PC Magazine

Atop my list of things I will not be doing at any point today sits "purchasing and installing Windows Vista." While the fine folks at Microsoft have rarely steered me wrong, I generally adhere to a don't-fix-what-ain't-broke philosophy when it comes to my beloved machine, which makes my months-long obsession with accurately labeling, re-tagging and categorizing each of my 7,658 MP3s all the more disturbing.

I will, however, attempt to parlay some of the practical info passed along in the Feb. 6 issue of PC Magazine into home-computing harmony. I'll tweak my spyware protection, diddle with the editing tools, maybe even experiment with a podcast (think "Frampton Comes Alive," but with more magaziney goodness). PC Magazine opens my eyes to a raft of possibilities; Microsoft's $30 gazillion Vista marketing blitz, largely focusing on the possibility of newer and better possibilities, makes me want to hide my computer in the attic with an eight-day ration of bottled water and dried fruit.

For lack of a better word, I'd describe PC Magazine as nifty -- and as much as "nifty" is often employed to characterize minuscule USB drives or anything involving velcro, I intend its use here as a high compliment. Whereas other tech titles can't decide whether they want to appeal to true believers or newbies, PC Magazine simply throws out a bunch of material that should resonate with anybody who digs technology. It's a title for people who are curious as to what's under the 'puter's hood, whether or not they'll take the next step and pimp it out.

Take the cover feature on the future of online video, which both touts next-generation heirs to the YouTube throne and taps a Ziff Davis online producer for hints on how to produce high-quality clippage. Or take the sharp, choppy reviews of everything from tax software to large-screen TVs, occasionally accompanied by "Expert View" commentary. In its every item, PC Magazine emphasizes the pragmatic; it rarely attempts to cheerlead or otherwise manufacture cheap enthusiasm, and as a result teems with credibility. Would it be fair to describe PC Magazine as a technology service publication? I think it would.

With its frequent boldface and jump-around style, the mag's "Inside Track" column doubles as the smart, PC-dork equivalent of Larry King's USA Today musings ("Don Johnson: a great actor, a greater human being"). Then there's "Frontside," which over the span of five pages touches on everything from sci-fi God William Gibson (in a curt Q&A) to the privacy/security hazards potentially posed by RFID chips to a "Connected Traveler" compendium of on-the-road resources.

The Feb. 6 issue even gets a tad whimsical from time to time. I don't understand why PC Magazine references and picks apart a handful of Wired product blurbs, but I enjoyed reading 'em all the same. And as a technology sentimentalist, I can't get enough of the mag's 25th anniversary coverage, which includes a reproduction of its original review of MS Word 2.0 ("could be the future of word processing").

At the same time, PC Magazine knows its place. It doesn't bother with editorial flights of fancy, as witnessed by the simple, pun-free headlines throughout the issue ("The Business End of Video Sharing," "A No-Nonsense Desktop"). Unfortunately, that economy extends to the mag's design as well. PC Magazine may not read anything like a tech trade rag, but it sure looks like one. An item that introduces MS Office 2007, for example, crams seven screen grabs onto a single page, making them all but illegible to anybody not equipped with a magnifying glass. When the mag attempts to gussy itself up, often via the inclusion of "scribbled" photo and product-shot captions, it comes across as helplessly clumsy.

So yeah, fewer boxy layouts would be a nice start, even though nobody's reading PC Magazine for its graphic pizzazz. Beyond that, PC Magazine does most everything quite skillfully. Other personal-technology mags ought to take note of its tone and temperance.

Mag Stats

Publisher: Ziff Davis Media
Frequency: 22 issues per year
Phone contact: 800-336-2423 (advertising office)
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