Founded in 1986 by Mark Adams, former co-founder of PR agency Text 100, .EXE was inspired by Dr. Dobb's Journal, the PC Tech Journal and the C Users Group Newsletter, and conceived as a title specifically aimed at professional programmers, in contrast to the majority of hobbyist-centred computer magazines of this period. Adams served as the magazine's first editor.
The magazine's prominence coincided with the availability of cheap PC clones and the first popular use of Windows, both factors which encouraged the spread of small programming shops at this time. Unusually for the UK market, the magazine was sold mainly by postal subscription, rather than in retail newsagents.
.EXE′s content consisted largely of practical how-to articles focusing on particular platforms and techniques, with a smaller strand of more general software development content. Given that the magazine's audience consisted primarily of PC developers, the platform-specific articles were largely for the DOS or Windows platforms, though over the years of its publication .EXE published articles on OS/2, Unix (of various flavours including Linux), Modula-2, Smalltalk and PalmPilot development, and niche topics. The magazine featured regular columns on C++, Java, Visual Basic and Unix.
In 1995 the magazine was renamed to EXE Magazine, dropping the dot. At around the same time the magazine launched an online version called "Explode" - later "EXE Online" - an early attempt at creating an online archive of the magazine's content. With Web publishing in its infancy, this venture was unsuccessful and it evolved into a companion and marketing site for the print title.
Several of EXE′s editorial staff became well known in the UK technology community as journalists or otherwise. The magazine's second editor, Robert Schifreen, had previously been known for his involvement in the hacking of a Telecom Gold account belonging to Prince Phillip. Other editors or staff writers included Will Watts, Danny O'Brien, David Mery and Hobbit Coward.
In later years, EXE began to feature more product reviews and "advertorial" content such as salary surveys, as its then-publishers Centaur Publishing sought to make the magazine more commercially-focused. The magazine partnered with the UK-based Association of C and C++ Users to produce conference events. However, the market for computer magazines in general was in decline, and as knowledge and technical information about software development began to move online, paper titles like EXE began to lose readers and advertisers. Centaur closed the magazine in the summer of 2000, selling its content and branding, perhaps ironically, to the magazine that inspired its creation, Dr. Dobb's Journal.