I can’t let the moment pass without acknowledging the loss of a dear friend.

Magazines were a crucial source of information in the primitive days before the Internet. PC Magazine was a trusted advisor, devoured eagerly every two weeks for details of the latest processors and programs in the heady days when hardware and software were going through fundamental changes constantly.

pcmagazine I’ve got the “Best of 1987” issue in front of me, with reviews of brand new computers with 80386 processors, with fond words for Windows 2.0 and genuine excitement about the promise of Windows/386, and with an award for the HP Laserjet II, the beloved model that was built like a tank. It’s also a reminder that some things never change – there’s an article about copyright issues when photos are scanned, there are reviews of remote control programs, and there are suggestions about moving large files from one computer to another. (In those days, though, the issue was moving a large file to the computer on the next desk, since PC networking was in its infancy.)

The Post Office continued to stagger under the bulk of PC Magazine’s glossy pages and huge advertising sections through the 90s, long after other tech magazines went under. Like other print publications, advertising began to dry up in the late 90s and PC Magazine began to slim down; advertisers could print the URL of a web site instead of taking out multi-page ads and more people were bypassing the magazines and looking online in the first place.

There has been an increasingly desperate feel in the last few years. PC Magazine had maintained a bi-weekly publishing schedule until recently, when it was forced to drop back to monthly issues, and each one is slimmer and slimmer.

Nothing could have prevented the magazine from shrinking as advertisers flee to the web, but I blame the current regime of editors and writers for turning the magazine into something I actively avoid.

  • They lost their focus on the computer industry and tried half-heartedly to encompass the entire world of digital equipment, so one issue might have superficial comments on a handful of cameras, another might have a glancing look at the technology in a new car.
  • Instead of in-depth software reviews, they began to print manufacturers’ press releases, with no attempt to use the programs and discover if the promised features actually worked.
  • Their articles and reviews seem to be written by people who do not actually use computers. This month’s issue, for example, glowingly describes 67 utilities to “supercharge Windows!” by “tweaking, manipulating, and totally dominating the looks and functionality of Windows XP and Vista.” The most efficient way to destroy a nice computer is to install a collection of unnecessary, conflicting utilities! Instead of rehashing some vendor’s advertisement, the magazine could be stepping up to examine which products actually deliver what they promise.
  • And worst of all, the new generation of editors clearly hate Microsoft products. In the last couple of years PC Magazine has been fawning over Apple computers and gadgets, and in the last year its writers have been regularly beating up on Vista, both online and in the magazine – and like much of the Vista commentary, the criticisms are all too often trivial or unfounded.

PC Magazine is still being published but Ziff Davis, the parent company, filed bankruptcy last week. The magazine is clearly on its last legs, regardless of how many agonizing months or years go by before the plug is pulled.

In my heart, PC Magazine has already passed away. I want to remember the 600-page behemoth full of useful buying advice and fascinating updates about a vibrant industry. I miss that magazine.

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