The year was 1975. MITS released the Altair 8800 home computer kit, bursting open the floodgates of the personal computer revolution. The same year, BYTE released its first issue, forever changing the landscape of tech journalism. Flash forward to 2011, and BYTE has found a new domain as an online journal. To commemorate the grand re-opening, writer Gina Smith transcribed the Letter from the Editor by former EIC Carl Helmers which appeared in the premiere issue of the magazine:
The origin of the term “byte” lies in IBM’s documentation and terminology for the extremely successful System 360 series (of business use computers). The folk talk has it that IBM needed a more unique term for the old standby of earlier generation computers, the “character.” The term had to be less tied to a specific type of data such as character codes — and had to take on semantic meaning as “unit of storage.” With that functional specification for the required term, it could not have been long before some wizard of verbal magic figured out that a group of little bits must constitute a mouth-watering byte. With the term’s widespread use in the computer field due to IBM’s benign influence, the term — byte — has become part of the lexicon. The fundamental significance of a byte as a unit of information makes BYTE an appropriate name for the publication. BYTE is your unit of information on the state of the art of small computer systems for individual persons, clubs and classroom groups. Each month you will find information ranging from computer club announcements to manufacturers’ advertisements, from technical details of hardware and software, to humorous articles and editorial opinions.
Not only is the letter a great read, but a superb piece of archaeology representing the state of technology at the time. What’s more, many of the themes Helmers brings up still endure, touching not only on what’s interesting about computer science and technology, but how they affect human beings —and vice versa.
It’s safe to say we here at KS and BYTE are on a similar wavelength.