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If anyone remembers the IBM PCjr today, it's as a major market failure and as one of the computer industry's greatest examples of hubris coming to bite a company in the arse. Originally announced in 1983 and launching in March 1984, the PCjr ("PC Junior") was IBM's first attempt to market a computer for the home -- a system that was kinda-sorta compatible with the more business-targeted IBM PC, with enhanced three-voice sound and 16-color 320x200-pixel graphics.

Heavily rumored for months before its official announcement, the PCjr was presumed by many industry wags to do the same for IBM in the home market what the original PC did for the business sector -- i.e., allow the companay to completely dominate it. It's easy to forget, but this really was the general opinion of much of the industry in early 1984 -- you could say that Apple's January '84 Macintosh Super Bowl ad was appreciated more by the general public than by people who drew their salary in computers at the time. The magazine biz was no different, as two different magazines debuted on US newsstands before the PCjr was even available for purchase: PCjr. from Ziff Davis, and jr from Wayne Green Publications, later CW Communications. (Only one Mac mag -- IDG's Macworld -- debuted with Apple's computer.)

For Ziff, launching PCjr. was an easy decision. Even by that point, PC was their most successful magazine ever -- purchased in 1982, ballooning up to 500 then 600 pages within half a year's time, and becoming the de facto outlet for advertising and commentary on IBM computers. IBM was now launching a home computer, and undoubtedly it'd be a huge success, so Ziff went in on the ground floor, debuting its mag in February 1984 with a surprisingly large 176-page book. Everything about PCjr.'s look exudes professionalism, from the in-depth writing (with largely the same adult and business-oriented outlook as the original PC) to the art-laden and remarkably colorful graphic design. It's a fun mag to read, in other words, and it's obvious from the start that Ziff put a ton of money into producing it.

jr, on the other hand, is kind of an odd duck. Launched in May 1984 just before Wayne Green sold his New Hampshire computer-mag empire off to IDG, jr is written from a serious beginner's perspective, more so than any other non-kiddy computer magazine I've seen from this era (yes, including Family Computing). Every term is exhaustively defined (from "RAM" to "word processor"), and the editorial team's target seems to be people who have never touched a computer in their life before, much less the PCjr machine itself. This leads to a lot of neat original art and photography showing off the PCjr's innards and how computers work in general, but it's not the most interesting thing to read through.

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Both PCjr. and jr are decent enough mags in their own right, but at the risk of being blunt, they were charged with the task of taking a turd and polishing it all over again, month after month. There were a number of hardware issues on the machine, including a lack of easy expandability and a frustrating wireless keyboard that was impossible to touch-type on. Even the entry-level PCjr model (which lacked a disk drive and was largely useless for anything except running game/productivity cartridges) cost $669 sans monitor, less than an Apple II but far more than the Commodore 64 or an Atari computer, both companies in the midst of a debilitating price war that drove other 8-bit PCs out of the market.

IBM redesigned the PCjr in late 1984 with a new keyboard and better expansion abilities, but it was too late in the public's eye. There was never a mass audience for the PCjr, which means few companies were interested in making products exclusively for it, which means ad dollars plummeted for both PCjr. and jr over 1984. I can't confirm exactly when both mags ended, but the last jr I have is September '84 and the final PCjr. is dated November, and both are later than any date I can find on the Internet, so I'll say they're both final issues and leave it at that. Even as book sizes shriveled toward the end, though, both mags maintained a surprisingly high level of writing and illustration. It's a surprise, in fact, as most computer mags show a pretty marked quality decline once it's plain the subject platform has no marketplace.

The really interesting thing about all this is that funneling cash toward PCjr. instead of a Macintosh magazine in early '84 arguably cost Ziff dearly for the rest of the decade. IDG's Macworld had that computer all to itself for almost 14 months before Ziff finally launched MacUser in 1985 -- and even that was a UK license deal, not an original project. MacUser was successful enough, but always played second fiddle to Macworld's lead in the marketplace before getting closed down and merged with its rival in 1997. If Ziff launched a Mac mag first, the tables may've been turned...

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. He's also an editor at Newtype USA magazine.]