Jack Tramiel, 83, has died. A survivor of the Holocaust — he survived Auschwitz — Tramiel will be remembered as a major tech pioneer who launched Commodore and its legendary 1982-era Commodore 64 computer and, later, its Amiga series computers.
Tramiel famously said he made computers “for the masses,” a prescient idea in an age when IBM had just released its first 1981 Personal Computer for business and Apple was still two years away from its Macintosh launch. He was, according to Silicon Valley legend, among the few execs able to beat Microsoft founder Bill Gates in a negotiation. As the story goes, Tramiel was looking for a BASIC version for the early 1976-era Commodore PET and partnered with Microsoft for practically nothing. According to the folks at Slash Dot, this particular story is documented in Brian Bagnall’s classic book, Commodore.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on Tramiel and your memories of the Commodore 64 and Amiga Series computers. To jog your memory a bit, here’s an infographic on the Commodore 64. Scroll to the bottom to enlarge. Add a comment to the story and we’ll add it to our memorial for Tramiel. Many of us on staff knew him and we are deeply saddened.
Our staff, readers and our EA’s co-author, the famed Apple inventor and co-founder Steve Wozniak, shares thoughts.
We welcome yours.
Let’s start with Steve Wozniak’s.
Steve Wozniak, co-founder and inventor, Apple: “We tried to sell him the whole thing. Steve Jobs asked for a few thousand dollars, but Commodore decided it didn’t need color in its graphics. Chuck Peddle, who was a marketeer for the firm that made the original chips for the Apple I and II, got to Tramiel and told him they needed to go with cheap monochrome systems.” The Commodore PET was, with the Apple ][, was the first true out-of-box non-kit computer, though Apple beat it to market to become the first, Wozniak told aNewDomain.net’s Ed Dir Gina Smith.
“Eventually, the Commodore 64 and the Amigas came out and they were really neat — unlike Apple, IBM and other competitors in the early 1980s, these were focused on the home. That was smart and they really sold just so many of them. Wow, it was the right move,” Wozniak told Gina today. Wozniak added that he fondly remembered Tramiel and saw him not too long ago — “such a nice guy.” No hard feelings on either part, Woz said.
Business is business. “I was sad to hear the news” of Tramiel’s death. The Commodore 64 and the Video Toaster were super impressive for their time,” he said.
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From aNewDomain.net’s Jonathan Hoffberg — “In 1991, the Video Toaster made it possible for anyone with a few thousand dollars and a story to tell to cut a program that you could show on television. Its debut was a signal event at the dawn of the digital renaissance. The fact that the Amiga’s system clock, at 7.16Mh, was exactly double the frequency of the carrier signal for NTSC color (the prevailing American TV standard at the time) made it an ideal platform for NewTek’s groundbreaking video card.”From reader and Silicon Valley PR maven Pat Meier-Johnson: “Jack Tramiel was there at the very beginning — a real hero of the industry when the very idea of a computer in the home was revolutionary. I had the pleasure of working on PR for products for the Amiga. We barely could fathom the possibilities back then but he saw them and the world is a smarter place thanks to him.”
From reader +Chuck Ward: “Jack was a great guy, and I remember, as a teenager, receiving a phone call from Jack when I had found some issues with my Atari computer. Amazing that back in the day a teenager could not only reach the CEO of a computer company, and that CEO was knowledgeable about its company’s products.” (ED: Under Tramiel’s watch, Commodore International purchased game pioneer Atari)
Reader +Shane Brady, a computer programmer in Kansas, said something a lot of readers echoed in emails to us today, but he said it best: “I wasn’t lucky enough to be able to hack on a C64 back in the day, but the world he helped created has stood as a foundation to everything I do today on a daily basis. For that, I salute Jack Tramiel.”
Another programmer, reader Jeff Croft, writes: “Thirty years ago, my folks got me C64?s little brother, the VIC-20. With it I could play games, enter in programs from this or that magazine, and, eventually, write my own. It was fun to use and easy to learn.
It wasn’t until much later that I got my hands on a C64, but all my friends had them. In the years that followed, as PCs and Macs “took over”, it was still a badge of honor to have a C64 (or an Amiga). To this day it is one of the best examples of something that Got It Right. I think it’s true that I would never have become interested in tech or become a programmer if it wasn’t for Commodore machines. I owe it all to Jack Tramiel; thank you for everything.”
So does aNewDomain.net. Our sympathies go out to Tramiel’s surviving family. Tramiel, for sure, is ensured a spot in the history books.
Below is the 1982 American advertisement for the Commodore 1982. A piece of tech history.