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Jack Tramiel, Founder of Commodore Business Machines, Dies At Age 83 301

Posted by Soulskill
from the rest-in-peace dept.
LoTonah writes "Jack Tramiel, founder of Commodore Business Machines and later, the owner of Atari, died Easter Sunday. He was 83. He undoubtedly changed the computing landscape by bringing low cost computers to millions of people, and he started a price war that saw dozens of large companies leave the market. He also took a bankrupt Atari and managed to wring almost another decade out of it. The 6502 microprocessor would have withered on the vine if it weren't for Tramiel's support. Could anyone else have done all of that?"
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Jack Tramiel, Founder of Commodore Business Machines, Dies At Age 83

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  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Monday April 09, 2012 @05:01PM (#39623135)

    Looking at every article and documentary on the late 70's and 80's computing scene these days, you would think that the only computers that existed were Apples and PC's out of Silicon Valley, and that everyone out there had $2,000 to spend on a new computer back when that was the price of a decent used car. But the most popular computer in the 80's wasn't a Mac, or a PC. Commodore was by far the most popular computer line of that era. And they made computers than didn't require a second mortgage for working-class people to buy. And they were EVERYWHERE (not just in the yuppie homes).

    Not that you'll even find Commodore mentioned in The Pirates of Silicon Valley, or any other popular computing accounts about that time. You'd think everyone was going around back then just talking about IBM, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates--when most people hadn't even *seen* a PC or Apple outside of a school or business.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Apple is the only company that matters. they invented the PC, they invented the smart phone and they invented the tablet. Literally no other company in the history of computing is anywhere near as important as Apple. Apple is all things to all people. Apple is Alpha and the Omega.

      Think different, think BETTER, think Apple.

    • by xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) on Monday April 09, 2012 @05:07PM (#39623229)

      >> Looking at every article and documentary on the late 70's and 80's computing scene these days, you would think that the only computers that existed were Apples and PC's

      The winners write the history. (More specifically, the marketing departments of the winners write the scripts, provide the footage and locate the retired experts to feed the articles and documentaries about how awesome they were decades ago.)

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Did you ever use a Commodore PET computer? It certainly wasn't anywhere near as sexy as an Apple or an Atari.

      The C-64 came far later. It's only interesting aspect was the low cost - the technology inside was 5 years out of date. Steve Jobs is off 'inventing' the Macintosh, while Tramiel is pushing a $200 computer in K-Mart. Which story makes the better movie?

      And if it's any condolence, the Radio Shack TRASH-80 also always gets the short shrift in these stories. They were at least as big as Apple for a while

      • by KlomDark (6370) on Monday April 09, 2012 @05:43PM (#39623685) Homepage Journal

        The C-64 was better than anything available at the time. Most amount of RAM (More than the Apple ][), color graphics (Mac was Black & White), the super-advanced SID synthesizer (Still used by a lot of musicians today) which gave it true sound back when the Apple and IBM offerings only offered pathetic beep noises.

        Sure, the 6502 (Really the 6510 in a C64) was a few years old then, but there was nothing else out there in the affordable range. The megahertz wars hadn't started. the IBM PC was faster with a 4 Mhz processor, but the PC was such a barebones POS at the time that nobody wanted it.

        It's what they did with the 5 year old 65xx line that was the groundbreaking part.

        • by rrohbeck (944847)

          Well the IBM PC was *slightly* later than the C64.
          Yes I'm too lazy to look it up.

        • by lord_mike (567148)

          It's important to note that the Commodore 64 incorporated graphics support hardware (aka the first "graphics card") which helped make the computer much faster than it's CPU speed would indicate, especially for gaming.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            You Sir, must stop talking out of your ass.

            Most of the PCs back then had 'graphical support' hardware. Obviously I'm not talking about the D/A converter for analog video out. What do you think VIC in VIC-20 stood for? Back then the Apple II had swappable video cards. The Atari 8-bit PCs had the ANTIC with the CTIA & GTIA chips. Hell, even the 2600 had the Stella chip for dealing with player/missile graphics.

            Back in the day when I started out programming you had to rely on the hardware for function

            • by PCM2 (4486)

              Back then the Apple II had swappable video cards.

              I don't remember that. I remember you could put a card in your Apple ][ that would let it do text in 80-columns (usually with the added advantage of including a mixed-case font), but you didn't get any graphics advantage with that. It was only for text.

              In fact, I don't remember any significant upgrade to Apple ][ series graphics until the Apple //c and the late-model Apple //es arrived with the 128K RAM board, which had some kind of hidden feature that allowed you to do Double Hi-Res. Hardly any software su

            • by eulernet (1132389)

              No, the GP is right.

              I programmed a few games on the C64 and on the PC before 1987 (in assembler).
              The C64 hardware was a lot better than the IBM PC's one.
              For example, there were hardware scrolling and sprites, and you could even trump the video card in removing the borders and surpassing the limits of the hardware (check a few demos without border).
              It was very dedicated towards console games.

              In comparison, the IBM's video card was the same as the Amstrad CPC's one. It barely allowed scrolling (I'm not even s

            • by perpenso (1613749) on Monday April 09, 2012 @08:38PM (#39625703)

              It's important to note that the Commodore 64 incorporated graphics support hardware (aka the first "graphics card") which helped make the computer much faster than it's CPU speed would indicate, especially for gaming.

              You Sir, must stop talking out of your ass.

              Actually, he is correct. The C-64 did have "graphics support hardware" beyond offering a bitmap that programmer could directly manipulate. The GP is only mistaken in that he characterized the hardware as being like a "graphics card". The specialized C64 graphics hardware supported 8 sprites. It was a very handy thing.

              You could also consider the reprogrammable character set as such graphics hardware that sped up games. Various VIC-20 and C-64 games used this technique to good effect.

              Back then the Apple II had swappable video cards.

              Huh? *If* such cards existed they were certainly so rare that hardly anyone had them, a real niche thing. Are you thinking of the 80 column card? It added 64K RAM too but I don't recall this card enhancing graphics. My recollection as a former Apple II, //e, and C-64 programmer is that on the Apple II you had bitmapped graphics and that on the C-64 you also had bitmapped graphics, but it was better, plus specialized hardware support for sprites. The Apple was primitive in comparison.

              I hate the smell of noobs in the morning, It smells like ignorance.

              You might want to check that attitude if you yourself aren't remembering things quite correctly either.

            • "Back then the Apple II had swappable video cards"

              No. I owned one of those machines.

              The Video was on the motherboard itself. Some applications could use an add-on 80-column card, but the *main* card was on the board itself. I still have the 80-column card, and its cable that hooked up on the motherboard.

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_80-Column_Text_Card [wikipedia.org]

        • If you remember the SID don't forget the mockingboard
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mockingboard [wikipedia.org]
          and AD/DA converter boards were on sale too.

          And the b/w mac with its teeny screen was more usable than a first gen amiga OS (which ran gorgeous graphic demos but crashed by looking at it the wrong way)

          Having said that, the c64 and amiga were the undisputed kings of home computing.

        • which gave it true sound back when the Apple and IBM offerings only offered pathetic beep noises

          Except that you mentioned the Macintosh, which had a full 8-bit audio DAC and could generate any sound you might care to (although limited to around 11 kHz and at a relatively low S/N ratio), and the 68000 was fast enough to generate polyphonic composite waveforms in memory.
        • The megahertz wars hadn't started. the IBM PC was faster with a 4 Mhz processor

          I'm not so sure about that. Although the 6510 ran at 1.03 MHz, it could access the memory bus on every clock cycle (well, when not pre-empted by the video chip). The IBM-PC 8088 ran at 4.77 MHz, but could only access the memory bus every four clock cycles. I'd say the 64 was competitive with the 8088 and probably faster at some activities.

        • by sunspot42 (455706)

          >The C-64 was better than anything available at the time

          Sorry, the Atari 800 easily bested it in most regards, and it had been designed in 1978. Faster CPU, vastly superior drives, better graphics, 4-channel sound, just to name a few points in its favor.

          The C64 was clearly built to rival the 800, which it did thanks not to any technical superiority, but due to the incompetence of Atari management.

      • by BitterOak (537666)

        Did you ever use a Commodore PET computer? It certainly wasn't anywhere near as sexy as an Apple or an Atari.

        Ummm, the first PET came out when all Atari offered was the 2600 video game console; their computers, the Atari 400 and 800 came out a few years later. And both the Atari and Apple computers (and the Atari 2600 console) used the 6502 chip, which was codesigned by Chuck Peddle, who designed the first PET computer. And soon after MOS Technologies developed the 6502 they were bought by Commodore.

      • by chrismcb (983081)

        The C-64 came far later. It's only interesting aspect was the low cost - the technology inside was 5 years out of date. Steve Jobs is off 'inventing' the Macintosh, while Tramiel is pushing a $200 computer in K-Mart.

        far later? far later than what? The C-64 came out in August of 82 with a price tag of $600 (The Vic 20 was the $200 computer at that point) The Apple IIe with similar specs (64K RAM, 6502 CPU) came out in Jan 1983. AFTER the C64 came out.
        The Mac came out in 84 while CBM released the Amiga in 1985 (both with the 68K CPU). I don't see how the tech was 5 years out of date. Apple and Mac and Atari were neck in neck (with IBM PC languishing in the business world)
        Things went downhill after Tramiel left for At

        • The Apple 2 was released in 78, Atari 800 in 79, C64 in 82.

          The Apple 2 could have been upgraded to be everything the C64 had, but it wasn't standard.

          The Atari 800 could do everything (graphics, sound, drives, connectivity, processor) the C-64 could, but better and 3 years earlier.

    • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Monday April 09, 2012 @05:38PM (#39623637)

      I bet Jack Tramel's death won't get the kind of coverage that Steve Jobs got. His 6502 CPU (plus variants) were used in Atari 2600/5200/7800 consoles, Atari computers, Apple I/II/IIgs computers, Nintendo ES and Super Nintendo consoles. His Commodore and Atari companies popularized music, video, and preemptive tasking when the Macs/PCs were going "beep" and had about 4 colors.

      And yet after today we'll probably never hear about him again. And yes the Commodore 64 was and still is the record-holder for most machines sold (peak years: 1983-86). The runner-ups:

      2. Amiga 500 (millions of C64 owners upgraded)
      3. Atari 800 (peak year: 1980-82)
      4. Tandy/Radio Shack TRS-80 (1977-1979)

      • As others have noted, modern history seems to completely bypass several machines which were immensely popular and influential. When I first got into computers, it was TRS80/Atari 800/Apple II/Pet etc yet only Apple gets remmebered.

        Those who get dewy eyed about their B&W soundless ZX80/81s would be surprised to find say the Atari 800 came out in 78/79 and offered colour, high res (at the time), sprites, hardware scrolling, display interrupts and most of the hardware features the Amiga built on later).
    • by glassware (195317) on Monday April 09, 2012 @07:08PM (#39624833) Homepage Journal

      Also worth mentioning: Jack Tramiel was the only person who ever won a business deal over Bill Gates. When Jack Tramiel was looking for a BASIC for his computers - the Commodore PET specifically - he called in Bill Gates and wrung the worst deal out of him that anyone has ever produced. It's documented in the fantastic "Commodore" book by Brian Bagnall (http://www.amazon.com/Commodore-Company-Edge-Brian-Bagnall/dp/0973864966/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1334012789&sr=8-3).

      Every Commodore computer used Bill Gates' BASIC code and Bill got a pittance.

      Bill Gates has never since let anyone get the best of him. I suspect the experience of getting Tramieled directly led to his success in negotiating the rights to PC-DOS and winning the IBM PC contract.

      Here's to you, Jack. You gave Chuck Peddle the chance to be great, and you scared Bill Gates into building modern computers. That's a pretty damn good run.

    • by toejam13 (958243)

      There are a number of reasons why Commodore is now a side note in history.

      First, Commodore really only had two major hits: the Commodore 64 and the Commodore Amiga 500. The Commodore VIC20 and Commodore Amiga 1200 sold well, but not to the degree needed to be remembered by the mainstream media. The rest of their product line-up, while sometimes revolutionary for the time, often had even less commercial success. In short, Commodore was either hot or not with their end-user products.

      The second issue was fragm

    • My first computer was a CoCo2 (basically, a souped-up TRS-80). I won it when I was eight and taught myself how to program with the manual using BASIC and the limitations of the internal hardware. I think I've still got it kicking around somewhere, and I really should see if it still boots.

      I wonder which direction my life would have taken if someone else's name was drawn. But then, nobody gets to find out what would have happened.

      • by hawk (1151)

        the coco was *not* "basically" a soured up trash80.

        he two had nothing in common other than slapping the name on them,being sold by RS, and using MicrosoftBASIC 2.0 (and even then,the were significant differences between the 6800 versions and the 8080 versions [err' I think the coco used version 2])

        The trs80 was a z80 8 bit system with 16 bit addrssing; the coco used a 6809, a bizzare partial 16 bit extension of the 6800 with 19.5 bit addressing (seriously, it addressed 768k of 8 bit words).

        The trs80 and th

    • by suso (153703) *

      If you really want to extend the ignoring of Commodore to its fullest, you could also acknowledge that even Slashdot made this a minor "hidden" article instead of a full size one. Shame!

    • by hairyfeet (841228)

      Anyone else remember the ads with The Shat? My first real PC (I had an Altair for a little while but with nothing but switches there wasn't much a kid could do with one of those) was a VIC and it gave birth to a lifetime love of computing which has been passed down to my boys, both of whom had PCs before they were in grade school. With the VIC there was just soo much to do! there were programs in every mag you could type in and run, tons of docs and specs that would let you PEEK and POKE and get really deep

  • interview from 1989 (Score:5, Informative)

    by gl4ss (559668) on Monday April 09, 2012 @05:04PM (#39623183) Homepage Journal

    http://www.commodore.ca/history/people/1989_you_dont_know_jack.htm [commodore.ca]

    seems he got around to do quite a lot.

  • http://www.commodoreusa.net/CUSA_AMIGAmini.aspx [commodoreusa.net] .... The new AMIGA MINI comes with a 3.5 Ghz i-7 CPU, up to 16 GB RAM, GTX 430 GFX, 600 GB SSD, HDMI/DVI out and 8 USB ports. Sure, it isn't a real "AMIGA", but its cool that there is at least an "attempt" to put AMIGA branded computers back on the desktop. Long live Commodore! And long live the C64 and Amiga 500! Good times...
    • by chrismcb (983081)
      No please. let it die. I love the C64, still got two on my desk, and I write software for the C64 and for emulator tools for it in my spare time. But it is over and done with. Either bring out a new computer with a new chip and new OS or bring out a linux box, but don't brand the linux box "commodore" or "amiga" because it is neither.
    • by bmo (77928)

      Did you price that so-called "Amiga"?

      It's twice the price of a top end Mac Mini, a SFF computer that has similar enough specs that if you bump the Apple to the same specs, it's /still/ 500 bucks cheaper.

      Just... no.

      And it's not like you're getting an Amiga OS. You're getting Fuduntu with an emulator and a really gawd-awful skin.

      --
      BMO

    • Rather than spend $350 on a case containing a PC motherboard with no memory, no CPU, and no disk, I feel I'd get a much better "Amiga experience" by buying an Amiga Forever [amigaforever.com] CD for $30 or so and running it on my existing machine.
    • AMIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!! </scene reference>

      But seriously, not it is not "cool that there is at least an "attempt"" to bring back the brand, with zero innovation besides a breadbox casemod. Note that all their other systems (including their "Amiga"s) are just cheap Chinese off-the-line volume machines available to anybody to throw their badge on it.

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      I never played with Commodore 64 or knew anyone who owned one. But I do remember Tramiel's holy war against the Amiga. After leaving Commodore he just went on the attack against his former company.

    • That is not an Amiga. It's a badge-engineered PC running an OS that has nothing to do with the Amiga OS.

      THIS is an Amiga. It's expensive as hell, not very fast, and severely niche. But at least it runs AmigaOS and can run old Amiga code directly. http://acube-systems.biz/index.php?page=hardware&pid=7 [acube-systems.biz]

      There are other models in the works - the AmigaOne X1000, for instance - but they're even more hideously expensive, and they're still in beta.

  • My First Computer (Score:4, Insightful)

    by preaction (1526109) on Monday April 09, 2012 @05:10PM (#39623269)

    The computer that started my love, and now my career, was an Atari ST. I would spend hours watching demos, playing (probably pirated) video games, and experimenting with voice synthesizers, drawing, and music programs.

    TOS ERROR #35 in heaven, Jack.

    • Re:My First Computer (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mccalli (323026) on Monday April 09, 2012 @05:23PM (#39623439) Homepage
      They were great. With an SM124 mono monitor in hand, he ST was my first serious computer (coming off the back of a Spectrum and another Tramiel machine, the C64).

      I learned C with the cheap GST C compiler. I did serious text crunching with Signum (superb output). I learned to do MIDI sequencing with Steinberg Pro 12. I used Spectre for Mac emulation and had a hardware 286 emulator fitte on which I ran Turbo Pascal. And then, of course, were the games.

      Excellent machine. Tramiel's great hit, the C64, was also responsible for getting me into music in the first place. People like Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway got me hooked, and I still use C64 sounds today via plugins like QuadraSID.

      Jack Tramiel's influence is severely understated by many (he schooled both Gates with the Commodore BASIC contract for instace) and I am sad to hear of him going.

      Ian
      • by marsu_k (701360)

        Tramiel's great hit, the C64, was also responsible for getting me into music in the first place. People like Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway got me hooked, and I still use C64 sounds today via plugins like QuadraSID.

        ++ for this. There were two factors that got me interested in electronic music, Rob Hubbard and Depeche Mode. Of the two, I'd have to say Hubbard was a greater influence (and I'm a huge DM fan).

    • by slapout (93640)

      "The computer that started my love, and now my career, was an Atari ST" Me too!

      I spent hours playing games on my ST, and I got started programming because of an article in Atari Explorer magazine. I can remember waking up face down on the keyboard of my ST.

  • I owned both Atari and Amiga pcs, without them I'd have been trying to figure out a way to lug a crt and an acoustic coupler home. Thank you Jack.
  • http://xkcd.com/218/ [xkcd.com]

    for my childhood, thank you Jack.
  • Best game ever. RIP.

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Monday April 09, 2012 @05:29PM (#39623533)

    One thing that's particularly interesting about Jack Tramiel is that, unlike some of the other 70s tech entrepreneurs (Woz, say), he was really from a previous generation, not natively a computer guy. But, he managed to anticipate and succeed over several technological transitions. He immigrated to the U.S. after surviving a concentration camp during WW2, and started a reasonably successful typewriter company in the 50s. That successfully transitioned to mechanical calculators in the early 60s after the typewriter market started getting too competitive and low-margin, and then once transistors started becoming affordable, he digified that line and put out a line of digital calculators in the late 60s. In fact Commodore in effect put out the first Texas Instruments calculator, using commodity circuits sourced from TI, which TI only later realized they could assemble under their own label, resulting in the now-famous TI calculator line.

    Then, finally, he anticipated the home-computing trend, with Commodore releasing its first design in 1977, the same year as the Apple II.

    It's not very difficult to imagine an alternate history where Commodore was a typewriter company that had a brief adding-machine phase before completely missing the digital-computing wave and going bankrupt by 1980.

    • by amiga3D (567632)

      Too bad he didn't anticipate Mehdi Ali and Irving Gould coming in to destroy the company.

      I still remember one magazine talking about those two fools on the golf course. "What is it we sell again?" "Computers." "Oh, yes, how are those selling anyway?"

    • Very true. Commodore had some awesome (for the time) calculators in the mid-to-late 70s. I still remember one my maths teacher owned that had more buttons on it than the mind could comfortably conceive (this was a cool thing when I was 12).

      For some reason though, when the market moved from LED/VFD calculators to LCD ones, Commodore just seemed to vanish, presumably preferring to concentrate on the PET/VIC/C64.

      • by edjs (1043612)
        TI using their own chips to produce their own calculators cheaper than Commodore could sourcing their chips from TI, plus the cheaper LCD calculators starting to come out of Japan, drove Commodore out of the calculator market. Which drove Tramiel to acquire his own chip fab (MOS) so that he'd never be dependent on outside suppliers for core components of his products, and an almost pathological need to undercut the competition.
        • Thanks for the info.

          And yet, apart from the TI-57/58/59, TI calculators were generally seen amongst my peer group as "clunky" (the cheap 'n' nasty TI-30 really didn't help this when put up against the likes of the Casio FX-120), whereas the Commodore scientifics were seen as cool. Amazing what badge engineering can do...

  • Guru Meditaiton # 81070000.00524950

  • by rimcrazy (146022) on Monday April 09, 2012 @05:35PM (#39623611)

    I can tell you unequivocally that being a supplier to both companies sucked big time. They never paid you. It got so bad that we (when I was a supplier to them) basically made any business with them COD because if you didn't you would never get your money. You may all love Jack but I couldn't stand doing business with them. Major PITA.

    • by default luser (529332) on Monday April 09, 2012 @06:26PM (#39624301) Journal

      Yes, this book details Jack purposefully not paying suppliers [amazon.com], nice to hear it repeated from someone first-hand. According to the book they made a point of not paying suppliers, especially if they were interested in acquiring the company. When the company was cash-strapped and desperate, Commodore would buy them out.

      It made more money on the short-term, but was bad for the long-run because it burned bridges in the industry. This made it hard for Jack to get now-wary suppliers and dealers to help him grow his business when he saw an opportunity for a new market/device.

    • The word on Jack was, "He's a great guy, and he'll pay you if he has to."

      He bought Atari for a dollar down and a dollar when you catch me, 'cause Warner was a serious don't-wanter.

      I don't think anyone with a softer nose could have kept Atari going, but let's remember him as he was, one tough sonovabitch.

  • For it's name, at least, the name for the operating system on the Atari ST: T.ramiel O.perating S.ystem
  • The first computer I ever programmed or had in my home was a Commodore PET model 2001 computer. My father was a teacher taking an 8 week course in microcomputers and he was able to bring a PET home with him for the duration of the course. That was in 1978. A few years later, the first computer I ever owned was a Commodore 64. In high school computer science class we used Commodore PET model 4032 computers with Waterloo Structured BASIC, until I introduced the teacher to COMAL, which ran on the new Commo
  • by hessian (467078) on Monday April 09, 2012 @06:24PM (#39624257) Homepage Journal

    Rest in peace, Jack Tramiel, famed for "The Jack Attack."

    The Commodore 64 truly was The People's Computer, like the Volkswagen "bug" was The People's Car.

    At a time when an Apple //e cost $2500 for monitor, CPU, extra RAM (necessary), and two disk drives, you could walk out of the store with a full Commodore system for $350 and hook it up to an old TV.

    This is why C64 culture was so vital: people took risks with their computers instead of treating them like business machines or expensive curiosities. Back in the BBS days, the Commodore boards were where it was at. Total anarchy zones. If the feds or feebs swooped in to confiscate them, one paycheck later they were up and operating again.

    I hope Jack gets the recognition he deserves in the great beyond. With any luck, he's just finished sliding a whoopee cushion onto Steve Jobs' easy chair and is watching from behind a corner with a devilish grin.

  • It's funny how 50% of the posts in a thread about the founder of Commodore are nothing but bitching about Apple.

  • by ChipMonk (711367) on Monday April 09, 2012 @10:13PM (#39626417) Journal
    I have a story to tell about Mr. Tramiel. He touched my life in such an obvious way, with such a hackable C64, and I got the chance to thank him in person for his vision.

    I used to work in Silicon Valley. When I first went there, I had visions of rubbing elbows with personal computing luminaries like Jobs, Wozniak, Tramiel, and Bushnell. Let me tell you, working in a startup is not the way to make this happen. Of course, Nolan Bushnell doesn't live in Silicon Valley, and Steve Jobs was busy running Apple, so they got scratched off my list. I did get to meet Steve Wozniak [wordpress.com], simply because I was in the right place at the right time. But Jack Tramiel was... well, someone I wanted to meet badly enough to track down myself.

    I had heard he still lived near Silicon Valley, but it was only by sheer luck that I came across a way to contact him (which I won't share here). It was my last week to work before moving back east, and I worked up the courage to initiate contact with him. Immediately, I found out he was someone who valued what privacy he could get, so I had to explain why I wanted to meet him in person. He graciously agreed to meet me for Thursday lunch. That gave me two days to think about what I wanted to say to him, and to ask him.

    Not that it mattered. I got there a little bit before he did, got shown to his customary booth, and started tripping over my own tongue as soon as he showed up. Any photos you've seen of him reflect exactly how he looked: somewhat rotund, mostly bald, clearly Jewish, and very contented with life. The ease with which he greeted me showed I wasn't the first 37-year-old Commodore fanboi he'd ever met.

    We ordered our meals, and began to chat. I tried to present myself as respectfully as I could, but... really, this was Jack Tramiel, and I was having lunch with him! He explained right away that he had just come from the gym, he always ate there after his workout, and that's how the restaurant host knew where to seat me. He worked out three times a week, as a way to stay somewhat active, but he had a good life, he knew it, and it showed.

    We talked about how he had learned what American business was about, and how he had learned about America. When I told him I was from Ohio, he piped up immediately with, "Ah, my favorite city is Toledo, Ohio. Even though I've never been there." I knew he was a Holocaust survivor, but I didn't know that an American from Toledo, Ohio was the first Allied soldier to greet him when the Ahlem labor camp was liberated. This soldier taught him to speak basic English, talking about Toledo, Ohio enough that it essentially became young Jacek's understanding of what city life in the USA was like.

    We talked about Commodore Business Machines, and how the design evolved from the early PET, through the VIC-20, C-64, and C-128. He had wanted economical designs from the beginning of his involvement with computers, and his products reflected that. He bore no ill will towards IBM, Apple, or any of the other competitors. It was all business; life is too short for animosity on any level. As the fortunes of CBM varied through time, that philosophy made it easier for him to stand aside and let history take its course. (I've heard that from a few other Holocaust survivors as well.)

    We also talked a little politics. I asked him what he thought about the conservative/liberal polemic, and his response was simple: The government governs a nation, but it's a nation of people. When a government prefers the nation over her citizens, they suffer as he suffered. He asserted that no form of government was completely immune to this hazard, but some are less suceptible to it.

    I had a website that the time, and said something about what an incredible brag I would have for it. He demurred a little, and asked that I refrain from speaking publicly about having lunch with him, at least while he was alive. So I did.

    The hour and a half I spent
  • by beaverdownunder (1822050) on Tuesday April 10, 2012 @02:50AM (#39627803)

    My family couldn't afford a Mac, but could manage a 'Jackintosh' -- a 520ST with a single-sided floppy drive and a monochrome monitor. Sure, it wasn't as fancy as a Mac, but neither is a Toyota Corolla as fancy as a Ferrari. It had a mouse-driven GUI, didn't need a bunch of disks just to get to the desktop, could play some pretty cool games -- even in monochrome mode (Bolo anyone?) -- could use a standard printer, and the floppies were PC-compatible!

    In terms of business, gaming and design and music, the ST was a really cheap way to touch on all of these when no other contemporary computer could, at an even-remotely similar price-point. Amiga for business? Yeah, right. Macintosh for home gaming? Not that inspiring, Dark Castle notwithstanding. PC for design? Bleah. Never mind MIDI. You can't really argue with the ST's flexibility -- and it was remarkably easy to sell the idea of buying one to parents who already felt burned when they discovered too late that using that 8-bit computer you talked them into had an extremely steep learning curve when it came to business and productivity applications.

    The ST's only real failing was it wasn't marketed particularly well. Had Jack been willing to lift prices to cover advertising costs I expect that it would have done much better, but he seems to have always had a bit of a personal philosophy on that matter that in retrospect was perhaps a little naive.

    Regardless, were it not for the ST I probably wouldn't have had a 16-bit computer until several years later. Thanks Jack.

  • by smchris (464899) on Tuesday April 10, 2012 @08:00AM (#39629083)

    I'd have known a lot less about computers -- since the built-in decompiler came in handy when "compatibility" with C64 programs meant you had to recode because they moved the video addresses, among other things. I guess sometimes the best master is the one who throws you down a well and makes you find your own way out.

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