Charles Petzold

Gosh, I Thought “PC Magazine” Died Years Ago

November 19, 2008
New York, N.Y.

I see from my friend Sheryl Canter's blog that the print edition of PC Magazine is being euthanized. I'm not sure I would have noticed otherwise.

In January 1984 I sent PC Magazine an unsolicited article about the new DOS command PROMPT and the neat things you could do with it. They sent me a check for $600. It was the first time I was paid for my writing.

Several months later I got a call from John Dickinson. He had been hired by the magazine to put together an issue reviewing every printer available for the PC. They needed writers who lived in the New York City area to come into the PC Magazine offices and review printers. That was lots of fun and I met all the editors and other writers. One day I showed John some assembly language programs I had written for the PC and he steered me into Paul Somerson's office.

At that time, both programmers and regular users read PC Magazine, and the “back of the book” (Somerson's bailiwick) had a bunch of columns for programmers. I started writing little assembly language programs for the magazine as well as hardware and software reviews. I had a “real” job at New York Life Insurance Company, so I would often take vacation days to go into the PC Magazine offices. (New York City's a small town: The two offices were only about 500 yards apart.)

By June 1985 I had used up all my New York Life vacation days that were supposed to last through the following March. This didn't bother me too much because I was making enough money writing for PC Magazine to quit that job and write full time, which I've been doing ever since except for some consulting work this year to compensate for a (ahem) temporary slump in book sales. For two years I did the PC Tutor column, which answered reader's technical questions. (One question got me thinking about writing a book that later became Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software.) Then for 8 years or so I did a column called Environments, about OS/2 and Windows programming.

I never counted the number of articles and columns I wrote for PC Magazine, but considering that it was published 22 times a year (unbelievable now) and I had at least one article in almost every issue for 10 years, I usually just say I wrote "hundreds" of articles for the magazine.

The glory days of PC Magazine were under the editorship of Bill Machrone. I thought then — and I still think now — that Bill Machrone was one of the true geniuses of magazine publishing. He was able to make that magazine target a sweet spot of comprehensiveness and integrity. Bill Machrone's PC Magazine was required reading. That Bill doesn't even have a Wikipedia article is a gross injustice and characteristic of the short memories of this industry.

My last work for PC Magazine (ending in 2002) were some utilities for Windows. But I always thought the little free utilities we wrote for the magazine were primarily for pedagogical purposes. The magazine instead used them for promotions and eventually began charging money for them. Yuck!

So I guess PC Magazine and I parted out of creative differences. By that time I hadn't actually read the magazine for many years, and I guess I wasn't the only one.