A lament for the end of Macworld Expo

On Tuesday IDG World Expo (the trade show business unit of the same company that owns Macworld.com) announced that it was putting Macworld/iWorld — the show formerly known as Macworld Expo — on hiatus. Given that the printed magazine just saw its last issue distributed, I'm not surprised, but I am sad that it's come to this.

Macworld Expo had one hell of a run. It started in 1985, the year after Apple introduced the Macintosh itself. For many years, it was the central event for Macintosh users, IT professionals and others who used and supported Macs. Long after other computer industry shows like Comdex went the way of all flesh, Macworld Expo continued onward.

Macworld Expo was originally semiannual — it happened in January in San Francisco, then happened again on the east coast during the summer months. For many years the east coast event was located in Boston. That was my first experience with it: back in the early 1990s I worked for a Cambridge, MA-based Mac software developer doing tech support, and was asked to help man the booth.

It was a revelation. Macworld Expo in the 1990s was part technology fair, part Disneyland, part bazaar. You had to work hard to stay up to date about what was happening in technology. I did my best, scouring whatever Mac-centric magazines and periodicals I could find, but I always learned a lot going to Macworlds, and inevitably found new stuff I'd never heard of before.

You could get great deals at Macworld Expo — vendors were anxious to offset the expense of exhibiting at the event by selling their products in volume, often at steep discounts. And they had giveaways too. Rare were the attendees who didn't totter home or back to the office with bags swollen with cheap gear, software and tchochkes.

But beside the great stuff you could get at Macworld Expo, the event was always about the people. It was a place for user groups to get re-energized and reinvigorated. It was a place where I could rub shoulders with people who lived, breathed and ate this technology like I did. People whose bylines I'd read in magazines. People I treated as celebrities: The developers and creators of technology that I used or wanted to use, people who made the things that made my life so much better.

And there were legendary parties. Vendors spared no expense to impress buyers and industry VIPs. Apple spent huge amounts of money at its Macworld Expo developer parties, with free-flowing booze and headline entertainment featuring popular rock bands.

The show evolved a lot and changed over the years. Through Apple's darkest days, before Steve Jobs turned it around, Macworld Expo was a light in the darkness for many of us who supported the Mac in our jobs and depended on the technology, despite the growing sense outside the industry that Apple's best days were behind it forever.

Boy, were they wrong.

Steve Jobs ended up using his time on the keynote stages at Macworld Expo to roll out many of Apple's most influential, beloved products. The iBook made its debut on a Macworld stage. iTunes. The PowerBook G4. The Mac mini. The MacBook Air. The iPhone.

Eventually that east coast show that introduced me to Macworld Expo ended — it moved from Boston to New York, and when IDG World Expo moved it back again several years later, Apple decided to pull up stakes. Many other vendors did too. In 2009, Apple decided to pull out of future Macworld Expo events too.

That might have killed the show right there, but Macworld Expo stayed alive, though the expo hall itself shrank and the focus became less on vendor participation and more on conferences and events.

Over the past few years, as the show itself shrunk, there was one bright area: the MacIT conference track, which attracted great luminaries to discuss technology and best practices from the standpoint of working in IT with Apple technology - supporting it, using it, and getting the most out of it.

It's little wonder, then, that IDG World Expo announced that MacIT will continue, separate from Macworld/iWorld. I wish it success, and I hope it continues long into the future.

I attended this year's Macworld/iWorld show (Rene and I were both there, if the photographic evidence above doesn't prove it), and it was still a lot of fun, though it had changed. The scale had ratcheted down dramatically. But what hadn't changed is that it was a gathering of the tribe — a place where many of us went just to see each other in the flesh, to chat about the things that made this technology special, to be part of a community.

I hope that IDG World Expo finds a way to make Macworld/iWorld happen again. But if it doesn't, that's the part that I'll miss the most: The community. Not the parties, not the swag, not the vendors hawking their wares.

For many of us, Macworld/iWorld was a homecoming. And things won't be the same without it.

Peter Cohen