PC World

Coming upon an avalanche-waiting-to-happen of technology titles at Barnes & Noble the other night, I said to my companion, "Gol-lee, Brandine! Them's sure are a bunch o' fancy computing-machine magazines in them thar racks!" The problem, of course, was that the person next to me wasn't so much a "companion" as a "total stranger." She eyed me suspiciously, started to say something, thought better of it, then ambled over to the crafts titles. Me, I just grabbed the publication with the most provocative headline--the November issue of PC World--and made a hasty retreat to the registers.

Yet that cover, with its unblinking eyeball and swirly fingerprint, only served to provoke more questions. "How to Beat the Bad Guys"? But wait, I thought the terrorists were the bad guys. I better write this column and write it well; otherwise, the terrorists win.

This enormously long and even-more-moronic-than-usual lead is meant to camouflage the fact that, frankly, I don't have a whole lot to say about PC World. It reads well enough, I suppose, and oozes confidence and authority from its every page. Alas, it's not (thesaurus and passive verb alert!) especially interesting.

For every item that offers a hint of personality--notably Stephen Manes' "Full Disclosure," in which the author, with muckraking spirit intact, relates his attempts to learn more about Microsoft's automatic Windows updates--there are three that feel flatter than month-old soda. The reviews rarely lapse into tech-speak and offer a balanced examination of everything from mouses to handheld doohickeys, but so what? It isn't as if the world of personal computers lacks its share of armchair quarterbacks, many of whom have taken to the blogosphere to publish their equally comprehensive and often wittier commentaries.

From a design perspective, PC World comes across as equally bland, with a mini-me font crunched into redundant layouts (blocks of text/illustrations/blue sidebars). While the mag boasts an occasional flourish, such as a neatly appended graphic illustrating changes within next year's Microsoft Office update, the title resembles nothing design-wise if not a going-through-the-motions trade rag.

I'd be interested to see what a less graphically inert production team might have done with the November issue's special report on "The New Security War," which investigates common online scourges like information brokerages and adware. Despite their slightly alarmist tone, the stories offer perhaps the best head-to-toe analyses of these oft-discussed topics that I've read, online or off. Illustrated mostly with barely legible screen shots and interrupted by a Kermit-green eight-page Acer ad supplement, however, the report loses steam pretty quickly.

Since PC World doesn't distinguish itself tonally or graphically, I'm left wondering why readers would even bother with a print magazine in the first place. Few of the topics it tackles (PC security issues, hardware and software adds, etc.) aren't covered in breathtaking detail all over the Web. Without some kind of hook, whether it be a comely design or a gaggle of exclusive columnists or a more futurist take on its current subject mix, PC World could find itself next to the PS/2 on the scrapheap before too long.

Next story loading loading..