Tim Palmer, greatest computer press reporter, is dead

Tim Palmer, greatest reporter of the computer specialist press, has died.

When I say he was the greatest reporter, I'm repeating something that I said, myself, about a dozen times a year. I'm also remembering a conversation, some 12 years ago, with Bill Gates - in those days, Bill still spoke to me when we met.

Gates was in London at the time, and some enterprising flunky, hoping to impress the boy god, introduced me as "the UK's most-informed writer". Gates looked at me, witheringly. "Guy? No, you mean the chap who does that little yellow sheet, Tim Palmer. You know, Computergram. He's miles ahead of everybody."

So he was, so he continued to be.

I met Tim when microcomputers were just beginning to be invented, when I was trying to make sense of a Weeny-Bitter spec sheet. It was the Amateur Computer Club's first home-brew design, and Tim and I were in the coffee bar that our publisher provided in Dorset House; he was writing for Computer Weekly, while I was computer correspondent of Electronics Weekly, next door. "What I don't understand," said Tim, awkwardly levering a cigarette-holder to his mouth, "is why, if this Intel 8080 chip is a computer, we don't build computers out of 8080 chips?"

Over the next three years on EW, I found these meetings with Tim continually helpful. From all accounts, he never changed; you could go to him with any question, and if he didn't know the answer, he'd help you find it. A great reporters' trick, to realise that the important thing was to have the information, and that sharing it was a plus. He always shared it. And that was just one reason why he was the best.

Other reasons: well, you had to have his memory. It was incomparable; he not only knew exactly (to the week, ten years later) what story ran in what trade paper, by which writer, but which executives were mentioned, what technology was involved, and how the company politics swayed the course of history. He was equally encyclopaedic about English cricket, rock music, and internal company gossip, both when at IPC and later when he joined VNU to launch Infomatics.

Tim was the person who rescued Infomatics, when its planned weekly publication collapsed into monthly anonymity and mediocrity; he bullied management until they revived it as a daily. Later, he set up with Peter White to launch a direct rival, Computergram, which is now ComputerWire.com, one of the world's leading online resources.

If the rest of the staff at Computergram ever try to abandon his tradition of excellence and comprehensiveness in industry coverage, I'll go around and strangle them myself. He deserves no lesser monument than a publication which matched his vision - even it if it takes six staff to do what he was able to do by himself. Goodbye, Tim; I learned more from you than from anybody else. I hope the knowledge lives on.

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