Where BYTE Is Going
Phil Lemmons, Managing Editor Byte Magazine
We want to clear up some confusion about different kinds of articles in BYTE that have sometimes been mistaken for one another, to explain how we intend to avoid the same problem in the future, and to reaffirm BYTE's editorial direction as a magazine for personal computer users.
BYTE publishes reviews in order to help readers make purchasing decisions on personal computers, peripherals, and software. A review passes judgment on a product. Every review in BYTE appears in the Reviews section and carries a banner that includes the word "review." Although staff members sometimes write reviews, we more often solicit them from personal computer users who are not on staff. We try to ensure that reviews are thorough, frank, and fair. Fairness requires that all reviews be performed on actual shipping products rather than prototypes or beta-test machines and software. To do otherwise is unfair to the reader, the reviewer, and the manufacturer. In a few cases, we have mistakenly published reviews of prerelease products. (We owe an apology to Supersoft for holding a prerelease version of its C compiler up to the standard of a shipping product in our August 1983 issue.)
BYTE publishes product descriptions to give readers an early look at forthcoming products that are innovative and important. BYTE staff members write almost all product descriptions because of the absolute confidentiality required in gaining access to prototypes and beta-test products months before product announcements. Because product descriptions are written at such an early stage of a product's development, they cannot pass judgment on the final product. Rather, the goal of a product description is to give the reader as much technical information as possible at the time and also a detailed impression of how it feels to use the product, how the product works, and how it breaks new ground.
When we see a prototype or test system at an even earlier stage of development, we call the resulting article a product preview rather than a product description. Again we try to give our readers an early look at something new and interesting, and an impression of the product-to-be, but we also recognize that the manufacturer may make significant changes before going into production. A product preview usually has less detail than a product description.
To review a prerelease product would be unfair, but product descriptions and previews do point out design limitations that cannot be changed by shipping date (for example, the HP 150's lack of provision for an 8087 coprocessor, or Macintosh's lack of an inboard second disk drive). At this writing, BYTE has done product previews of both the HP 150 and the Macintosh, but has not yet received review machines of these products. As soon as machines arrive, we will assign them to reviewers. We will publish the reviews as quickly as possible after their completion, but bear in mind that a good review requires the writer to use a product for four to eight weeks and then spend another two weeks or more in the writing. It takes another three to four months to turn a completed manuscript into a printed article in BYTE.
Those readers who have recently suggested that BYTE publishes too many favorable reviews have typically mistaken product previews and product previews and product descriptions for reviews. The editors of BYTE are under no pressure to review any product favorably. We enjoy complete editorial freedom, which remains unabridged even when advertisers have canceled ads because they disliked a review.
BYTE does sometimes accept articles from the designers or developers of some interesting new product or technology but never asks or permits them to review their own creations. We publish design and development articles because they can appear months earlier than reviews, can contain insights into technical creativity, and can provide a glimpse of the state of the art or the future direction of personal computing.
In some recent cases, BYTE has been guilty of insufficient editorial zeal in purging promotional material from certain articles. We deeply regret these errors, are correcting the circumstances that led to them, and will redouble our efforts to see that no expressions of self-interest appear in these pages. We definitely erred in moving the affiliations of authors from the beginning of the article to the end. The change was made for purely graphical reasons, not to mislead the reader, and is reversed in the April issue. In upcoming issues we will also provide distinctive graphics to make reviews, product descriptions, product previews, and design articles look markedly different from one another.
We try our best to present independent reviews of all products covered in design articles, product descriptions, and product previews. This has been the case with the June 1983 issue on "16-Bit Designs," which attempted to show the great variety of systems becoming available despite the tide of PC compatibles and to stimulate dialogue between designers and users. In a few instances, circumstances prevented our publishing in-depth reviews of products featured in that issue. Four of the systems described—Gavilan, Sunrise, Pronto, and TI 99/2—had hardly been announced and could not have been reviewed then. Unfortunately, we are still awaiting review machines of the Gavilan, the Sunrise (Xerox 1800), and the Pronto. The TI 99/2 died aborning but was of interest as an under-$100 16-bit computer. Despite these exceptions, most of the systems presented in the June issue have been reviewed or are scheduled for review in the near future. Berry Kercheval's independent review of the HP Series 200 Model 16 appeared in November. (Generally he liked the machine, but he found serious fault with the documentation, the keyboard, and the Pascal compiler. David Colver, in turn, found Kercheval's review wanting, and we publish Colver's letter on page 15 in this issue.) Reviews of the DEC Professional 350, the Altos 586, the Fujitsu Model 16s, and the Sritek 68000 board for the IBM PC are in progress. A review of the DEC Rainbow is scheduled to appear in April.
This issue contains product descriptions of the Tandy 2000 and the IBM PCjr. Reviews will follow as soon as possible; we would be delighted to receive reviews from any readers who get one of the first production machines from Tandy or IBM.
In some areas of advanced technology, such as perpendicular magnetics, there is not yet a product to describe, preview, or hand over to an independent reviewer. Furthermore, it is extremely difficult to find an expert author who is not working for one of the few companies active in that field.
BYTE is committed both to covering new technology in depth and to providing independent, well-informed, frank, and fair product reviews. Although we will seek technical expertise in academe, industry, and private life, BYTE is and will remain a magazine for personal computer users. The sophisticated user is both our most common reader and our best writer. We believe that users should shape the future of personal computing, and we invite you once again to do so through the pages of this magazine.