A magazine about programmers, code, and society. Written by humans since 2018.

Dr. Dobb's Journal of Computer Calisthenics & Orthodontia

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, one of the most appropriate locations in Buenos Aires to find international magazines was the quintessential Calle Florida. In those huge newsstands next to the corner with Avenida Corrientes one could find incunabula ranging from the September issue of Vogue to the latest edition of Paris Match. Among those, every so often my programmer self would jump in joy to find some lost computer magazine; and by far the one that made me the happiest to unearth was, without any doubt, Dr. Dobb’s Journal.

We have often mentioned Dr. Dobb’s in the pages of this magazine, for one simple reason: it is one of our major inspirations. When we started planning De Programmatica Ipsum with Graham, Dr. Dobb’s was one of those historic magazines that shaped our discovery of computers and programming. In my personal case, it is impossible to deny the profound effect that it had on my upbringing as a software developer.

For decades, every month, Dr. Dobb’s Journal would dedicate a full issue to a particular subject… yes, just like this magazine does. Legend has it that, because of its name, copies of Dr. Dobb’s Journal landed in the waiting rooms of otherwise unsuspecting dentists all over the USA.

Please be mindful that those were the ages of the early Internet, without any World Wide Web in the horizon. The access to reliable and advanced information from other practitioners in the field was much scarce than it is now, particularly when operating from peripheral regions of the world. To be honest, we are now drowning in a sea of information, with an overwhelming level of detail, and even worse, hysteria.

During those calmer times, Dr. Dobb’s would cover every month some programming topic with an excellent series of monographs and a wide array of sample code, interviews, and even excellent humor. In the latter case, an honorary mention goes to Verity Stob, whoever they are, because of their uncanny description of the daily life of a software developer in the Microsoft galaxy of the late 1990s. Those who witnessed (or suffered) the good old days of On Error Resume Next are now nodding their heads in despair. I hear you.

Dr. Dobb’s Journal has had some clear phases in its evolution. During the 1970s, it featured frequent articles about BASIC, starting with a historic description of a Tiny BASIC interpreter that is now a hallmark in the history of open-source and intellectual property.

In the 1980s, the focus of Dr. Dobb’s switched to Forth, one of the magazine’s favorite programming languages of all time. By the end of the decade, however, the rise in prominence of object-oriented programming became a force to reckon, and articles about C++ became the norm.

The inexorable enshittification of Dr. Dobbs’ during the 2000s happened, first slowly, then all of a sudden. First, due to the pressure of advertising and sponsoring, the magazine slowly became a Microsoft-driven publication, even featuring more articles about .NET than their home-grown MSDN Magazine.

But there were stronger forces at play. The rise of the World Wide Web meant the end of many printed computer magazines, unable to fight the proliferation of blogs, podcasts, and Stack Overflow questions. In 2009, the printed version of the magazine was discontinued, and in December 2014, almost 10 years ago, Andrew Binstock announced the end of Dr. Dobb’s Journal.

Since then, the website has slowly degraded, to the point that many articles are not available anymore, stripping huge swathes of history out of our collective memory. Shareholders surely enjoy taking content offline because of TCO and returns, but they love stealing content when it fits their agenda. Thankfully, we have the Internet Archive. Please support them.

If there is a single article from the magazine to read and re-read, that would undoubtedly be “We the people”, written in 1991 by Jim Warren, one of the founding editors of Dr. Dobb’s Journal, and also a host of the (often mentioned in this magazine) TV show “Computer Chronicles”. Jim was rightfully described in a New York Times article as “A Utopian With a Twinkle and an Idea: Online Democracy”.

People’s computers, accessing significant information about the People’s world, assure a Free People. Our electronic “intellectual assistants” can provide “power to the people” — not from the end of a gun, but, rather, by allowing citizens the practical opportunity to make knowledgeable, reasoned decisions about their person, family, community, state, nation, and world.

In these troubled times, we need more Jim Warrens than ever.

Dr. Dobb’s stood for so much more than just computer code. The full collection of its first 15 years (from 1976 to 1990) is freely available on the Internet Archive for our collective reading pleasure. Should you not know where to start your exploration, jump directly to the January 1980 issue, entirely dedicated to the CP/M operating system, and which starts with an article by Gary Kildall about the evolution of the first few years of the personal computer industry during the late 1970s.

Cover snapshot chosen by the author.

Continue reading Issue 069: Architecture or go back to Issue 070: DOS. Did you like this article? Consider subscribing to our newsletter or contributing to the sustainability of this magazine. Thanks!
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