Byte magazine was a microcomputer magazine, influential in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s because of its wide-ranging editorial coverage. Whereas many magazines from the mid-1980s had been dedicated to the MS-DOS (PC) platform or the Mac, mostly from a business or home user’s perspective, Byte covered developments in the entire field of “small computers and software”, and sometimes other computing fields such as supercomputers and high-reliability computing. Coverage was in-depth with much technical detail, rather than user-oriented. The Byte name and logo continued to exist as of 2011, but as an online publication only, with different emphasis.
Byte started in 1975, shortly after the first personal computers appeared as kits advertised in the back of electronics magazines. Byte was published monthly, with an initial yearly subscription price of $10.
In 1975 Wayne Green was the editor and publisher of 73 (an amateur radio magazine) and his ex-wife, Virginia Londner Green, was the Business Manager of 73 Inc. In the August 1975 issue of 73 magazine Wayne’s editorial column started with this item:
“The response to computer-type articles in 73 has been so enthusiastic that we here in Peterborough got carried away. On May 25th we made a deal with the publisher of a small (400 circulation) computer hobby magazine to take over as editor of a new publication which would start in August … Byte.”
Byte’s first editor was Carl Helmers and in the first anniversary issue he wrote: “Byte began with its first issue dated September 1975. That first issue was assembled from scratch in seven weeks of hectic activity starting May 25, 1975.”
Byte was published by a new company, Green Publishing, which was wholly owned by Virginia Green, who had kept the surname after her divorce ten years earlier. Because she started Green Publishing and Byte magazine with limited capital, which she borrowed from her family, much of the work of the early issues was sub-contracted to various individuals and companies, mostly in the Monadnock Region of New Hampshire. 73, which had excess staff capacity, did much of the “paste up” of the magazine pages for the first 4 issues under sub-contract from Virginia Green. In 3 of those first 4 issues, without permission or authority, Wayne Green inserted his name and the title of Publisher just before the final page “boards” were sent to the printer. After the third occurrence, Virginia Green removed all work in progress from the 73 premises and used other sub-contractors and her own growing Byte staff.
A 1985 Folio magazine article suggested that “One day in November 1975 Wayne came to work and found that the Byte magazine staff had moved out and taken the January issue with them.” This Folio article quoting Wayne Green was the genesis of libel actions by Virginia Green against both Folio and Wayne Green in the New Hampshire Superior Court in Manchester. Folio had never attempted to corroborate Wayne Green’s statements with Virginia Green, Carl Helmers, or the law firm that organized Virginia Green’s publishing company to publish, inter alia, Byte Magazine. Both Folio and Wayne Green settled before trial with large payments to Virginia Green.
The January 1976 issue has Virginia Green listed as Publisher.
Virginia Green Williamson’s third husband, attorney Gordon Williamson, wrote a book contending that Wayne Green’s role in founding Byte was minimal and that litigation between the parties was settled against Wayne Green’s interests. See “See Wayne Run. Run, Wayne, Run.” (Barkley, 1988).
The February 1976 issue of Byte has a short story about the move. “After a start which reads like a romantic light opera with an episode or two reminiscent of the Keystone Cops, Byte magazine finally has moved into separate offices of its own.”
In the autumn of 1976 Wayne Green announced the planned launch of a computer magazine called Kilobyte. Byte quickly trademarked KILOByte as a cartoon series in Byte magazine as the first of a planned family of trademarks based upon the original “Byte” trademark. A trademark infringement lawsuit in US Federal Court in Concord, New Hampshire by Byte against Wayne Green and Kilobyte was settled with Green changing the name of his proposed magazine to Kilobaud before the first issue was produced. Byte magazine’s policy was not to mention competitors in its pages, including Wayne Green’s publications. There continued to be competition and animosity between Byte Publications and 73 Inc., both located in the small town of Peterborough, New Hampshire.
The early years
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 Fylstra and Serial Interface by Don Lancaster. Advertisements from Godbout, MITS, Processor Technology, SCELBI, and Sphere appear, among others.
Early articles in Byte were do-it-yourself electronic or software projects to improve small computers. A continuing feature was Ciarcia’s Circuit Cellar, a column in which electronic engineer Steve Ciarcia described small projects to modify or attach to a computer (later spun off to become the magazine Circuit Cellar, focusing on embedded computer applications). Significant articles in this period included the “Kansas City” standard for data storage on audio tape, 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
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In spring of 1979, owner/publisher Virginia Williamson sold the magazine to McGraw-Hill. She remained publisher until 1983, about 8 years after founding the magazine, 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 de-emphasized 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 usually featured the artwork of Robert Tinney. These covers made Byte visually unique. In 1987 Tinney’s paintings were replaced by product photographs, and Steve Ciarcia’s “Circuit Cellar” column was discontinued.
Around 1985 Byte started an online service called BIX (Byte Information eXchange) which was a text-only BBS style site running on the CoSy conferencing software, also used by McGraw-Hill internally. Access was via local dial-in or, for additional hourly charges, the Tymnet X.25 network. Monthly rates were $13/month for the account and $1/hour for X.25 access. Unlike CompuServe, access at higher speeds was not surcharged. Many of the Byte staff were active on the service. Later, gateways permitted email communication outside the system.
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, a high figure for the time. It was the “must-read” magazine of the popular computer magazines. Around 1993 Byte began to develop a web presence. It acquired the domain name byte.com and began to have discussions and post selected editorial content.
It developed a number of national sister editions in Japan, Brazil, Germany, and an Arabic edition published in Jordan.
End of the printed magazine, and online publication
The readership of Byte and advertising revenue were declining when McGraw-Hill sold the magazine to CMP Media, a successful publisher of specialized computer magazines in May 1998. The magazine’s editors and writers expected its new owner to revitalize Byte but CMP ceased publication 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.
Publication of Byte in Germany and Japan continued uninterrupted. The Turkish edition resumed publication after a few years of interruption. The Arabic edition also ended abruptly.
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 derived from a long-standing column in Byte, describing computers from a power user’s point of view. After the closure of Byte magazine, Jerry Pournelle’s column continued to be published in the Turkish editions of PC World, which was soon renamed as PC LIFE in Turkey. In 1999 CMP revived Byte as a web-only publication, from 2002 accessible by subscription. It closed in 2009.
The launch of byte.com
UBM TechWeb brought the Byte name back when it officially relaunched Byte as byte.com on 11 July 2011. According to the site, the mission of the new Byte is:
“…to examine technology in the context of the consumerization of IT. The subject relates closely to important IT issues like security and manageability. It’s an issue that reaches both IT and users, and it’s an issue where both groups need to listen carefully to the requirements of the other: IT may wish to hold off on allowing devices and software onto the network when they haven’t been properly tested and can’t be properly supported. But the use of these devices in the enterprise has the air of inevitability for a good reason. They make users more productive and users are demanding them.”
The byte.com launch editor was tech journalist Gina Smith. On September 26, 2011 Smith was replaced by Larry Seltzer.
In January, 2012 American science fiction and horror author F. Paul Wilson began writing for byte.com, mostly in the persona of his best-known character Repairman Jack.