Byte magazine

From Academic Kids

BYTE magazine was probably the most influentual microcomputer magazine in the late 1970s and the 1980s because of its wide-ranging editorial coverage. Whereas many magazines from the mid-1980s to date have been dedicated to PCs, Windows, or the Mac, BYTE covered developments in the entire field of "small computers and software."

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Byte_Front_Cover_April_1981.jpg
The front cover of the April 1981 issue of BYTE (Vol 6. No. 4), "Future Computers?", US$2.50
Contents

Inception and early years

BYTE started in 1975, shortly after the first personal computers appeared as kits in the back of electronics magazines. BYTE was published monthly, with a yearly subscription price of $10. Carl Helmers was undisputedly the founding editor. Who was the founding publisher is a more complicated story.

In the 1975 Wayne Green was the Editor/Publisher of 73 (an amateur radio magazine) and his ex-wife, Virginia Loudner Green, was the Business Manager of 73 Inc. Wayne was undergoing an IRS audit and 73 Inc was being sued by Pacific Telephone & Telegraph for a June 1975 article showing how to build various devices that may have allowed free long distance calls. Both Wayne and Virginia were named defendants in the phone company case. (California case C 126265 settled Jan. 12, 1976.)

For some reason the new magazine, BYTE, was published by a new company, Green Publishing. In the first three issues Wayne Green wrote a "from the Publisher" column. The December 1975 issue #4 was the last time Wayne Green's name appeared as publisher (or in the magazine). The January 1976 issue has Virginia Green listed as Publisher. There was a big fight over the magazine but Virginia Green had a solid claim on Green Publishing.

Wayne Green said a lot of negative things about BYTE and reportedly had to pay damages after a series of law suits. Both BYTE and 73 magazine remained in tiny Peterborough, New Hampshire.

BYTE was able to attract advertising and articles from many well-knowns, soon-to-be-well-knowns, and ultimately-to-be-forgottens in the growing microcomputer hobby. Articles in the first issue (September, 1975) included "Which Microprocessor For You?" by Hal Chamberlin, "Write Your Own Assembler" by Dan Flystra and "Serial Interface" by Don Lancaster. MITS, Godbout, SCELBI, Processor Technology and Sphere were among the advertisers in that issue.

Early articles in BYTE were do-it-yourself electronic or software projects to improve one's computer. A continuing feature was "Ciarcia's Circuit Cellar," a column in which an electronic engineer, Steve Ciarcia, described small projects to attach to one's computer (later spun off to become the magazine Circuit Cellar (http://www.circuitcellar.com), focusing on embedded computer applications). Significant articles in this period included insertion of disk drives into S-100 computers, publication of source code for various computer languages (Tiny C, BASIC, assemblers), and breathless coverage of the first microcomputer operating system, CP/M. BYTE ran Microsoft's first advertisement, as "Micro-Soft," to sell a BASIC interpreter for 8080-based computers.

Growth and change

In spring of 1979, owner/publisher Virginia Williamson sold the magazine to McGraw-Hill. She remained publisher through 1983 (a total of about 8 years from inception) and subsequently became a vice president of McGraw-Hill Publications Company. Shortly after the IBM PC was introduced, in 1981, the magazine changed editorial policies. It gradually deemphasized the do-it-yourself electronics and software articles, and began running product reviews, the first computer magazine to do so. It continued its wide-ranging coverage of hardware and software, but now it reported "what it does" and "how it works," not "how-to-do-it." The editorial focus remained on any computer system or software that might be within a typical individual's finances and interest (centered on home and personal computers).

From 1975 through 1986, BYTE covers frequently featured the artwork of Robert Tinney. Elegant and stylish, surrealistic and good-humored, these covers made BYTE visually unique. The color scheme was often a dull green that evoked the color of a printed circuit board. In 1987, the replacement of Tinney paintings with product photographs (together with the discontinuation of Steve Ciarcia's "Circuit Cellar" column) marked the end of an era.

BYTE continued to grow. By 1990, it was a monthly about an inch in thickness, a readership of technical professionals, and a subscription price of $56/year (quite princely). It was the "must-read" magazine of the popular computer magazines. Around 1993, BYTE began to develop a web presence. It acquired a domain name "byte.com" and began to have discussions and post selected editorial content.

The end of BYTE

In 1998, still growing, BYTE was purchased by CMP Media, a successful publisher of specialized computer magazines. CMP ceased publication (ending with the July 1998 issue), laid off all the staff and shut down BYTE's rather large product-testing lab. Subscribers were offered a choice of two of CMP's other magazines, notably CMP's flagship publication about Windows PCs. Subscribers were shocked, horrified, and angrily speculated on the Internet that CMP had purchased BYTE to destroy it as a competitor. Publication of BYTE in Germany and Japan continued uninterrupted.

Many of BYTE's columnists migrated their writing to personal web sites. The most popular of these was probably science fiction author Jerry Pournelle's weblog "The View From Chaos Manor (http://www.jerrypournelle.com)" derived from a long-standing column in BYTE, describing computers from a power-user's point of view. Pournelle's writing is clear, intelligent, colorful, opinionated, and idiosyncratic; he amuses or offends many people. In 1999, CMP revived BYTE as a web-publication. In 2002, the site became subscription-supported. The wide-ranging editorial policy continues. The site now has numerous articles on open-source projects, including a continuing column on Linux. Jerry Pournelle was retained to continue writing "The View From Chaos Manor", which from December 2003 again appears in print in English, in the programming magazine Dr. Dobb's Journal.

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