25 Moments From Our First 25 Years

Contact Editor in Chief Harry McCracken at harry_mccracken@pcworld.com . Read his blog, Techlog , at PCWorld.com.

When a magazine called PC World hit newsstands a quarter century ago, the odds weren't exactly stacked in its favor. The mortality rate for new magazines has always been extremely high. And in the technology realm, even the most successful of brands rarely have infinite shelf lives. Early issues of PCW featured products such as VisiCalc, WordStar, and the Hayes Smartmodem--all dominant in that era, all long dead.

PC World, however, didn't just survive, it thrived--and continues to do so. Much of what has made us successful is visible in those early issues, including an unblinking willingness to serve readers with honest reviews and reporting even when doing so tended to tick off the industry we covered.

But if there's been a secret to our success it's that we--like the technology we cover--have never stopped evolving. A publication founded to help people use a desktop box that was bought almost exclusively by businesses now covers an array of products and services for work, home, and everywhere in between. And while plenty of readers still look forward to receiving PCW in dead-tree form, today PCWorld.com serves even more people.

We tried to keep the self-congratulatory stuff in this special issue to a minimum. But would you mind if I took a couple of pages to look back at some of the moments that made us...well, us?

January 1982: San Francisco entrepreneur David Bunnell starts a magazine to cover the new computer known as the IBM PC. That publication is an instant hit...but it's not PC World. Bunnell's brainchild is PC Magazine, and multiple publishers soon angle to buy it.

One bidder is Patrick McGovern, founder of Computerworld and other major tech publications. But after agreeing to sell to McGovern, investor Tony Gold, who owns a majority stake in the fledgling magazine, instead arranges a sale to New York publisher Ziff-Davis, the company that continues to publish PC Magazine to this day.

Unfazed, McGovern contacts Bunnell and his business partner, Cheryl Woodard. Are they interested in starting a rival publication? They are--and all but four of PC Magazine's 52 staffers join them (see the photo at left). PC World is formally announced on November 29, 1982, at the Comdex trade show; the first issue appears in early 1983, the fattest debut in magazine history up to that time. Our first editor is Andrew Fluegelman, whose popular PC-Talk program had recently introduced the shareware concept (see this month's Full Disclosure column, "25 Years Ago: Free, Easy, Software Begins").

September 1983: We publish our first World Class Awards, a roundup of the year's top products. The judging system and the name changed over time--we now call the winners the 100 Best Products of the Year--but the tradition continues. (Check out the most recent version of this perennial favorite, "The 100 Best Products of 2007.")

November 1983:PC-Welt, our German edition, debuts. It's the first of dozens of international versions, making the "World" in "PC World" most fitting.

February 1984: We launch a section called PCjr World, devoted to IBM's new home PC and declare that we expect the Jr. to revolutionize the way we learn and live," and that PCjr World will soon morph into a stand-alone magazine. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

June 1987: We introduce Consumer Watch, a section dedicated to helping readers avoid shopping and customer-service pitfalls. It's still with us (see this month's article, "The Top 10 Most Annoying, Frustrating, Irritating, and Sinister Online Ads") and still a PCW flagship.

July 1987: For reasons lost to time, we decide to publish our first centerfold. It's of glamour boy Bill Gates--fully clothed, thank heavens.

May 1988: Steve Bass, president of a user group in Southern California, contributes a guest column bemoaning the state of IBM's service. Today, he's still writing up a storm for us--in Steve Bass's Hassle-Free PC (see this month's article "Five Smart Fixes for Dumb PC Annoyances") and in his Tips and Tweaks blog and newsletter.


October 1991: Editor in Chief Rich Landry announces a PCW sibling devoted to an emerging breed of PC that includes a CD-ROM drive and a sound card. MPC World (later redubbed Multimedia World) appears in February 1992. Soon it's clear that every PC will be an MPC; Multimedia World is folded back into PCW in 1996.

September 1992: The PCW Test Center opens its doors. For the first time, we test PCs, printers, monitors, and other hardware in a consistent manner and within a controlled environment.

June 1994: Under Editor in Chief Phil Lemmons and Editor Cathryn Baskin, PCW redoubles its commitment to consumer journalism. Exhibit A: We publish a report on our first reader survey on the state of PC reliability and service. Winners include AST, Compaq, and NCR; Ambra, Ares, and Comtrade are at the bottom of the barrel.

March 1995: We win three Jesse H. Neal Awards--the "Pulitzers of the business press." They're among the first of dozens of trophies we'll pick up for print and online excellence.

April 1995: Stephen Manes's Full Disclosure debuts. The first installment riffs on the much-hyped, famously bad Microsoft Bob by discussing an imaginary sequel: Microsoft Sex.

June 1995: We add to our burgeoning online efforts, which include presences on AOL and CompuServe, with an "Internet site" called PCWorld.com.

August 1995: Microsoft releases Windows 95; we respond with a cornucopia of coverage in our September issue, including a review by Senior Editor Steve Fox, later to become PCW's editor. It becomes our best-selling issue ever.

November 1995: In an episode of The Simpsons called "Sideshow Bob's Last Gleaming," Channel 6 anchorman Kent Brockman resigns on air and announces he'll be writing a column for PC World. We revel in the moment of pop-culture glory.

March 1996: After 15 months of work, our Test Center rolls out PC WorldBench, a Windows 95 speed benchmark. We still run its descendant, WorldBench 6, on every system we test.

April 1998: We publish "PC Repair Rip-Off!"--an investigative report revealing shoddy service at CompUSA. In an odd coincidence, the chain stops selling PCW. (It later reverses that decision.)

August 2000: Once again we conduct an investigation into repair practices at PC retailers, and once again the results are disturbing. This time we collaborate with Dateline NBC, which airs a segment based on our findings.

October 2000: Editorial Director Kevin McKean and Creative Director Robert Kanes introduce a redesign of PCWorld.com that's by far the most ambitious, popular version yet. It is also the first one produced by a unified editorial team that is responsible for content in both print and online forms.

October 2002: Our cover for "How to Fix the Biggest PC Annoyances," a Steve Bass how-to extravaganza, shows a man trashing his PC. In an era of rampant Windows glitches and security hassles, the image resonates: The issue becomes one of our all-time bestsellers.

December 2003: We notice that high-definition television is a lot like the PC once was: an appealing big-ticket tech product that involves lots of unfamiliar buzzwords. So we publish a big-screen buying guide. Soon, HDTV is among the most popular topics we cover.

July 2006: Twenty-three years after our first international expansion, PC World is still entering new markets. With the launch of PC World India, we're in 69 countries.

August 2006: We unveil a major redesign of PCWorld.com that introduces user reviews, forums, and other features designed to let the millions of people who use our site share their expertise and opinions.

June 2007: Our coverage of the launch of Apple's iPhone includes a stress-test video in which Senior Associate Editor Eric Butterfield first tries to scratch the phone's case with keys and then hurls it onto the pavement outside our office. The iPhone survives. And the iPhone-abuse video receives gazillions of views.

August 2007: Our journalistic peers flatter us with the American Society of Business Publication Editors' award as Web Site of the Year. In addition, it is just one of several major prizes that we took home last year; others include Folio and Eddie awards as best consumer computer magazine.

"The truth is, we had quite an adventure getting here," said PCW founder Bunnell in our first issue. "It's been much more than a rocket ride." In the same pages, founding editor Fluegelman wrote that "we have a worthy ship and a dedicated crew, and we hope you will join us in our explorations."

For all that's changed about PCs and PCW, those sentiments ring as true in 2008 as they did in 1983. For 25 years, our mission of providing unbiased, authoritative coverage of the ever-changing world of technology has made every day an adventure. We look forward to continuing it for a long time to come--and we hope that you'll be along for the ride.