The early days of PCs as seen through DEAD TREES
The golden days of computer mags, replete with ancient adverts
Feature Thirty years ago, Time Magazine broke its 86-year tradition of naming a Man of the Year, and instead anointed its first Machine of the Year: The Computer.
Time didn't deliver this news via www.time.com nor an HTML-encrusted email blast, but rather by macerated wood pulp pressed into sheets and coated with ink, cut into rectangles and stapled together, then arduously trucked, hauled, or flown to subscribers and newsstands.
Magazines, that is: one of 1983's prime communications vehicles.
Time's January 3, 1983 issue actually bestowed its annual honor not broadly on The Computer per se, but rather on the personal computer, the device we all now use as part of our workaday world, but back then was the mysterious "television typewriter" that was only beginning to come into its own.
As the premier US weekly news magazine's awardee, the personal computer was in exalted company: Time had previously awarded its annual honor to figures as diverse as Adolf Hitler and Lech Wałęsa, raising onto its editorial pedestal not necessarily the most admirable personage of the previous year, but the one who had most changed history.
In hindsight, it's easy to argue that although the PC has clearly not been as horrifically history-changing as Herr Hitler, it has however done far more to influence world affairs than Pan Wałęsa – and I write that as a proud descendant of the Polish working class that Wałęsa served so admirably.
It may be hard – or impossible if you're under 50 – to remember the days when PCs were just barely breaking into the mainstream. You may find it even harder to remember the influence that magazines had in that pre-internet, pre–"Let a Squillion Online Publications Bloom" era.
Time mattered. Its editorial decisions mattered. And mattering – along with, frankly, nattering – wasn't limited to mass-market news rags such as Time. When Time declared the PC to be Machine of the Year, computer magazines also mattered, nattered, and flourished, hauling in advertising hand over fist, ordaining winning products, and damning losers into the discount bins of the swap meets of yesteryear.
Time's 1983 gatefold cover: sculptor George Segal didn't present the cheeriest vision of a personal-computer future
It was a heady time. In the years following Time's award, the PC's fortunes waxed and computer magazines' fortunes waned. Some of you Reg readers may remember those days; most won't. But I wager that all of you might enjoy a wee bit of a jaunt back in time to revisit how magazines covered the PC's early days – and, sadly, how most of those rags either died out or faded into shadows of their former selves.
And so, hoping to both amuse and instruct, I ensconced myself in the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library, requested a stack of volumes to be pulled out of lonely storage, thumbed through them while decades of dust fouled my respiratory system, scanned and heavily Photoshopped selected pages, and slapped together the following.
Enjoy. And don't forget to click on the thumbnail images on the left of each page. Many have some great reading or admirable images – and marvelous hairstyles – that will either remind you of where you've been or explain the era during which those IT dinos around you cut their teeth.
Next Page: The Computer Moves In
Interesting, but it would have been good to cover the British mags instead... I don't remember any of these hitting our shores!
I was quite an avid fan of mags like Amstrad Action, Amiga Format and PC rags like Computer Shopper...
It was a bad day when BYTE hit the dust, that tending to me a more in depth and computer science-y magazine than almost everything else. The American PC World wasn't bad either. I was sad to see Personal Computer World just stop publishing though - they should have gone out with a great retro finale edition, but they just stopped :(
I still have a big pile of 1980s and 1990s BYTEs and PCWs stuffed in a box upstairs. Especially in the early 1980s, they came with really beautiful cover artwork, especially BYTE.
>Three words: "IS UNIX DEAD?!??!" (extra punctuation added by me)
Linux was still a newborn at that time, and The BSDs had just overcome a huge legal battle. The commercial UNIXes were all proprietary and considerably expensive. It wasn't out of the question at the time that MS was going to kill UNIX as it was (and it did). BYTE at the time followed MS since that's where the money was. Even back then they realized that IBM/OS2 wasn't going to dominate the market. Between 86 and 97 Apple management turned gold in to poo.
In hindsight Microsoft did kill UNIX at the time, with lower hardware costs, cheaper licensing, and letting a large amount of piracy occur. They didn't win by making more reliable software, that's for sure. It wasn't Linux became popular that Microsoft considered any of the Unixlike operating systems a serious threat.
the one I used from 1972 on
Each time I see a history of the personal computer I find that almost no one knows how it really began.
In 1972 both HP and Wang developed and sold a PC fully capable of programming in Basic and operating fully on the desktop. The HP unit even offered a letter quality printer (converted Facit typewriter), a high speed thermal printer (250 lpm and silent) plus an IO bus capable of addressing up to 15 IO devices including plotters, card readers and more. Even a modem.
It also offered a hard disc using a controller that would support two hard disc drives and four desktop units.
All from HP. Fully supported by HP.
Now you can get picky and claim it was not a microprocessor. And it was not. But, if you could program in Basic you could have it do just about anything you needed on the desktop. I did. Financial analysis. Word processing. You name it. It was a personal computer to the full extent of the meaning.
Yet, history is lost. Actually not quiet. See the HP museum web site. Look for the HP 9830A unit. Never even had a floppy disc because the technology was not yet developed and reliable enough. But, it did have a hard disc available.
I programmed one and had it fully operational in a law office by 1974.
Sorry for going all the way back. But, it was fun and commercial.
No mention of the C64/Amiga
A bit ridiculous really. The C64 knocked the socks off the Apple crap, and as for the Amiga... Well it was the most mind blowing computer ever but unfortunately we all know how that ended up. But as they say, it's always the victors that write the history.. :/
Also... define 'PC' in the 80s please. I mean we're not necessarily talking IBM clones here.