When I'm home for the holidays, one of my most beloved traditions involves sifting through my time capsule of a bedroom, where decades of PC Magazines, PC Worlds, Windows Magazines, and Visual Basic Programmer's Journals collect dust. These were my bibles as a youngster: magical cocktails of attainable and unattainable technology pulling me forward into an education and career in engineering. If it weren't for PC Magazine in particular, I'm not sure I ever would've touched a line of code. And now, today, I'm a founding editor of a publication that I consider something of a spiritual successor to those classic mags. I'd like nothing more than to be inspiring an 11-year-old somewhere to pursue a career in technology, the way PC Mag did for me.
My parents are dying to toss these magazines into a pile and burn them, but I cast evil glances in their direction every time they suggest it. As long as I'm around to protect and preserve them, they're not going anywhere.
Today, I'm looking at the December 6th, 1994 copy of PC Mag — 20 years ago — which featured its Annual Buyers' Guide comparing 486 desktops to Pentiums of the day. (For those who are too young to remember, Intel processors use to have numbers instead of names.) Let's take a look at some of the highlights of the issue.
The most important part of any vintage issue of PC Magazine: the last page, where readers could find the lighthearted "Abort, Retry, Fail?"
Roll Up Your Screen! "Plastic transistors may change the shape of portable computing," the story reads, trumpeting advancements that could lead to flexible, transparent displays. "Whether it's a moving map for your car or a credit card-sized computer, plastic semiconductors may lead to some exciting new products."
Introducing OS/2 Warp. IBM's doomed consumer-grade operating system had a flashy two-page full-bleed ad, lauding it as a "32-bit, multitasking, multimedia, Internet-accessed, crash-protected, Windows-friendly, easy-to-install, totally cool way to run your computer." And it's available for under $90.
75-MHz Toshiba Notebook Makes Pentium Portable. How does a 6.6-pound laptop with a 772-megabyte hard drive and 8 megabytes of RAM sound? (Yes, those are "megabytes," not "gigabytes.") Did I mention it's $7,495 and has two hours of battery life?
Kodak DCS 420 Camera: Say Cheese And Forget About Film. This 1.5-megapixel beast took a Nikon N90 and grafted a giant... thing to the bottom that contained a 105MB hard drive. It weighed over three and a half pounds. And it cost $10,995. Need 6 megapixels? Kodak has you covered — for $27,995.
Comdex preview. "For one week [...] the PC industry makes a pilgrimage to the largest technology gathering of its kind in the US where throngs gather for demonstrations of new products and future technologies." Sound familiar? CES — which is just a week and a half away — is the hot annual tech show these days, but the ’90s had Comdex. Hot on PC Mag's mind was a one-pound printer, a three-pound wireless portable from Zenith allowing you to "roam around your office and remain connected to your network," and blazing-fast 100Mbps Ethernet technology.
This is how you used to buy things.
Yet, as hilariously obsolete as everything sounds, there's something evergreen about these magazines: the blue skies, the excitement, the belief that tech is changing the world and will continue to do so. It's wonderful. As a writer and editor, it's something I strive for. And, every Christmas as I'm cracking these tomes open for the first time in a year, it's a good reminder of what technology coverage can be at its most hopeful.
I don't think we'll ever get back to the days of comparing 165 different models of desktop PCs (are there even 165 PC manufacturers now?) — heck, we'll never get back to the days of physical issues of PC Magazine — but the spirit hasn't changed.
Technology is awesome, isn't it?