Pioneer Houston PC club shuts down after 32 years

 At one time, HAL-PC billed itself as the largest group of its kind in the country

By Dwight Silverman
Houston Chronicle

HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Area League of PC Users, founded when Ronald Reagan was president and software was swapped on floppy disks, is clicking the shutdown icon after 32 years.

At one time, HAL-PC billed itself as the largest group of its kind in the country. A Houston Chronicle story in July 1987 said its membership was at 6,500. An appearance that month by Philippe Kahn, a pioneering software legend, drew more than 2,000 attendees.

The club — whose motto, “Each one teach one,” reflected its mission to increase computer literacy — flourished through the 1990s along with the personal computing revolution that rapidly transformed modern life. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and computer columnist John Dvorak were among those who addressed HAL-PC over the years.

But like many computer user groups around the country, HAL-PC couldn’t compete with the Internet. Matthew Castillo, who joined when he was 16 in the late 1990s and even became a board member in his teens, recalls the difficulty in trying to bring younger members into the fold. Hosting computer gaming parties with local area networks, or LANs, didn’t do the trick, he told the Houston Chronicle.

“We had good turnout for the LAN parties, but after that, (the younger people) didn’t stick around,” Castillo said. “They didn’t have any reason to meet a friend somewhere to get a copy of a program on a floppy disk when they could download it from the Internet.”

The final straw was the attendance listed as “one or two” beyond board members and volunteers at last month’s general meeting.

“After much deliberation on June 24, the Board of Directors voted to dissolve the Houston Area League of PC Users, Inc.,” the group said in an email to members. “We will continue to support our members for approximately the next month (July), after which most operations will have ceased.”

Bill Jameson, a former board member who spoke by phone from HAL-PC’s South Post Oak offices, reiterated the “changing society” theme in the email, saying “this society we live in now has a different set of interests and goals. Our type of organization is not included in that.”

“Most of our members are older,” Jameson said. “The cultural norms we grew up with are pretty much gone, and as a consequence, the organization has not sufficiently adapted to this new culture.”

HAL-PC started in 1982 with just 20 members. In its heyday, the club boasted thousands.

But with the rise of the Internet, user groups became less relevant. Rather than attend a meeting, computer enthusiasts could find the information they need online.

Several attempts were made over the years to modernize HAL-PC. Jameson didn’t know how many members HAL-PC has now. But he said there are between 900 and 1,000 members of HALNet, the Internet service provider operated by HAL-PC.

Most of its members use DSL, but a handful still use the ISP’s original dialup service. Jameson said the group was hoping to find an organization to keep running the service.