1,000th issue special: November 17, 1986 No.1

The first edition of Computerworld NZ threw a bright spotlight on the local IT industry

This is the first article in Computerworld NZ's 1,000th issue celebration. Full coverage is available here.

Computerworld was already a major international publishing brand when it was launched in New Zealand in November 1986. Within the next few years, on the back of a huge information-technology boom, US publisher IDG would become, for a time, the largest privately owned publishing company in the world.

The company’s other titles included PC World, Infoworld, the Dummies guide series, The Industry Standard and many, many more. In fact, as the first issue of Computerworld NZ rolled off the presses, its parent in the US had just celebrated its 1,000th edition. Now, nearly 21 years later it’s New Zealand’s turn.

Computerworld and IDG New Zealand would experience the IT boom too, but in 1986 that was still a few years away. In the meantime, there was a newspaper to be filled.

The first New Zealand issue of Computerworld, edited by Don Hill, led with the headline: “Pirate firm facing court action”. Microsoft distributor Brimaur, led by industry stalwart Brian Eardley-Wilmot, was preparing to take court action against a corporate organisation, for software piracy. He said an example was needed to show the industry was serious, but others felt his hard-line approach wasn’t justified at that stage. The story was written by future publisher Martin Taylor.

That very first front page of Computerworld New Zealand screamed “tabloid”. The lead, in classic tabloid style, wasn’t at the top of the page, but right in the middle, with a softer story — “Lincworld outshines Unisys” — spread across the top.

The format of the paper was slightly taller than that of today, more of a true tabloid shape.

When it came to product news, the biggest story of the time was the release of the Apple IIGS, which had “all the flavour of the Macintosh plus impressive colour, graphics and sound”. Informed predictions had it that a “super Mac”, featuring Unix, would arrive in the new year. The IIGS was a snip at a mere $4,500.

Turning to page four, the Post Office was blaming increased data communications for congestion on its phone network. It said a “usage-sensitive pricing system” was being developed to cope with the problem, while Telecom, yet to be privatised, said that although computer traffic was a growing problem it was “not regarded as serious at this stage”.

The feature of the day was a Q&A style interview with US experts Dr Jeffrey Jalbert and Cheryl Jalbert, covering the emerging relational-database market, 4GL (fourth-generation languages), and the possibility of developing “expert systems”. Cheryl Jalbert said relational database approaches and artificial intelligence were “not very far apart”.

This first issue of Computerworld also contained the first issue of PC World, signalling there were more publications in the pipeline. This was a launch strategy that would become familiar over time, with publications making their first (and sometimes their last) appearance within the pages of mother-ship Computerworld.

PC World’s lead story concerned Compaq sticking with existing standards, as IBM talked about opting for a proprietary PC processor. There was also a review of the new Compaq mDeskpro 386. List-price was just $17,169 for the base model, which included 1MB of RAM and a 40MB drive.

Another story in the same issue reported that Microsoft had just passed Lotus as the leading software publisher, reporting US$66 million in revenue for the quarter, up 90% on the same period in 1985.

This first edition of Computerworld also included a special report covering the Development Finance Corporation (DFC) building its own international banking system, from the ground up, in part to deliver real-time monitoring of its risk exposure. DFC collapsed in 1988.

A technology called videotex was all the rage and formed the subject of Computerworld’s first In Depth feature. DFC subsidiary Zealcorp and Databank were big users of what Wikipedia describes as “one of the earliest implementations of an ‘end user information system.’”

Videotex was an expression of one of the great drivers of IT — the need to put users in touch with the data they need, first to to do their jobs and next for entertainment. It’s a quest that Computerworld has tracked over 1,000 issues and it is far from over.

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