Happy birthday, InfoWorld: 30 years of innovation

Since 1978, InfoWorld has offered a unique perspective on astounding tech developments and computer industry culture. Here's where we've been -- and what you can expect from our coverage into the future

They say that technology is the prime mover of history. If so, then InfoWorld's home in greater Silicon Valley has been a ringside seat on a continuous 30-year eruption of history, from the first PCs to the latest smartphones. Proximity helps InfoWorld get the story first, but more importantly, it immerses us in a dynamic culture that melds high-minded vision with practical technology experience.

In the loft-style startups of San Francisco and the bland office parks of Cupertino, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Santa Clara, passion for money and for technology live side by side, attracting a crazy mix of opportunists, geniuses, analysts, big thinkers, and pretenders. Here, ordinary citizens are early adopters. The provincial obsession with technology has helped InfoWorld spot trends and set benchmarks for three decades, from early predictions of the Internet's importance to a Test Center that evaluates enterprise products few dare to tackle.

[ Take a tour of the latest product reviews and check out the Test Center's picks and pans. ]

At the beginning, the formula was simple: Set up a news operation where it was all happening, apply standard journalistic practice, and throw in a large helping of advocacy for technology buyers.

The early days saw some twists and turns in direction, but as Maggie Canon -- the first editor of InfoWorld after it changed its name from Intelligent Machines Journal -- says simply, "We covered the revolution." On her watch a source that she still refuses to name slipped InfoWorld the schematics for the first IBM PC, enabling InfoWorld to scoop IBM's unveiling in August 1981, to the company's utter consternation.

InfoWorld as we know it today emerged in the mid-1980s, when publisher Jonathan Sacks firmly established it as the leading industry trade publication and launched the InfoWorld Test Center. As then Editor in Chief Michael Miller recalls it, the Test Center was initially a way of "formalizing" the methodology for product reviews InfoWorld had been doing for years. As it turned out, even as InfoWorld relentlessly pursued breaking news, the publication would be best known for the controversies and expertise arising from the Test Center.

The Test Center has never been shy about slamming products that deserved it. When 1-2-3 for Windows arrived late and lackluster, for example, InfoWorld gave it both barrels. The Test Center also uncovered the Pentium processor's floating-point flaw, an Intel low point surpassed only by the Itanium debacle years later. And the Test Center whacked Windows 95 for its many shortcomings, noting that OS/2 was more stable. According to Stewart Alsop, who was editor in chief during those particular episodes, InfoWorld was the West Coast "maverick," willing to call a spade a spade regardless of consequences.

Sandy Reed, Alsop's successor, courted her own share of controversy when she nullified the results of the 1997 Readers Choice poll and accused OS/2 "zealots" of ballot stuffing. But mostly, Reed -- whose term began and ended with the Internet boom -- remembers the excitement of witnessing the second wave of explosive industry growth as she watched Netscape, Yahoo, eBay, Amazon, and the rest spring out of nowhere. "If you could pick a time to be editor in chief of InfoWorld, that was it," says Reed.

When Mike Vizard moved from news editor to editor in chief in 2000, he zeroed in on XML and Web services as the next wave, which would enable unprecedented, fully standardized interconnection among businesses and applications. On Vizard's watch, many of the thought leaders InfoWorld is known for today came on board, including Executive Editor of Reviews Doug Dineley, Chief Technologist Tom Yager, former Blogger in Chief Jon Udell, and Contributing Editor Paul Venezia.

In 2003, Editor in Chief Steve Fox took InfoWorld from a weekly news tabloid to a weekly magazine that showcased Test Center reviews plus in-depth feature articles that were first to identify such important enterprise trends as SOA (service-oriented architecture), green IT, and virtualization. Fox also shifted resources to the Web site, where InfoWorld gained a reputation for innovation online. Good thing, says Fox, because by the close of 2006 "the writing was on the wall" for print. Steve's final act was to preside over a successful transition to today's Web-only InfoWorld.

Today, I'm proud to report that InfoWorld boasts the same unique combination of tech expertise, shrewd trendspotting, and buyer advocacy that marks its history. The Test Center still has an unparalleled reputation, and we call on our deep-tech contributors more than ever to identify hot issues and bring attention to trends with lasting significance.

[ This year's Technology of the Year Awards included 49 awards in 9 general categories, several of them featuring the most ingenious products we've encountered in years. ]

InfoWorld's Technology of the Year Awards, a regular January event that hands out accolades based on a year's worth of reviews -- mainly of enterprise-class products -- remains wildly popular. This year, the Test Center has maintained a particularly intense focus on virtualization, app dev, and cloud-computing services. The summer of 2008 year also marked a major upgrade of our test facilities at the University of Hawaii, which we covered in a big feature package playfully entitled Pimp My Datacenter.

Test Center Contributing Editor Randall Kennedy has been especially effective at benchmarking various versions of Windows to point out Vista's shortcomings and prepare us for Windows 7. He even created a downloadable agent, Windows Sentinel, which thousands of InfoWorld readers have used to track Windows performance and pool benchmark data with that of other users.

[ Want to identify performance bottlenecks in a desktop, laptop, or server? Then download Windows Sentinel, InfoWorld's free Windows performance-monitoring software. ]

Windows provided the impetus for our advocacy initiative of the year, the Save Windows XP petition campaign, conceived by Executive Editor Galen Gruman. We argued that Windows users should have a choice -- and license Windows XP instead of being forced to license Vista -- after the June 30, 2008 deadline. The petition we delivered to Microsoft in June garnered more than 210,000 signatures. We consider ourselves partly successful: Microsoft will allow "low-power" systems to ship with Windows XP until 2010, and major vendors offer "downgrade" options that allow customer to revert to XP.

A surprise opportunity for advocacy arrived in July of this year when the Terry Childs saga unfolded. From the beginning, Contributing Editor Paul Venezia sensed something funny about the case of the network administrator who locked everyone out of the City of San Francisco's new FiberWAN network, only to be clapped in irons and held on $5 million bail. Venezia's insight was rewarded with a 3,000-word e-mail from an anonymous source inside the city's IT department, who laid out exactly what had happened. That led to an outpouring of sympathy from InfoWorld readers, none of whom condoned Childs' misdeeds but did understand that his case symbolized the widening gap between management demands and what IT can humanly deliver. Since that incident, we've delved further into the everyday challenges faced by IT than ever before.

[ Follow the Terry Childs saga with InfoWorld's special report: Terry Childs: Admin gone rogue. ]

The best and most popular InfoWorld content springs from total immersion in the details of enterprise technology and the singular culture of IT professionals. We hope you'll stick with us as we chart an exciting course into our fourth decade.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.