Influential PC User Group Dies
by Andrew Buckmaster BurnWorld.com
The World’s Former Largest PC User Group HAL-PC Shuts its Doors
In late June, the PC User group HAL-PC (which stands for the Houston Area League of PC Users) announced it would be closing its doors for good. HAL PC was a renowned PC User group that formed in the days before internet usage was common. HAL-PC grew to become the largest PC user group in the country at one point. The group’s mission was to increase computer literacy among the general public. On June 27th, the board members of HAL-PC sent out an email to the entire group acknowledging that the group fell behind the times in terms of relevance. According to the email, the decision was prompted by the low attendance at a June 21st group meeting. You can read the email below:
“We wish to thank our many loyal members who have supported HAL over the years. Unfortunately, our changing society was reflected in the extremely low attendance at our Annual June General Meeting on June 21, 2014, and the general lack of volunteer participation. After much deliberation on June 24, the Board of Directors voted to dissolve the Houston Area League of PC Users, Inc. We will continue to support our members for approximately the next month after which most operations will have ceased.
If you are using auto-pay for your membership fee, that function is being turned off. Regretfully any membership time remaining on your account will not be refunded. A separate email will be sent that will inform you about your HALNet account.”
Former board member, Bill Jameson, later confirmed the decision via telephone. Bill also spoke about the changing societal context. He explained that the world is now governed by different “interests and goals.” According to Jameson, the older membership of the PC user group, the disappearance of the cultural norms which prompted its emergence, the rise of the Internet, and the organization’s own inability to adapt have all determined this decision.
The History of the PC User Group HAL-PC
The PC user group HAL-PC was formed in 1982. Interest in the group’s formation was sparked by the shared passion for the new technology of PCs. The group reached its pinnacle of popularity during the mid-to-late 1980s and early ‘90s. At the time, it boasted thousands of members. A story published by the Houston Chronicle says that, in July 1987, its membership stood over 6,500 members.
The HAL PC motto each one teach one was put into practice thanks to the presence of some notable guest speakers over the years. The founder of Microsoft Corporation, Bill Gates, appeared before the group’s members on April 7, 1987. In July 1987, some 2,000 attendees gathered to listen to Borland International founder Phillipe Kahn discuss the fate of PCs and computing technology. In December 1993, notable tech writer for the Chronicle Dwight Silverman staged a legendary “shoot-out” between two brand new operating systems at the time – IBM’s OS/2 and Microsoft’s Windows NT 3.1. In April 2000, the group still made headlines thanks to some of its more noteworthy members (such as the 17 year-old computer genius, Matthew Castillo). Castillo became famous for his PC prowess. He took apart his first computer when he was no older than seven. In 2000, he spoke of getting more young people involved in HAL-PC.
Time passed. Photos published in 2007 by the same Houston Chronicle showed that the organization’s headquarters had fallen behind the times. The pictures featured old PCs, copies of Windows 95, and an overall feel of disarray and datedness. In 2013, Silverman spoke before an audience of 20. By this past June, Bill Jameson was met by “one or two” members at a meeting. He stated that the only other attendees were board members, employees, and organization volunteers. 2014 reports of the organization’s headquarters, published shortly after the closing announcement, described the building as a “ghost town of a 6,665 sq. ft.” in a “sleepy 2-story office building”. By this point, HAL-PC had come to be seen as a hub for “retiree dial-up types”.
How the PC User Group HAL-PC Changed the Industry
In spite of the way the organization’s history unfurled, Castillo’s statement above speaks volumes about its ethos. Without a doubt, this PC user group managed to influence people in the PC/technology industry throughout its 32 years of existence. Perhaps most notably, the group influenced the WordPress developer Matt Mullenweg. Matt is a Houston native, and he attended HSPVA. At the time, he was a freshman at UH. Mullenweg would hang out with older group members to gain useful insight into database development. He would then deliver presentations on this topic to the PHP group of HAL-PC. Ultimately, Matt developed WordPress based on these very insights. Needless to say, WordPress is today’s most popular blogging platform.
It’s difficult to say just how the PC and tech industry will be affected by this decision. The local communities across America (and the entire world, for that matter) still need groups that actively promote computer literacy. In fact, we probably need them now more than ever. We live in a technologically advanced society where PC skills are essentially mandatory for employment. Houston’s economy may have contributed to the disappearance of this group. If there’s one lesson to take away from the rise and fall of the PC user group HAL-PC, it’s that staying relevant is essential in the technology and educational industry.
About the Author:
My name is Andrew Buckmaster. I am a site manager for an online business consultation firm. I love to read and write about technology. In the past, I worked for a publishing company where I edited manuscripts. I currently live in Lancaster, PA with my wife and dog. I also run a blog called http://www.burnworld.com/. My site specializes in Blu-Ray/DVD burning, memory backup, and technology in general. When I’m not blogging or working, I enjoy producing electronic music and hanging out with friends.