A tribute to Personal Computer World

June 13, 2009 in #blog #college #journalism #news

It is strange to think that just last year this great magazine celebrated its 30th year. Founded in 1978 it was the first recorded coining of the phrase ‘personal computer’ (which was not used until the founding of PC World (computer superstore) and the IBM PC). You can view the cover of the first issue here: http://www.computinghistory.org.uk/big/1406/Personal-Computer-World-May-1978-First-Issue/

Note: My apologies if this article seems a little out-of-date – Incisive Media haven’t told their subscribers that the publication is ending, so I only found out a week ago by lucky chance when a friend pointed out the Guardian’s article!

There is a particularly moving tribute to the magazine written by Tim Anderson (a long-term contributor to the publication) with comments from editors and writers young and old at http://www.itwriting.com/blog/1494-farewell-to-personal-computer-world-30-years-of-personal-computing.html. I won’t cover what was said here, but the general consensus is that the decline of advertising revenues (and Incisive Media’s poor finances and (to an extent) the management) led to the closure of the magazine. Though this sounds terrible, if it were not for Incisive buying VNU in the first place, the magazine may have disappeared even sooner...

A Personal Perspective

If I’m honest I will say I am completely gutted about it. I bought my first issue back in December 2004 (the issue was dated ‘February 2005′ just to trip me up!). It was £1 less than the usual cover price and the first magazine I had ever been induced to buy. For a 14 year old teen-aged nerd who spent every school lunchtime in the computer room creating sites on freewebs.com, playing nationstates and building rubbish databases on Access 2000 (while his friends were playing various online games) it was like having a direct line to the latest expert opinion in the industry. Blogs were a relative novelty at the time, and didn’t really take off until about a year or two later – so the clever mix of news followed by opinion was something that really appealed to me.

Well, that is a little bit of an understatement – the reality is that the magazine completely blew me away. The first part which grabbed me was the reviews section – for the first time I was seeing strange hardware and software and being told in no uncertain terms whether they were any good (and why). Next was the tutorials section; I am not sure whether it was this issue or a later one but I squarely attribute my first interest in programming to Tim Anderson’s tutorial on how to code a simple web browser. I had no concept at the time that writing an application was something anyone could do, let alone how to do it (I gave one of my parents a shock when they opened up a document I sent them which launched a browser written in VBA on startup!).

It was also Personal Computer World’s cover discs containing GNU/Linux distros which first got me interested in the OS. I used to burn copies of Mandrake and a strange new debian-based distro* as Live CDs and run them off my parents’ PC to see what would happen. This usually served to annoy them as GNU/Linux was not something a lot of people in my area, let alone my family, had been introduced to! (I will also attribute my first interest in technical writing to PCW, but it was not until I bought "Linux Format" some years later that events were set in motion for me to realize this aspiration! :D ).

Personal Computer World was always at the forefront of technology and always gave an informative and interesting insight into what could be the next big thing. The team weren’t always right (VOIP for example), but you could guarantee a good 6 month head start on everyone else in terms of technology trends. It was a great publication which helped the average guy on the street get something more from the world of computing, whether it was which hard disk to buy or how to write a VBA macro to get Word to do something useful. The magazine will be sorely missed by those who read it and have fond memories of the publication, and its closure is a real loss for the IT industry as a whole. Let us hope that in this tough economic climate the talented writers on the team can find work elsewhere.

*Yes, I am referring here to Ubuntu! I have a copy somewhere of a snotty article I wrote on Freewebs some time in 2005/06 about the how stupid the name ‘Breezy Badger’ was and why Ubuntu would never take off! Though Mandriva was my live cd distro of choice Ubuntu Feisty was the first distro I ever committed to hard disk, and I’ve been using the likes of Ubuntu and Fedora ever since.

UPDATE: When I published this article I was rather touched to discover that a couple of the PCW writers had spotted it and sent thanks. It’s sort of like having Mohamed Ali thank you for saying he’s good boxer after emerging from a crowd of people – truly awesome. :D BM (01/01/2010)

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