The digital reaper strikes again

When I was a much greener geek, I wrote for the Ziff Davis magazines. The book was called PC Computing, and I really loved doing it. There was a smell of everything new in the air back then, and a sense of amazement at what computers could do, an expanding consciousness that all kinds of stuff that used to be boring was suddenly exciting and cool. The greatest magazine in the field was not the one I was working for, however. It was its sister publication: PC Magazine.

PC Magazine ruled. It had John Dvorak, who extruded two terrific, high-energy columns in each issue, and a bunch of other guys who pretty much defined the interface between nerdy and awesome. And it was fat. Some issues were so fat they had to split them into two.

The PC business was exploding, and this was its bible.

Many of you may be too young to remember that there were once many, many beautiful charting programs, for instance, all of which have been replaced by the infinitely less lovely and more tedious PowerPoint. There was Harvard Graphics, and Persuasion, and many others. They came in big boxes with dozens of big floppy disks holding huge amounts of programming data you had to install over a period of hours. There were a lot of word processing programs, too, not just Word or Word Perfect, and a nice selection of spreadsheets. All we have now is Excel. It’s good. We use it. But some of the fun is gone.

Back then Macs were mostly for schools and spiky people. Real computer lovers were totally PC. We swapped cards in and out of the machine. We were unafraid of opening the box. We tweaked our software and knew which cables went to which arcane interface. It was the closest I ever got to feeling like one of the jocks with whom I went to high school, the guys who slicked their hair back and knew their way around a transmission.

Yesterday it was announced that the paper edition of PC Magazine would cease publication, and that the product would now be totally online. I’m sure they’ll do fine. It’s probably the right business decision. But it made me sad. Not because the magazine itself has been important to me recently, because it hasn’t. I own Apples now. PCs bore me completely. I haven’t installed a new video card in years.

But the idea of never holding that big fat paper dream machine in my hand again is a little hard to fathom. What’s next? No more General Motors?

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