on the stage with Steve Jobs and proclaimed they would support the Macintosh with application software. Of the three, only Gates came through.

The first issue of Macworld sold out on the newsstands, and by the fourth issue, we were profitable. Profitable, but plenty worried. After an initial surge, sales of the Macintosh were dropping. Even when the 512K “fat” Mac came out a few months later, the market was very shaky. People wanted a hard disk. They wanted slots. And they wanted solid productivity software. Despite Steve Jobs’s better judgment, customers wanted a real computer.

Macworld ad

Apple salutes Macworld in an ad from the first issue

Surveys we took at the time showed that 90% of Macintosh owners read Macworld before they bought their machine. Furthermore, the owners of the Macintosh were not new to computing. The computer for the rest of us was selling to people who already had two or three computers. Early Macintosh owners, like the owners of other computers, were early adopters. They were technologists who simply had to have latest, hippest new machine.

Macworld was able to capture a much larger percentage of Macintosh owners than we had imagined, and this helped make up for the lack of shipments. The magazine was wildly successful. The computer was not.

Because so many Macintosh owners and potential buyers read Macworld, it was a very effective way for third-party developers to sell their products. One ad virtually reached the whole market. This fact helped developers achieve enough success to keep the market going.

I have launched four more magazines since Macworld, but none of them has captured the magic that that magazine seemed to have from day one. And I’m very proud to say that much of the magic is still there in the pages of what has to be the best computer magazine of all time.

I’m satisfied, but very aware that we were lucky to have pulled it off, and lucky that Apple survived. In turn, Apple was lucky that Jobs self-destructed, so they could fix the Macintosh and make it into the machine it should have been in the first place.

I went down the San Francisco peninsula to see Steve Jobs when he was starting his NeXT Computer company. He had traded in his Mercedes for a black Porsche convertible. Along with Dan’l Lewin, Steve drove me to the Stanford campus to have lunch in the student cafeteria. Upon arriving at the campus, Steve couldn’t find a parking space. He complained about the number of parking spaces for handicapped people that always seem to be empty, but he didn’t park in one of them. I guess he’d grown up a little.

About this time, Steve was considering running for the U.S. Senate. The fact that he hadn’t bothered to vote for his entire life didn’t deter him from entertaining the fantasy that he was just so popular he could overcome anything.

During lunch, Steve told me he had sold all his Apple stock except one share so he could continue to get stockholder reports. “Apple will fail,” he said.

Steve also told me that NeXT would deliver at least 40,000 machines in the first year, because there were at least that many people who would buy any computer he made. He didn’t seem concerned that the NeXT Computer had no floppy drive or that its Unix operating system was totally incompatible with all other Unix-based computers. The black cube was totally radical, and that was enough.

I knew then for certain that Steve Jobs lives in a fantasy world. The Macintosh startup was an elaborate make-believe mind trip that by a pure miracle turned out all right. It generated a mythology that will be held up for years as an example of how to do great things.

All I can say is, God help those who follow the Macintosh way.

Andrew jumps off the bridge

Andrew Fluegelman was a tremendously talented individual who had a sense of fair play and honesty. Andrew was outraged when IDG, without telling us, gave its overseas publishing units complete rights to all the art and articles in PC World and Macworld. Without any input from us, IDG launched dozens of scruffy, cheap-looking foreign editions of PC World and Macworld, none of which lived up to our standards and none of which paid us or our contributors for the use of our content. McGovern simply brushed aside our concerns by saying, “At IDG, we are a family, and people in a family share.”

After a confrontation with McGovern produced no change, Andrew quit working full-time at PCW so he could launch his own software company, which was based around a communications program he had authored called PC Talk. This program, which allowed PC users to send files back and forth to each other over a modem, was the first “shareware” program. The whole concept of “shareware,” which Andrew called “freeware,” was invented by him because he didn’t have the time or resources to market his software in the more traditional way.

Andrew Fluegelman in his office in 1982

Andrew Fluegelman in his office in 1982

One day, Harry Miller, editor of PC World and Andrew’s close friend, came into my office, shut the door, and said, “David, Andrew’s dead. He jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.”

Andrew’s death shocked me into realizing that there were many more important things in life than building a business. It also taught me that the saying “death is always over your shoulder” is really true.

One day, I received a letter from Governor Frank Harris of Georgia inviting me to attend a technology development conference in Atlanta aimed at promoting Georgia as the next Silicon Valley. I had read about Georgia’s discriminatory sodomy laws and felt very repelled by the notion that gays and lesbians could be shut out of a lot of opportunity in high-tech. There was no way I could go to such an event.

Needing to at least vent my strong emotions about the audacity of the Georgia law, I wrote to Frank Harris and challenged him to change the sodomy law. Only then could I consider supporting his high-tech development dreams.

Upon finding out that someone in Governor Harris’s office made copies of my letter available to Georgia computer companies that happened to advertise in PC World, I decided to take the issue public by writing an open letter to the governor as my next column. I published this column, which I titled “Out of the PC Closet,” in both PC World and Macworld. The maelstrom that followed, the incredible emotions released both inside and outside of the company itself, were totally unbelievable. Newspapers in Georgia and elsewhere published articles about the controversy. Several hundred subscribers canceled their subscriptions, and for a while, we lost a few pages of advertising from Georgia-based computer companies. But we survived, and in fact got a lot of positive support as well.

Bunnell responds to a reader unhappy about his column on Georgia’s sodomy law

I seemed to be going through a stage in my life where I needed a lot of controversy to keep me interested in carrying on. Otherwise, I had plenty of money and told myself that I should spend my days playing golf, reading poetry, and smoking pot.

It is the absurdity of my life at that time that I was managing the editorial of three giant magazines, starting a fourth one, running all around the world with Pat McGovern, and feeling alienated from my family and most of my friends. I was still angry that Andrew was dead, and I felt bewildered, betrayed, and abandoned. Andrew, who I could always count on to carry his part of the bargain in first-rate fashion, had missed desktop publishing!

The absurdity of the Georgia sodomy law episode, which resulted in my receiving an award from the National Gay Task Force alongside Dr. Ruth, is symbolic of the turmoil raging throughout much of America as well as the personal computer industry, PCW Communications, and in the reality of my dysfunctional life.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer and David Bunnell at the Howard J. Brown award ceremony in 1987

PCW Communications, born in San Francisco and founded by a pot-smoking, free-spirited hippy like myself, started out being one big happy commune. People brought their dogs and their children to work. They went barefoot in the summer, and we had parties every time we could come up with an excuse for having one. People worked very hard at PCW. We really did have a sense of mission there. But we also cared for each other in a very unusual way for business. At company meetings, Jackie would tell everyone that the most important thing in the company was love, and I would remind them that the earth is only a fleck of sand on a vast beach and that we are really just insignificant parts of the whole thing. Our employees loved it, especially during the time when we were growing and making money.

Our parent company, IDG, was more of a coat-and-tie, buttoned-down, East Coast company. Some of our Massachusetts-based colleagues were jealous and mad as hell, because they thought we were getting special treatment, which in a way we were. Even though our success would drive the overall success of IDG, it was always obvious that someone at headquarters didn’t like it that we could achieve all that we achieved without changing our West Coast, hippy, new-age behavior.

As my magazines grew, I began to feel like I had a very important voice in the shape of things to come. During an emotionally charged moment at Esther Dyson’s high-level executive conference in Phoenix in 1983, I accused the leaders of the nation’s retail computer stores of being shortsighted because they wanted to control the growth of the PC industry by limiting the number of products they would sell to their customers. “You’re all a bunch of dinosaurs,” I told them in exasperation. “As time goes by, more and more products will be sold directly to PC users through mail-order advertising in PC World and other magazines.”

While this was one prediction I was very right about, I didn’t make too many friends when I said it, or when it was picked up by The Wall Street Journal. Over the next few years mail-order companies like Dell Computer made tremendous inroads into the industry while computer retailers like Businessland, ComputerLand, and others went down the tubes.

Looking back with 20-20 hindsight, it is amazing to me how fast a young industry can create dinosaurs. I have seen many colossal failures, including the above-mentioned retail chains; VisiCorp, which was once larger than Microsoft; the Lisa Computer; Lotus’s spreadsheet named Jazz for the Macintosh; and hundreds of software and hardware companies, mail-order companies, etc. In most cases, the people involved in these companies and products simply regroup and try again. To be a mover and shaker in the personal computer industry, you have to have something special in your genes. Everyone realizes that the bottom line is that “luck” has a lot to do with success in a hypergrowth industry.

Stealing Sculley’s silverware

I drove my black, five-speed Mustang convertible down to the Mission Rock Bar on San Francisco Bay, where I could get an Anchor Steam beer and a greasy burger and sit out on the back patio overlooking the water and read the newspaper. This was one of my favorite ways to spend some quiet time at lunch away from PCW.

One day in 1987, my solitude was not to be. As I walked up to the San Francisco Examiner rack outside the Mission Rock, I was shocked to see a banner headline about leaks at Apple Computer, which my new publication, Macintosh Today, had broken when one of our correspondents came in with a technical document he had found in the trash outside one of the Apple development buildings.

Instead of having lunch, I jammed a quarter in the rack, took out all the newspapers, and headed back to work. This would really put Macintosh Today on the map, but would it spoil our relationship with Apple? Would Sculley kid around with me and tell me things about his family?

I made peace with Pat McGovern, at least to the degree that I got to travel to many of the various foreign editions of PC World and Macworld so I could at least lobby my ideas, if not impose them on my hapless little publishing brothers.

My experiences helping launch magazines in the already apparently crumbling Soviet Union as well in China just before Tiananmen Square include an absurd banquet at the Hall of the People in Beijing and a press conference in Moscow where I got into some hot water by saying, “It is about time that the Soviet Union, which is the most revolutionary society in the world, started using personal computers, which are also revolutionary.”

The lawsuit over PC Magazine grew geometrically for five years before it literally came apart at the seams on the courthouse steps in a settlement that didn’t seem to make anyone happy.

Having reached an agreement in principle with Ziff chairman Bill Ziff, I felt that they had been pretty reasonable in the end, and at least we could get on with our lives.

For five years, this battle, which involved dozens of countersuits and cross-claims and which ate up millions in legal fees, had robbed us of so much of our time and energy that we could never seem to get away from our magazine lives. Jackie and I needed a break. And the money was nice. We bought a new house in the exclusive rolling hills of upper Hillsborough.

Macintosh Today was, in the end, up against too many obstacles. The publisher of InfoWorld was pissed off at me for “being disloyal to IDG.” IDG was appalled at how much it was costing, Macweek was proving to be a formidable competitor, and the advertising wasn’t developing fast enough. Late one Friday, I got a call from one of Pat’s hatchet men. The message was, “It is time to shut it down.”

For me, this was the final straw. Everyone was pointing fingers and it just wasn’t going to be fun again at PCW Communications.

From McGovern’s point of view, it was time to get me out of there, and I was willing, as long as the terms didn’t deprive me of the rewards from the buyout provision of my contract. So I left, and within a couple weeks, I was launching my own publishing company, which I named “Io Publishing” after the volatile moon of Jupiter. “Io is small,” I would tell people, “but because it is the only known moon with volcanoes in the solar system, it gets a lot of attention.”


My Semi-Infamous 2013 TIME Cover Story: ‘Can Google Solve Death?’

The inside story of a cover people loved to mock, the original version you didn't see, and my surprisingly rewarding conversation with an elusive CEO.

Facebook’s “memories” feature recently reminded me of the tenth anniversary of a small personal milestone I hadn’t thought much about in recent years. The September 30, 2013 issue of TIME cover-featured an article about Google’s launch of a subsidiary called Calico, dedicated to researching the human aging process and finding ways to slow its detrimental aspects. The story was an exclusive I’d reeled in and cowritten, and its publication resulted in my byline appearing on TIME‘s cover for the first and last time. (A couple of years before, my Steve Jobs obituary was certainly a critical element of the special issue marking his death, but Jobs’ name was, fittingly, the only one on the cover.)

We had to turn the Google story around quickly, so TIME decided to have me collaborate with Lev Grossman, a fine writer who had also done a polish on my Jobs obit when it had to be rushed into print. I did all the interviews at Google’s Mountain View campus and wrote the majority of the manuscript, but the first, most Calico-centric chunk is Lev’s. I was delighted with how he tackled it, and the results are seamless enough that I’m not positive where his work ends and mine begins.

The thing that made the Calico news TIME cover story fodder was that I’d secured an interview with Google’s cofounder and then-CEO Larry Page. He did not relish being the company’s public face and engaged with the media less and less over time: If I recall correctly, I am the second-to-last print journalist he’s granted face time for an article. Our article was really a look at Page’s “moonshot” strategy for new Google initiatives—we wanted to shoot a photo of him and Art Levinson, Calico’s CEO, for the cover. But my Google contacts couldn’t have been clearer that there was no way Page would consent to posing for us.

Now, if you have any background at all in the magazine business, you know that authors rarely get to write their own headlines. Cover lines are an even loftier pursuit: Normally, the writer might not even see them pre-publication, let alone have any say. So I’m shocked to recall that one of my editors did send me a PDF of the draft cover and asked what I thought about it. Here, you can take a look for yourself:

I really didn’t like any aspect of the cover (except for my name being on it). For one thing, we had used an out-of-date version of the Google logo, with a gaudy drop shadow they’d recently eliminated. But the big problem was that it oversold Google’s aspirations and our coverage of them inside the issue.

“I don’t like it—at least not the part about curing aging,” I wrote back. “They’ve never claimed they’re trying to do that. But this [is] truly above my pay grade.” Lev also pushed back politely. I don’t remember why I didn’t explicitly object to the part about solving death—maybe because a battle over a secondary line seemed more winnable than one that would have required a wholesale redesign of the cover.

Anyhow, when the issue shipped to the printer, the lines had been amended to tone down the hype. I was relieved, and surprised that my opinion carried any sway at all.

When our story came out, it made a decent-sized splash. It also got mocked some on Twitter and showed up on The Daily Show. We were probably asking for it with that cover. Or at least I think we might have left ourselves less susceptible to being snarked at if the cover had used the same headline the story carried inside: “The Audacity of Google.” Or maybe even the online headline, “Google vs. Death.”

Then again, a book that was severely critical of Tim Cook’s stewardship of Apple featured our Google story in its conclusion—the point being that it was Google, not Apple, that was taking on the world’s most serious problems.

Today, “Can Google Solve Death?” probably wouldn’t make anyone’s list of the 100 most notable TIME covers. I hope it also wouldn’t appear too high on any list of the silliest ones. But it is sort of floating out there as a low-temperature meme and continues to pop up here and there in the public consciousness, for better or worse.

I will always take pleasure in the memories I accumulated working on this story. Some of them I will save for another time. But I got to play emissary between Google and TIME bigwigs, which is more challenging than it sounds, since Silicon Valley and New York media are like two different solar systems. I got to talk to fascinating people like Astro Teller. I got chewed out by a passing random Googler after I got on one of the company’s bikes (at my PR handler’s request), which almost felt like an honor. And I had to remove my shoes to conduct an interview with a Google employee over sushi at an on-campus Japanese restaurant with an amazingly over-the-top Astro Boy theme.

Most of all, I’ll remember interviewing Larry Page after spending some weeks being told that he hated being interviewed and might suddenly stop responding or even walk out mid-conversation. He not only stayed in his seat but was interesting and engaging, and if he despised the whole experience, he did a good job of hiding it. He didn’t even blink when I asked him about the then-recent Edward Snowden revelations—a topic of conversation that Google PR had made a point of saying they hoped I wouldn’t bring up.

As for the story itself, I don’t feel an urge to disown any aspect of it. Calico is still extant, still run by Art Levinson, and doing serious research. Our reporting foreshadowed the restructuring of Google into Alphabet that happened a couple of years later: I even used a quote that hadn’t ended up in the TIME piece in a 2016 Fast Company cover story on Page and Alphabet. And another Alphabet arm, Google DeepMind, has made some research breakthroughs with potentially transformative implications for human health.

“In some industries, it takes 10 or 20 years to go from an idea to something being real,” Page told me. “Health care is certainly one of those areas. We should shoot for the things that are really, really important, so 10 or 20 years from now we have those things done.” It seems entirely possible that Alphabet/Google will still be plugging away at this really, really important thing 10 years from now. At the very least, it’s still too early to declare it to have been an embarrassing bust that never led anywhere.

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A 1983 look at the computer magazine wars

First, an apology: I’m sorry I haven’t acknowledged the 40th anniversary of PC World. I feel slightly less guilty since—as far as I know—even PC World itself has not celebrated the 40th anniversary of PC World. Earlier this year, another magazine I used to work for, TIME, did remember to mark its 100th birthday; given that personal computers as we know them have been around for less than 50 years, PC World‘s long history and continued existence strikes me as worth celebrating,

Back when I worked there, we weren’t sure precisely when our first issue was published—oddly enough, it carried no month. We decided to celebrate our 20th anniversary in our March 2003 issue, which came out in February. That turned out to be a good call: Years later, when my friend Karen Wickre gave me a copy of the press release announcing the first issue, it was dated February 1983 and said the issue would be out that month.

The original PC World staff. Read to the bottom of this article and I promise to share a guide to who’s who, including David Bunnell and his cofounder Cheryl Woodard.

Lately, however, I have been partial to declaring that PC World was born on November 29, 1982, the day it was announced at COMDEX. For one thing,  it’s nice to narrow it down to a specific day. For another, it has the best origin story in computer magazine history: The publication’s staff consisted of nearly the entire staff of PC Magazine, who’d walked out after it was sold to Ziff-Davis. There’s no truly detailed account of how that all went down on the internet, or the years of lawsuits that followed—a sad situation I hope to rectify one of these days.

In the meantime, here’s an August 1983 article on the magazine and its rivalry with its slightly older eternal bête noire, PC Magazine. It comes from the collection of my late friend David Bunnell, who cofounded both magazines. This story was originally published in something called Bay Area Computer Classifieds, which is otherwise unknown to me. The layout looks just like an early issue of PC World, so I assume that David got permission to reprint and distribute the article, then reformatted it.

The bulk of the piece is an interview with David about the state of the computer-magazine market. It touches on the PC World origin story and says that “for the time being” there is room for both it and PC Mag. (Forty years later, on the web, there still is.)

David maintains that PC World has the larger circulation and higher revenue, and says that it plans to stay at a convenient 400 pages—since, hey, a 700 or 800-page computer magazine would be awfully inconvenient. It wasn’t just a theoretical problem: PC Mag‘s September 1983 issue, which came out around when this article was published, was so thick with ads that it did hit an unwieldy 663 pages. But Ziff apparently agreed with David, and soon switched to twice-monthly publication. For a time, that resulted in two PC Mag issues a month of approximately 400 pages each. (I haven’t heard lately of any print magazines having much difficulty accommodating all the ads they’re able to sell.)

I got to PC World well after David left, but his contention in this interview that the original staff was publishing the magazine to benefit society resonates with me. At least some of that idealism remained when I worked there. It still helps explain why I get out of bed and go to work today.

Page one of 1983 article on PC World

Page two of 1983 article on PC World

Page three of 1983 article on PC World

Page four of 1983 article on PC World

Here’s the guide to the staff photo near the top of this post. I’m happy to know (or at least have had some contact with) several of these people, and grateful to all of them for creating something that turned out to matter so much to to my life and career—even though my earliest memory of PC World is not caring in the least about its existence when my father told me about it in late 1982 or early 1983.

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Here’s my unpublished TIME story about Microsoft’s Windows 8 and Surface from 2012

A photo I took of chalk art outside the Hollywood venue where Microsoft announced the Surface tablet on June 18, 2012.

2023 author’s note: Over at Fast Company, you can read my new cover story on Satya Nadella and Microsoft—and more specifically, the company’s decades-long investment in AI, which is finally starting to pay off in a big way. As I worked on it over the past few months, it dislodged a minor factoid from the back of my brain: Eleven years ago, I wrote a magazine article about Microsoft that was never published.

One of my favorite things about working for TIME magazine, as I did back then, was the editorial acrobatics involved in putting out a newsweekly. When the timing worked in our favor, I could be finishing a story on Wednesday afternoon and hold the printed issue that contained it two days later. But when news broke late in our weekly cycle, it often bumped a story right out of the magazine—sometimes just for a week, and sometimes forever.

TIME’s April 4, 2011 issue, with a tribute to Elizabeth Taylor but no Facebook article by me.

Which is why, when I think about Elizabeth Taylor passing away in 2011, what I remember is that it happened on a Wednesday, just in time to make it into that week’s issue. As we made room for a tribute, a short article I’d written about the alleged new trend of people spurning Facebook got cut. The noxious magazine-industry tradition of the kill fee came into play—I was a freelancer at the time—and TIME reduced my fee by half,  even though the quality of my work had nothing to do with it being axed.

The following year, after I went on staff, one of the big stories in tech was the rest of the industry’s reaction to Apple’s success with the iPad. For a time, it seemed possible that PCs as we knew them might largely give way to tablets. Microsoft responded with Windows 8, a radically reimagined version of its operating system designed with touch in mind. Concerned that the hardware makers who licensed Windows might not handle this epoch-shifting transition adroitly enough, it also developed its own line of tablets, known as Surface.

It was a big, big deal: The company whose software ran on nearly every non-Apple PC was finally making computers itself, taking full responsibility for what Steve Jobs called “the whole widget.”

I can’t remember if I pitched the idea or it originated back in NYC within the Time & Life Building, but in October, as Windows 8 and the first Surface were about to ship,  I wrote a 2,000-word story about them. For some reason I either didn’t know about or don’t recall, my piece didn’t make it into the designated issue. When I asked if it still stood a chance of reaching print, my editor replied with a noncommital “we’ll see,” then never mentioned the subject again. By the time it was clear it didn’t, the news felt a tad stale, and so we didn’t run it online, either.

So here it is, for the first time ever. As with the 2013 Evernote story I recently posted, this is my unedited draft. Since I hadn’t read it myself since filing it, I’d forgotten some details, such as the fact I interviewed Tandy Trower, the Microsoft product manager who’d shipped Windows 1.0 back in 1985. I don’t think anyone else likely to write about Windows for TIME would have thought to do that. This might also be the first time I spoke with Panos Panay, who is now Microsoft’s chief product officer and one of the people I interviewed for my new Fast Company story. And while many PC makers didn’t want to talk about Surface, I did get a decent quote from Toshiba, which later abandoned the PC market altogether.

My piece not making it into TIME wasn’t a tragedy, but if nothing else, it’s a snapshot of a particular moment. As you probably remember if you’ve read this far, the iPad didn’t kill conventional PCs after all. Once Windows users made clear that they weren’t all that eager to enter a brave new world, Microsoft unwound some of Windows 8’s most extreme departures from earlier versions. Surface did seem to scare third-party hardware manufacturers into making more polished, ambitious Windows computers, which was part of the idea all along. And eleven years later, Microsoft still finds being in the hardware business to be worth its time: It’s expected to announce new Surface models next month.

Anyhow, here you go—and if you read to the end, I promise to share some bonus material.

[HED] Microsoft Reboots Windows

[DEK] The software giant’s plan to transform its 27-year-old cash cow for the iPad age is bold — and risky.

By Harry McCracken

In December of 1974, a college dropout and proto-computer geek named Paul Allen picked up the new issue of Popular Electronics at Harvard Square’s Out of Town News. It cover-featured the MITS Altair 8800, a $397 build-it-yourself microcomputer. Allen and his equally nerdish buddy, Harvard sophomore Bill Gates, were instantly transfixed by the machine, and wondered: Could they make money writing software for it?

They could. They did. And the company they founded, initially known as “Micro-Soft,” has made money selling software to computer manufacturers ever since. Today, research firm Gartner says that well over 90 percent of the nearly 1.7 billion PCs in use worldwide run Windows, each having contributed to Microsoft’s epically prosperous bottom line.

It’s one of the most potent business models in the history of business. But starting on October 26, Microsoft is giving it a good, hard shake. That’s the day that the company is releasing Windows 8, a touch-friendly, radically-streamlined update that’s  the most fundamental reimagining of Windows since…well, ever.

Just as striking, it’s doing something it abstained from for its first thirty-seven years: designing and selling its own computers. Its new Surface is a line of Windows tablets which compete not only with the iPad and Android tablets but also with Windows computers from Microsoft’s own hardware-making customers. 

Why so much change all at once? Microsoft and the entire PC industry would like to give consumers sexy new systems to buy this holiday season, of course, but that’s just for openers. “We see Windows 8 as the beginning,” says Jensen Harris, the company’s director of product management for the Windows User Experience. “The launchpad for an entire decade or more of innovation.”

This age won’t look much like the one which Microsoft and Windows ruled for so long. For one thing, the market for traditional PCs is maxing out. Sales have been sluggish-to-declining in 2012, and nobody predicts torrid growth in 2013 and beyond.

Another gadget category is booming the way PCs once did: tablets. But Microsoft — which first started trying to spur adoption of Windows tablets two decades ago — is an also-ran. Instead, Apple owns the market, even though it puts its own software on its own iPad hardware rather than licensing it to the rest of the industry. By following this approach with the iPad, iPhone and Mac, Apple doesn’t just make the industry’s slickest, best-integrated devices. It also makes more profit than Microsoft, an outcome which would have been unimaginable even years after Steve Jobs turned around the company he co-founded.

Throw in the competition provided by other contenders such as Google with its Android software, and for Microsoft, “the stakes have never been higher,” says Gartner Research Director Michael Gartenberg. “This is the first time ever that the Windows franchise has been challenged. The PC is just one more device among many.” 

It’s easy to see Windows 8 as a product that’s been rejiggered for the post-PC era which Jobs declared was upon us when he unveiled the first iPad in 2010. But Harris says that Microsoft was already at work on a major makeover. “During the summer of 2009, we looked at the history of Windows and realized that the last time we had made a major change to the user interface was in 1993, with Windows 95,” he explains. “We thought of all the ways the world was so different then. It was a pre-Internet time, a time before MP3s, a time when PCs were beige boxes that sat under a desk.”

The first time you fire up a Windows 8 computer, you land in something which doesn’t resemble today’s Windows 7, let alone Windows 95. If you’re tempted to get your bearings by hunting down Windows’ most iconic feature, the Start button, don’t bother. Microsoft eliminated it, a decision which underlines the fact that you’re not in Kansas anymore.

Instead, you get the Start screen — a colorful, panoramic wall of oversized tiles, some of them auto-shuffling through notifications or photos and all of them leading to applications and services. The only existing software it closely resembles is Microsoft’s own Windows Phone. (That smartphone operating system — which, despite being impressive, has scarcely dented the market dominated by the iPhone and Android — is getting a major overhaul, too, based on the same software core as Windows 8.)

New Windows 8 apps look nothing like their predecessors. They’re dramatically streamlined and run mostly in full-screen mode, without the drop-down menus, toolbars and other elements which have heretofore been standard equipment. They store stuff on Microsoft’s SkyDrive cloud-storage service, so it’s available on other Windows PCs as well as a bevy of additional gadgets and gizmos. And you can only get them from Microsoft’s own Windows Store app bazaar.

It’s possible to navigate Windows 8 with a garden-variety mouse, but it begs to be touched. So lots of Windows 8 PCs will have touchscreens, from otherwise conventional desktops and laptops to iPad-like tablets. There will also be machines which split the difference in new ways, such as Lenovo’s Yoga, a notebook with a 360-degree hinge which lets you fold the screen back into a tablet-like orientation. 

Now, Microsoft hasn’t banished Windows in its more recognizable form altogether. A feature called Desktop is essentially Windows 7 embedded into Windows 8, and will run all of the gazillions of old-school Windows applications, and new ones yet to come, just fine. It’s just that it’s a nod to Windows as knew it, not the main attraction.

It’s not a given, though, that typical PC users are unhappy with Windows as they know it. Once they’ve learned how to do something on a computer, many of them want to keep on doing it the same way. According to analytics firm Net Applications, close to half of them cling to eleven-year-old Windows XP, an antediluvian operating system whose sole virtue is that it’s comfortably familiar. If they reject the incremental improvements of Windows 7, what are the chances that they’ll willingly enter Windows 8’s brave new world?

Microsoft, as you’d expect, thinks that the benefits of the new software’s up-to-the-minute design will be obvious enough to make the experience inviting rather than off-putting. “We felt very confident that people would be able to learn a few new concepts,” says Harris.

What Microsoft isn’t, apparently, is confident that PC manufacturers will show its ambitious creation off to best advantage. 

It has reason to fret. Ruthless price competition grinds all the fat of the Windows PC business. That’s why remarkably powerful computers cost as little as they do. But it also tends to commodotize them, leaving the field short on the sort of polish and innovation which are Apple’s stock in trade.

With Surface, Microsoft is taking matters into its own hands. The initial version of the tablet features a Windows 8 variant called Windows RT, designed to run not on an Intel processor of the sort used by PCs but on a chip based on the same battery-efficient technology used by the iPad. It aspires for Apple-level industrial design and seamless melding of software and hardware. And just as Apple showcases its products in own retail stores, Microsoft will sell Surface itself in the fledgling 31-store Microsoft Store chain, plus another 34 temporary outlets it’s opening for the holidays.

Also Apple-esque: The cone of silence under which Surface was conceived. The staffers responsible for it toiled in secrecy in a high-security area at the company’s Redmond, Wash. headquarters; even their spouses were kept out of the loop. The company didn’t spill the beans to anyone, including its PC-maker partners, until last June.

The stealthy development was a major departure for the company, which has been known to begin hyping new stuff years in advance. “We didn’t want the world designing our product,” says Panos Panay, general manager of Surface. “And we didn’t want a me-too product. When you want to tell your story and know what it is, why not hold the cards until you’re ready?”

Microsoft has built hardware of one sort or another for most of its history – the Microsoft Mouse debuted in 1983 – and created a serious long-term hit in the Xbox 360 game console, as well as duds such as the iPod wannabe Zune. Still, it’s never attempted anything quite like Surface. “This product was built from the ground up,” Panay says. “Every single component was designed in this building and is new.”

Starting at $499 and weighing 1.5 pounds — the same price and heft as the current 9.7-inch iPad — Surface is undeniably iPad-like, yet it’s also notable for the respects in which it departs from Apple’s template. It’s got a 10.6” screen, larger and wider than the iPad’s, encased in a posh, sturdy magnesium case. There’s a built-in kickstand on the backside which flips open and shut with a satisfying clunk. Microsoft has also built in some PC-like features which the iPad lacks, such as a USB connector and a memory-card slot for extra storage. 

At first blush, Microsoft’s Touch Cover ($119.99, or bundled with the tablet for $599) looks like the snap-on magnetic cover which Apple sells for the iPad. But it’s got a flat-but-roomy keyboard built into its interior. Fold it down, prop up the tablet with its kickstand, and you’ve got a rough approximation of a notebook computer. You can even run the full versions of Microsoft’s Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, all of which come bundled.

(Unlike Windows 8, however, RT doesn’t let you install other old-style Windows programs, just new ones from the Windows Store. A full-blown Windows 8 version of the tablet, Surface Pro, is due in early 2013.)

Microsoft getting into the computer hardware business represents a basic conflict of interest that nobody involved is particularly keen to discuss. Some of the PC companies I asked either refused to express an opinion about Surface or told me that they didn’t want to be be asked about it, period.

When Toshiba learned that Surface loomed in Windows’ future, “I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say we weren’t initially pleased,” admits Jeff Barney, vice president and general manager for its U.S. operations. Rather than brood, the company decided to focus on more powerful Windows 8 computers rather than compete too directly with Microsoft’s tablet — and to look on it as an ally in a greater war. “Innovative devices in the Windows ecosystem help us compete with Apple,” he says. “Surface is an exciting product, and it brings buzz to Windows.”

Buzz may help Surface and Windows 8 get off to a good start, but that’s all. Both the tablet and the software will ultimately be defined by the things they let people do — most of which will be enabled by third-party programs.

And most of those programs will take a while to show up. At first, the pickings will be slim: Windows 8 is starting off with just 5,000 apps in its U.S. Windows Store, vs. 250,000 iPad apps in Apple’s store. 

Microsoft knows the importance of killer apps as well as anybody. “We understood quite well that Windows itself would be nothing if there weren’t a generation of applications that stood on top of it,” says Microsoft veteran Tandy Trower. “Apps were the key. Without them, it was just a piece of operating system software.”

Trower, who worked at the company from 1981 to 2009, doesn’t happen to be talking about Windows 8 — he’s remembering Windows 1.0, the product he was responsible for shipping back in 1985. Many things have changed about Windows in the past 27 years, but apps are still key. 

Those with long memories may recall that Windows was a middling success with a meager software selection until Windows 3.0 arrived in 1990. So don’t be in too much of a hurry to judge Windows 8: For all of Microsoft’s audacity, the prospects for its new vision for its most important product may remain fuzzy until Windows 9 or Windows 10 comes along.

Still reading? Here’s the unpublished 2011 Facebook story I mention above, which got as far as the proof stage before biting the big one. It’s not quite final—the email I just retrieved it from acknowledged that it didn’t yet incorporate a small tweak I’d requested. But at this late date I’m not going to be too fussy, and I hope that you won’t be, either.


For your eyes only, my unedited 2013 TIME Magazine story about Evernote

Evernote sign

I took this photo in 2018, back when there was still an Evernote building in Redwood City that reminded people of the brand every time they drove past it on Highway 101.

2023 author’s note: With the future of Evernote seemingly in question, I have been reflecting on the product, which I’ve used for years and written about since the day it was announced in 2004. I was also moved to share some of those stories. Here’s one I wrote for Fast Company in 2018, when the company was a tad bedraggled but not necessarily doomed to spiral downward forever.

Six years before that, I also wrote a big Evernote feature for TIME, back when I was an editor-at-large there and my responsibilities included being the magazine’s emissary to Silicon Valley. That one I wrote at the request of my editors in New York. I was always intrigued when they even knew a tech company existed and considered it to be TIME fodder, since it meant it had really hit the mainstream consciousness.

At earlier such inflection points, TIME asked me to write print features about Kickstarter and Minecraft. I was and am thoroughly pleased with how they turned out as finished products. In the case of this Evernote article, however, I did not like the edited version at all, mostly because it bore little resemblance to what I had written. When I helpfully suggested that the resulting piece might be better off without my name attached to it, we compromised on some areas where our visions diverged. That did make a difference. Still, when the story came out, I chose not to promote it via Twitter, which was as close as I could come to disowning it.

Since I try to keep all my old email, I have the first draft I submitted to my editors on October 4, 2013, and present it below. You can decide for yourself whether it’s any good. But at least it’s how I thought the story should be told, at pretty much the moment of Peak Evernote.

[hed] Brain Quest

[dek] For Evernote, note-taking isn’t just an app. It’s a hundred-year mission to make the world smarter.

By Harry McCracken

Phil Libin, the CEO of Evernote, is bounding on stage to give the opening keynote at the company’s annual user conference in San Francisco. On cue, the audience of around a thousand welcomes him in unison with a spirited “Hi, Phil!” But while a goodly percentage of the crowd then gives him its undivided attention, plenty of folks are multitasking. They’re hunched over phones, tablets, laptops and dead-tree notebooks. and as they listen, they’re tapping, typing and jotting away.

Libin is presumably O.K. with the competition — it’s Evernote, his own product, in just a few of its myriad forms. In a moment, he’ll tell the assembled masses that the goal of the note-taking service is to serve as their external brain. They’re just practicing what he’s about to preach.

During his presentation, he starts with the sort of revelations you’d expect, such as the arrival of a new version of Evernote for the iPhone. Even the announcement of a major deal with 3M to add a feature for digitizing Post-it Notes doesn’t come out of left field. But then the news keeps coming: Evernote backpacks. Evernote messenger bags. Evernote wallets.

“We’re a fashion brand now,” says Libin, a goateed, good-humored 41-year-old who’s dressed in his standard uniform of jeans and an Evernote T-shirt under a sport jacket. “Nobody saw that coming.” He sounds startled himself.

At first blush, Evernote putting its name on pricey luggage and leather goods might seem a branding non-sequitur, akin to Microsoft Excel formalwear or Facebook cutlery. Its bread and butter, after all, is a relatively straightforward method for storing text, images and audio recordings in online notebooks. Yet the move isn’t out of whack with the company’s own view of itself, which is only partly about software and services.

As Libin explains it to me at Evernote headquarters in Redwood City, California, “Nike broke out and become the first worldwide, mainstream brand for people who care about athleticism. “We want the same thing, to be the worldwide signature brand for people who aspire to being smart.” He calls it a “sufficiently epic quest” to keep the company busy for the next century.

For the most hardcore fans among its 75 million users, Evernote already feels like a lifestyle choice. Some of them become Evernote Ambassadors, taking a formal-but-unpaid position which is part tech support, part missionary work. “You have to tell people how much you love Evernote,” says Kristi Willis, who specializes in helping freelancers. “I was doing that before.”

The service doesn’t try to transform unruly slobs into dynamic neatniks: They can simply dump stuff into it as if it were a virtual shoebox. But it’s equally appealing to folks who are already preternaturally organized, such as Michael Hyatt, author of New York Times bestseller Platform: Get Noticed in a Busy World. Once a believer in recording handwritten notes in Moleskine notebooks, he says that Evernote has let him go entirely digital. “I just had my annual physical done — they gave me the paperwork, I brought it home, scanned it into Evernote and threw it away.”

Actually, though, Hyatt could have chosen to keep on fussing over his Moleskines. The Milan-based stationery maker produces special notebooks designed for Evernote freaks, with pages they can bring into the service by snapping photos with a smartphone. There are also Evernote-ready cameras, scanners and electronic pens. And apps for PCs, Macs, iPhones, iPads, Androids, Windows Phones, BlackBerrys and even Samsung’s smart watch and Google’s Glass augmented-reality goggles.

Evernote, in short, is everywhere. That’s one big reason why it’s attracted so much attention, even though the world wasn’t exactly suffering from a shortage of note-taking apps before it came along. Yet if there’s such a thing as a classic tale of Silicon Valley success, this company isn’t it. With roots stretching back to 2004, it’s something of a late bloomer. And even though Libin talks about Evernote with such ambition and exuberance that you might assume that it’s his creation, he didn’t found it — it found him.

In the beginning, Evernote was known as EverNote, and it was the brainchild of Russian-American computer scientist and entrepreneur Stepan Pachikov. “I was thinking how to make myself more effective,” he remembers. “I realized one of the problems I had was that I didn’t have any good tool to remember a lot of stuff and very quickly find it.” He solved his own conundrum by developing EverNote, initially as a software package for Windows PCs.

Around 80,000 users embraced Pachikov’s program. But as a money-making enterprise, it stalled. “By the end of 2006, we had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that you couldn’t make a business out of a Windows app,” says Dmitry Stavisky, an early employee who stuck around at the company until this year.

Enter Libin, who was an emigrant from Russia himself, having arrived in the U.S. at the age of eight with his family in 1979. After dropping out from Boston University’s computer-science program, he’d started two companies: One developed Internet software, the other created identity-verification technologies for governments and other large organizations. They were successful, but not all that spiritually fulfilling.

In early 2007, along with some of the people he’d hired along the way, he started hatching plans for a third, more meaningful startup. “We wanted to do something permanent,” he says. “Let’s only build a product we want to use, and build a company to keep.”

Libin and his colleagues zeroed in on the idea of creating a tool which would help busy people store important information. And then they discovered that their idea already existed in the form of EverNote. The two teams met and hit it off; Pachikov says that he knew within 30 minutes that Libin should be running the company. A new lower-case-N Evernote emerged, with Libin as CEO and Pachicov as a board member and advisor.

If Evernote was going to have to reboot itself, its timing was fortuitous. The entire technology industry was doing so on an epic scale, as smartphones started to supplant PCs as the most personal of personal-computing devices. And things which would have been PC software in the past — such as the original version of EverNote — were morphing into Web-based services, hosted in the cloud and accessible from any Net-connected gadget.

So Libin’s team started over. Henceforth, data would be stored on its own servers, not users’ computers, and Evernote would work on as many platforms as possible. When Apple opened the iPhone App Store in July 2008, Evernote was there on day one.

Still, it wasn’t immediately clear that Libin’s Evernote would fare better than Pachikov’s EverNote. The nadir came in the fall of 2008. Libin says he was within hours of telling the staff that the company was shutting down when he got an e-mail at 3 a.m. from a well-heeled Evernote enthusiast in Sweden inquiring about the possibility of investing. The $500,000 he provided kept the business afloat.

Then the new Evernote started to take off. By May 2009, it had a million users, a figure it doubled by the end of the year, and tripled a year after that. Venture-capital firms noticed, eventually plowing a total of $150 million into the company’s coffers.

Those investors liked the service, but they also liked Libin’s overarching vision for the company that produced it, which he’s grown only more obsessive about as the busness has staffed up to its current count of 330 employees. “The product is the product,” he explains. “The culture is the next hundred products.”

Like many tech workplaces, Evernote operates on the philosophy that pampered people are productive people. “We spend as much time thinking about how we change our lunch menus as how we change the settings in an app,” says Libin, sounding proud rather than sheepish about it. There’s a industrial-strength espresso machine in the reception area; he’s mandated that the company’s executives go through a four-hour training program to learn how to use it and spend an hour a week playing barista for other staffers.

Of course, in the Valley, no sought-after engineer would join an outfit that didn’t have good coffee and copious amounts of scrumptious free food. But other aspects of life at Evernote are less standard fare. It provides a $250-per-month stipend towards the purchase or lease of an electric vehicle which qualifies for travel in the carpool lane, a time-saver which roughly 20 percent of the staffers at headquarters have taken advantage of. The cost of biweekly house-cleaning service is also covered.

Evernote insists that such policies aren’t mere perks. “We’re doing these things because, like [the Evernote service], we want to eliminate burdens,” says VP of marketing and longtime Libin associate Andrew Sinkov. “What we strive for is to eliminate various stupid things in modern life, but also to instill a sense of what we’re about.”

The company may be thriving, but it still doesn’t fit the profile which typically makes venture capitalists giddy. It’s not a social network which will grow virally as friends and friends of friends create a community together. And unlike Google, Facebook and Twitter, it pledges that it will never mine what it knows about its users in order to pelt them with highly targeted advertising.

What it is is addictive. “Once a consumer adopted Evernote and stuck with it, the ones who stuck, stuck forever,” says ex-venture capitalist Ken Gullicksen, explaining why he invested in the company on behalf of Morgenthaler Ventures. (Later, he joined it as chief operating officer.) “There was essentially no churn after the first few weeks of trying it out.”

With advertising out of the picture, Evernote makes money the old-fashioned way: by getting customers to pay for stuff. Most of the service’s features are free, but some users pony up $5 a month or $45 a year for Evernote Premium, which adds options such as the ability to upload more data and share notes with other people. More than 8,000 corporate customers have rolled out Evernote Business, a version with additional collaborative features, for $10 per user per month. The company won’t disclose how much revenue that adds up to, but between Premium and Business, more than 3.1 million of its 75 million users have paid accounts.

Those numbers, while impressive, aren’t stratospheric enough to make Evernote one of the web’s true behemoths. But Roelof Botha, who led Sequoia Capital’s investment in the company in 2009 and sits on its board, says that its long-term potential reminds him of past Sequoia portfolio mega-successes such as LinkedIn, PayPal and YouTube. “The thing that really surprises you in the long run,” he contends, “is the upside of the winners.”

Much of that upside will come from international expansion. Evernote had fans all over from early on — it was a hit in Japan even before the company got around to releasing a Japanese-language version — and today, more than 70 percent of users are outside the U.S. “Our next 50 million people are not going to look like our first 50 million people,” says Chief Technical Officer Dave Engberg. “We’re signing up a lot more people from Brazil and China than we did two years ago.”

But the company is also thinking far past its next 50 million signups. In early 2011, its board and management team concluded that they prized independence over the quick windfall that selling it might bring. They agreed to work towards taking Evernote public, which Libin says won’t happen for at least another two or three years. When it does, he wants to make sure that the IPO doesn’t change everything.

“Evernote is our life’s work,” he says. “There is no exit strategy for your life’s work. Going public is not a goal. It’s not an exit. It’s a step on the road to being a 100-year startup.”

That sort of thinking runs against the grain in Silicon Valley, a place where even big ideas often have short shelf lives, and happy endings often come in the form of an abrupt buyout by Google or Yahoo. Which brings up the question: How seriously should we take Libin’s 100-year mission for Evernote?

It’s tempting to regard it as a bit of an attention-seeking prank, especially since he discusses it, like all matters, in a jovial and jokey manner. (He says he hopes to still be involved with the company “in some capacity” a century from now, and wouldn’t object if it became history’s first million-employee startup.) It’s perfectly true, however, that Evernote will only fulfill its mission if it’s around for the long haul. If you invite users to think of your service as an extension of their brains, you’re telling them that the data they salt away will be there when they need it — whether that moment comes in two weeks or twenty years.

And more than most tech products, Evernote will be subject to radical reinvention as the decades pass. A word processor will always be a word processor. An external brain, however, could be anything. Someday, it could even be a chip implanted into the human brain, a possibility which Libin has been known to discuss enthusiastically.

Nobody claims that it’s possible to predict the specifics of what the service might look like in 2038 or 2063 or 2088, beyond the obvious fact that it likely won’t run on something which much resembles a 2013 smartphone, tablet or laptop. But the company sees it evolving from what it is today — basically a well-designed, cloud-connected database — into a constant companion which performs mental gruntwork at precisely the moment its users need it.

“We all have dozens of little moments a day where we could be better prepared,” says VP of Augmented Intelligence Mark Ayzenshtat, a Google alumnus. “Evernote can stand out as a way to situationally prepare you for what you’re about to do. If I met you two years ago and got your business card, it should show it to me.”

The company is dabbling with some possible aspects of Evernote’s smarter future in the form of complementary applications. Evernote Hello, for instance, is dedicated to helping you brush up on people you’ve met. Evernote Food knows which of your notes contain recipes. And Evernote Peek is a quiz app aimed at students, one of the service’s core constituencies.

It’s also thinking about collecting new types of data, such as wellness information; power users are already logging stats from Fitbits and Jawbone Ups and other fitness trackers automatically into their notebooks. “Five years ago, virtually nobody had access to their health information,” Libin says. “Five years from now, it’ll be utterly mainstream.”

And before all that long, he believes that Evernote, and software in general, will morph into distributed services — built into glasses, watches, refrigerators and cars, with every version working seamlessly in concert with all the others. In this scenario, “the idea of apps shifts from being about a particular device to being about a person,” he says. “The whole metaphor for how we design products doesn’t work anymore.”

If the prospect intimidates him, he hides it well. “It’s super-cool to be in an industry that’s on the very edge of that sort of apocalyptic change. You roll up your sleeves and say, ‘Someone will figure this out, and it might as well be us.” If Libin’s company gets there before some upstart competitor, the Evernote of tomorrow won’t just be everywhere — it’ll be ambient. A sufficiently epic quest, indeed.

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A Master Course in Computer Magazine Ad Salesmanship Circa 1996

More than a quarter century later, PC World associate publisher Jeff Edman's 90-minute presentation on the state of the ad market in the mid-1990s is a piece of publishing history.

When I wrote my rumination on the end of computer magazines in America a couple of weeks ago, I suspected that other people would care about the sad death of a once-mighty medium. But I wouldn’t have guessed the piece would stoke as much conversation as it did, from Reddit to Slashdot to Hacker News to Daring Fireball to Boing Boing to Six Colors and beyond. I even got plagiarized.

So if you’ll indulge me, I plan to continue to write about the computer-magazine era from time to time. And I’d like to start by sharing an internal presentation about the nuts and bolts of ad sales given at PC World‘s San Francisco headquarters in a large conference room we called CR-1, apparently in the fall of 1996 or thereabouts. Through the miracle of the Internet, it has been sitting on YouTube since 2015, where hardly anyone has watched it. If nothing else, I hope writing about it here raises its visibility. If you care at all about the history of computer magazines, it’s pure gold.

Here it is, in three acts. The presentation is in progress as the first chunk begins, and people are still asking questions when the last one ends. I don’t expect most of you to watch the whole thing in one sitting, but just dipping in here and there is worth your time.

The guy doing the presenting—using an overhead projector and transparencies!—is Jeff Edman. I believe he was PC World‘s associate publisher at the time, having spent a decade rising through the ranks of its sales organization. The well-coiffed, mustachioed gent who occasionally interjects is Rich Marino, the magazine’s CEO. Others in the room are my PC World coworkers, though I worked in the Boston office then and am reasonably confident I didn’t attend this meeting even via speakerphone.

In about 90 minutes, Jeff explains the magazine’s value proposition as a marketing tool, which involved reaching “PC-proficient managers” who (we declared) did most of the purchasing of computers and related goods. He delves into the competition between PC World and its principal competitors, which included several magazines from Ziff-Davis (PC Magazine, PC Computing, and Windows Sources) as well as Byte and Windows. (A little over five years later, only PC World and PC Mag survived.) He touches on topics such as how the publication handled advertisers unhappy with negative editorial content about their products, and even addresses the potential impact of the web on print advertising.

Jeff and Rich also look a little forlorn as they discuss how hardscrabble the market has gotten, which is funny in retrospect, as PC World was still growing more corpulent with ads. (The December 1997 issue was a 456-page behemoth, which might have been the all-time record.)

Throughout the presentation, there are reminders that 1996 was still relatively early in the personal technology revolution. “Computers have become so mainstream in America,” Jeff says at about 2:48 in the first video chunk. “Forty percent of adults use a computer. About 20 percent of all adults use one at home and at the office. That’s a lot!” Maybe so, but it also meant that 60 percent of people still hadn’t touched a PC at the time.

Jeff and me mind-melding at a PC World party. One of the few things he was really serious about was the importance of wearing our PC World name tags at such events.

You don’t have to watch Jeff’s show for very long to tell that he was very good at selling advertising space. Not too long after this video seems to have been shot, he became PC World‘s publisher—the person with overall responsibility for sales. A few years after that, he was promoted to CEO. And then, when PC World needed a new editor-in-chief, he appointed me to the position.

For obvious reasons, magazine CEOs who come up through the sales side don’t necessarily understand the editorial aspect of the business. Some may even see it as a nuisance they can tamper with at will. Jeff was not like that at all. He let PC World be PC World, allowed me to have the final say on edit matters, and never suggested we should mess with the product because it had ticked off a potential advertiser. I can still remember him casually telling me that a story we published rightly trashing Microsoft’s dismal “SPOT” smartwatch had prompted the company to tell us it was pulling all its ads for consumer products for a year—a threat I don’t think it followed through on.

On top of everything else, Jeff was remarkably self-aware. He once told me “What I don’t know could fill a warehouse”—a sentiment that I try to remember is also true about myself.

I’m sorry to say that Jeff passed away in 2020. He’ll always occupy a special spot in my brain, but I’m glad to have this video to remember him by, and hope that at least some of you get to know him by watching it.


The End of Computer Magazines in America

With Maximum PC and MacLife’s abandonment of print, the dead-tree era of computer journalism is officially over. It lasted almost half a century—and was quite a run.

Maximum PC and MacLife

The April issues of Maximum PC and MacLife are currently on sale at a newsstand near you—assuming there is a newsstand near you. They’re the last print issues of these two venerable computer magazines, both of which date to 1996 (and were originally known, respectively, as Boot and MacAddict). Starting with their next editions, both publications will be available in digital form only.

But I’m not writing this article because the dead-tree versions of Maximum PC and MacLife are no more. I’m writing it because they were the last two extant U.S. computer magazines that had managed to cling to life until now. With their abandonment of print, the computer magazine era has officially ended.

The first issue of Byte, the first magazine about personal computers—and many people’s candidate for the best such publication, period..

It is possible to quibble with this assertion. 2600: The Hacker Quarterly has been around since 1984 and can accurately be described as a computer magazine, but the digest-sized publication has the production values of a fanzine and the content bears little resemblance to the slick, consumery computer mags of the past. Linux Magazine (originally the U.S. edition of a German publication) and its more technical sibling publication Admin also survive. Then again, if you want to quibble, Maximum PC and MacLife may barely have counted as U.S. magazines at the end; their editorial operations migrated from the Bay Area to the UK at some point in recent years when I wasn’t paying attention. (Both were owned by Future, a large British publishing firm.)

Still, I’m declaring the demise of these two dead-tree publications as the end of computer magazines in this country. Back when I was the editor-in-chief of IDG’s PC World, a position I left in 2008, we considered Maximum PC to be a significant competitor, especially on the newsstand. Our sister publication Macworld certainly kept an eye on MacLife. Even after I moved on to other types of tech journalism, I occasionally checked in on our erstwhile rivals, marveling that they somehow still existed after so many other computer magazines had gone away.

I take the loss personally, and not just because computer magazines kept me gainfully employed from 1991-2008. As a junior high student and Radio Shack TRS-80 fanatic, I bought my first computer magazine in late 1978, three years after Byte invented the category. It was an important enough moment in my life that I can tell you what it was (the November-December 1978 issue of Creative Computing) and where I got it (Harvard Square’s Out of Town News, the same newsstand that had played a critical role in the founding of Microsoft just four years earlier). Even before I purchased that Creative Computing, our mailman had misdelivered a neighbor’s copy of Byte to our house, an error I welcomed and did not attempt to correct. From the moment I discovered computer magazines, I loved them almost as much as I loved computers, which is why I ended up working in the field for so long.

A 1989 Wall Street Journal article on the big bucks being made in the computer magazine business. From the collection of David Bunnell, who cofounded PC Magazine, PC World, and Macworld, among other publications.

I spent most of that time at PC World, which I joined in late 1994 at almost precisely the moment it launched its first web presence. From the start, the web was a terrific way to keep tabs on tech news. Eventually, it would make the whole idea of a publication about computers that came out once a month feel more than a little silly. It also let merchants reach customers directly, a gut-punch to the ad business that had made PC World and its biggest rivals so profitable.

But the web didn’t render printed computer magazines obsolete overnight. PCW had some of its fattest, happiest years as a business in the late 1990s. Even in 2008, when I left, the print magazine was a profit center, not an albatross.

Indeed, the entire computer magazine category spent years in Wile E. Coyote mode. We’d blithely walked off a cliff—it’s just that gravity hadn’t kicked in yet. Here’s a slide from an internal PC World presentation charting our newsstand sales vs. our principal surviving competitors from 1996-2004. By this time, several major magazines had already failed: Byte in 1998 and PC Computing and Windows in 2002.

I should pause to acknowledge that newsstand sales weren’t the primary barometer of a computer magazine’s health. For one thing, about 90 percent of PC World issues were sold via subscription. For another, advertising was what kept us rolling in dough. Still, selling single issues at $6.99 a pop was a great little business in itself, so we put a lot of effort into creating a product that people would notice at the newsstand and choose to purchase. And I am ashamed to admit that I occasionally moved the PC Worlds in front of the PC Magazines when I encountered them for sale, though I wouldn’t be astounded if there were Ziff-Davis staffers who performed the same ploy in reverse.

Our point with the above chart was that PC World had become the newsstand leader. But it did so not by growing but by bumping along rather than nosediving. As you can see from the chart, Maximum PC was the only title that ticked steadily upward. It clearly cared about the newsstand as much as we did, and we worried that it might someday surpass us. (It never did, at least during my tenure.)

In the 1990s, Computer Shopper was so huge it teetered on the verge of being impractical to, you know, read.

Unless you worked at PC World in 2004, what’s most striking about this chart is Computer Shopper’s utter collapse—from something like 350,000 issues sold at the newsstand a month to fewer than 55,000. As the most catalog-like major computer magazine, it was the most vulnerable to being rendered obsolete by the web. Once a 1,000-page (!!!) monthly behemoth, it withered in more dramatic fashion than PC World or PC Magazine. When it didn’t feel like Computer Shopper anymore, readers lost interest.

Even PC World’s best newsstand seller of all time—our Windows 95 issue, seen below in another internal PowerPoint slide—didn’t match Shopper’s mid-1990s heyday. But we sold almost 200,000 copies, for a sell-through rate nearing 60 percent—figures that slipped out of the realm of possibility within a few years. Counting subscribers, we peaked in 1999 at a circulation of 1.25 million, the largest ever for a computer magazine.

Computer magazines had been such a robust business that they could spend years dwindling and remain viable. PC Mag didn’t abandon print until 2008, shortly after I left PC World. Shopper followed the next year. PCW held on until 2013, whereupon I wrote a piece for TIME asserting that the era of the computer magazine had ended. (In retrospect, that was a tad premature.) Macworld made it to 2014.

A Maximum PC cover from back when we at PC World were a little intimidated by their newsstand prowess. (It hasn’t aged well.)

Maximum PC and MacLife, meanwhile, pretty much ignored the internet. They even dismantled their web presences: now redirects to, a sister brand, while simply spits out a string of garbage characters.

Pretending that the internet didn’t exist sounds like a preposterous strategy for keeping a print magazine alive, but it somehow worked. Maximum PC and MacLife survived—scrawny, but with a pulse—until 2023. Their final issues were 98-page weaklings that cost $9.99 apiece and seem to have a grand total of one page of paid advertising between them—plus an article sponsored by a mail-order computer dealer. MacLife has an editorial acknowledging it’s going digital-only; Maximum PC does not.

My local Barnes & Noble still has a sizable technology magazine section, but it’s dominated by British imports that aren’t quite computer magazines.

Should we mourn the end of computer publications printed on paper? No—and yes. What was great about the computer magazine age wasn’t that the information was printed on dead trees and delivered by truck once a month. In most respects that matter, the web is a far superior way to keep people informed about the technology in their lives.

But as timely and efficient a means of communication as online media is, the entire computer publishing industry failed to figure out how to turn it into a business that was remotely as vibrant as print had been. And those vast quantities of full-page ads paid for some amazingly ambitious service journalism.

PC World had a sprawling lab full of technicians benchmarking everything from laptops to TVs, and paid experts well to write how-to columns on products such as word processors and spreadsheets. When we wanted to compare the usability of Windows, OS/2, and Mac OS, we hired normal everyday people through a temp agency and shot video of them performing typical computing tasks. We invested an absurd amount of money on twice-yearly surveys that let our readers rate the reliability and customer service of major computer manufacturers. In 2000, I dropped everything to spend months flying around the country working with Dateline NBC on an investigation into PC repair shops.

Forty years ago, PC World published the most successful debut issue in magazine history.

PC World’s headcount over the last couple of decades tells a story in itself. In mid-2000—well into the web era—we had 80 journalists, product testers, and designers on staff. Seven years later, the figure was slightly over half that. Today, the masthead of the all-digital PCW carries 13 names. I’m unsure if they’re all full-time employees, and almost half are pulling double duty on Macworld.

There is still fine work being done at the online incarnations of former print publications and newer outlets that were digital from the start. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that today’s tech media spans the written word, video, audio, and community—and that it’s possible for an individual journalist to partake in all of the above without being employed by a giant company. Bottom line: If there was a magic switch that would let us ditch present-day computer journalism for what we had in, say, 1995, I wouldn’t flip it.

(Of course, I might feel differently if I’d owned a fabulously profitable computer magazine rather than merely working at one.)

I do remain grateful that computer magazines existed. I’m glad I got to help make them. It’s great that many vintage issues are available in scanned form at the Internet Archive, Google Books, and elsewhere. Their time has passed—but what a time it was.


It’s 2018. Maybe Technologizer Should Be a Newsletter

Next month, it will have been a decade since I started Technologizer, a blog which later became part of TIME but has been largely dormant since I joined Fast Company. The whole notion of a “tech blog” now seems very 2008.

But some of the things that made tech blogging fun–the freewheeling informality, the ability to experiment, the direct connection to an audience–have lately shown up again in a new package: tech newsletters with a bloggy, personal feel. Last week, I was editing an article by JR Raphael about newsletters as a publishing medium–and particularly those created using a platform called Revue–when it dawned on me: Why not revive Technologizer in newsletter form?

So here we go. Over at, you’ll find a signup form for Technologizer the newsletter. Issue #1 will go out on Sunday. (At the moment, someone still has the opportunity to be subscriber #1.) [UPDATE: Thank you, first 22 charter subscribers!]

I plan to send it out a few times a week and use it for stuff that’s meatier than a tweet yet doesn’t feel like it should be a Fast Company article. I’ll share what I’m working on, link to what I’m reading, and indulge in a certain amount of tech nostalgia. And I hope you’ll join me.

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Hello Again

Back in early 2016, as an experiment, I redirected the homepage to my Flipboard magazine. The goal was to have something called Technologizer that I could update easily without writing anything. It worked! But lately, I’ve found that I miss having Technologizer as an outlet. So I’ve turned off Flipboard and intend to blog here at least occasionally.
Fast Company Satya Nadella
Don’t expect too much. My day job at Fast Company keeps me plenty busy, and mostly, I’ll probably just point you to stuff I’m working on there. For starters, I wrote the cover story for our October issue. It’s a profile of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and it’s unique among my pieces for our dead-tree edition in that it is primarily a profile of a person–rather than something about a company that touches on the people who run it as a secondary matter.

My relationship with Microsoft is longer than any other I have with a technology company, dating back to 1978 (I think), when I was a junior high student and Microsoft was a three-year-old purveyor of BASIC for PCs such as my father’s TRS-80. So getting the chance to spend a significant chunk of the past few months working on this story, which involved three trips to Redmond and supplementary interviews with everyone from Sun Microsystems cofounder Scott McNealy to Doug Burgum, the governor of North Dakota, was particularly meaningful.

That’s all for now. See you at FastCo and on Twitter–and back here before too long, I hope.