Jack Tramiel passed away on Sunday according to his son as reported today. He was 83.
Some might not know who he was, but Tramiel was one of the pioneers of the PC era probably best known as the man behind the Commodore 64. An Auschwitz survivor, he went on to found a typewriter company in the fifties that later went on to become the electronics giant that would shape a young home computer industry in the late seventies on through the eighties.
When it came to electronics, Commodore went into calculators at first graduating from typewriters and office machines. Texas Instruments was its main supplier for chips until they decided to build their own calculators nearly killing Commodore who was cut out. But Commodore proved resilient and gambled everything it had on the future of computers. It proved to be the best bet that they could have ever made.
It created the PET followed by the Vic-20, both decent successes that helped paved the way for the Commodore 64.
The C64 was one of the most successful PCs of the time and amazed many with its incredible graphics and sound making it a welcome home for games. Tramiel would later say “We need to build computers for the masses, not the classes” and the approach that the company took to sell the C64 in retail stores as opposed to specialty boutiques reflected that attitude. At the same time, that also led to the C64 being compared to its peers on those same shelves such as Atari. For a growing number of enthusiasts, the C64 became the go-to choice for gaming and for breaking in your programming chops.
The C64 ended up in a lot of hands gleefully typing out LOAD”*”,8 to run the latest programs off of “datasets” (tape deck cassettes) or disks. Its hardware flexibility was another selling point along with the aggressive pricing that made it even more appealing. It was interesting reading to know that the cutthroat price war that crushed Texas Instruments’ PC dreams in favor of the C64 must have seemed like sweet revenge to Jack Tramiel.
Today, the C64 lives on through die-hard fans that have kept the torch lit in the same way that Apple, Atari, and many other fans have kept alive the retro memories of the past. Emulators and even retooled hardware have kept its unique place in history alive for new generations and debates continue to burn forum posts throughout the night as camps continue to split hairs over its capabilities.
But no one would ever blame them for having it any other way. The Commodore 64 might not have won the “war” against the IBM PC, but no one can doubt it as one of the reasons that a number of developers and game designers today are in their chosen fields sharing that same enthusiasm through the magic that they create.