This week the world of computing was hit with the sad news of the passing of Jack Tramiel (pronounced “Tramel). Who is he you may ask? Well I thought I would dedicate the daily post today to cover the achievements of Jack, and what exactly he means to retro gamers.
Jack was born in Poland and grew up during World War 2, where he felt the full brunt of a world at war. He was transferred to the equivalent of a sweat shop by the Germans, then to a concentration camp, and finally to a labour camp. He was rescued from the labour camp in April 1945, and after joining the army himself became a typewriter repair man. Looking back at it this seems like a logical first step for the man who would found Commodore Computers.
The first Commodore was in fact, a type writer. After a trip to Japan Jack sold electronic calculators. The first Commodore computer, the PET, didn’t arrive until 1977. While it was a huge success, in the world of computers you’re only as good as the last machine released. With competition from Apple and Atari it was painfully obvious that new machines would need to be developed to stay ahead of the game.
Later Commodore machines, the VIC-20 and C64 were huge successes, but Jack was forced out of his company (though officially he “resigned”) due to differences in direction. In an interesting twist of fate, one Nolan Bushnell was forced out of Atari under not too dissimilar circumstances. Why is this relevant? I’m glad you asked. After Commodore Jack formed a new company which ended up buying out Atari.
Upon joining Atari Jack set to work releasing the final revision in the Atari 2600 series, the Jr. The 16 bit range of computers, the ST series were also released and were put in direct competition with the Commodore Amiga. While Jack lost the 16-bit battle with his former company, the ST range was far from being a failure. Jack took a step back while his son Sam took over operations at Atari, though Jack was always watching. After Sam suffered a heart attack Jack officially returned to oversee the company.
Atari as the world knew it ended after the releases of the Lynx and Jaguar consoles. Jack sold the company in a merger deal, though remained on the board after the merger took place.
Jack kept a relatively low profile for the remainder of his life, though he helped to found the “United States Holocaust Memorial Museum” as a dedication to holocaust survivors. He passed away on the 8th of April of unknown causes at the age of 83. Jack is survived by a wife, Helen, and three sons, Sam, Leonard and Garry.
To me Jack is an 8-bit hero, and I put him in the same camp as Sir Clive Sinclair (creator of the ZX Spectrum), Lord Alan Sugar (founder of Amstrad) and Steve Jobs (founder of Apple). While I was firmly in the Amstrad camp as a child, I derived a lot of enjoyment from machines from all of the aforementioned companies. Out of the ZX Spectrum, the Amstrad CPC, the Commodore 64, and the Apple 2, the C64 was the most successful machine. While later endeavours may have met with mixed results, Jack clearly won the 8bit Micro war.
The men who gave us the best of the 8-bit Micros.
(Left to Right: Jack Tramiel, Lord Alan Sugar, Sir Clive Sinclair, Steve Jobs)