In the late 1980s, I was getting started in computer journalism. One of the first people I met was Bill Machrone, then editor in chief of PC Magazine. Now, after a fight with brain cancer, he has left us, and the technology world is poorer for it.
One thing that drew us together was both our fathers had been machinists and TV repairmen. We'd both grown up with soldering irons in our hands. Even as his last days approached, Bill was still working with electronics, along with his son, at their music amplifier shop, Billm Audio. As he wrote a few years ago, "I'm an unapologetic wires-and-pliers hardware geek."
Like many of us in our business, he came to technology journalism first by working with technology. By the early 1980s, he started writing for Sol Libes' Microsystems, one of the first computer magazines. By March 1983, with a real talent for describing complicated technology in plain English, he became a technical editor at PC Magazine, and by September of the same year, he became its editor in chief.
With Machrone at the helm, PC Magazine became the magazine of PCs. It was also one of the most successful magazines of all time in terms of revenue.
PC Magazine reviews became the standard of its day. Machrone started PC Labs and brought rigorous testing to the product reviewing process. To quote Machrone, PC Labs grew from "a beat-up metal desk where we used to disassemble every new piece of hardware" to a thoroughly professional operation. Then, after he left PC Magazine in 1991, he helped found ZD Labs in Foster City, Calif. This brought PC Magazine's testing standards to the rest of the Ziff Davis publishing line.
I got to know him better in those days. I helped in those first ZD Labs tests and benchmark designs. He was a model leader for the rest of us, even as we were tearing our hair out designing benchmarks and running tests for ever-cranky software and hardware.
He also founded PC MagNet, a bulletin board service from which people could download the magazine's famous utilities. This system, which ran at a top-speed of 1,200bps, was the distant ancestor of ZDNet.
Perhaps even more important, Machrone brought many top writers and editors into the business. He influenced even more. I cannot think of a single technology journalist of the first rank who wasn't influenced by his work and his example. I am honored to have known and worked with him.
Leaving aside his work and his influence on the business, he was a true gentleman. I will miss him. All of us who had the pleasure of knowing him will miss him.
At 69 years old, Bill left us too soon. He leaves behind his wife Sharon and children Andrew and Stephanie.