Jack Tramiel, Father of Commodore Passes

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 04/10/2012

Jack TramielI missed Jack by a few years, when I was a student intern (technically, a co-op student from Drexel University) at Commodore, back in 1988—but the legend of Jack Attacks still resonated through the hallways. I wrote about Jack last July, and he has been an invisible presence in my life, so I felt like I should say a few words.

I would be lying if I said I couldn’t detect relief that Jack no longer roamed the hallways, ambushing people and dressing them down before Steve Jobs ever took up the habit. This is a guy who bought the perpetual rights to a Microsoft operating system for $20,000, turned down the opportunity to buy Apple for $250K, and created a computer company with nearly total vertical integration.

When other companies were using over-priced Motorola and Intel processors, his company was designing their own processors by laying rubylith out on the floor and cutting it with XActo-knives, then burning them from sand, getting them for $25 a pop. Oh yeah, did I mention he was an Auschwitz survivor, and father of three?

Jack Tramiel was the baddest ass of the bad asses. He is one of the unsung heros of the computer industry. His mantra: “Computers for the masses, not the classes” first brought fully functional computers into the home for under $500—a trend that the computer industry conspired to set back by 30 years, hiking the price-point back up to $2,500, until Asus broke the hold with the Eee netbook, and soon thereafter, Apple with the iPad.

I could go on forever with this article, talking about all the lessons that Steve Jobs learned from Jack, taking plays directly from Jack’s playbook, but in this modern age. It’s a shame that Jack was driven out of his company by the terrible chairman of the board who drove the Commodore into the ground—not that I didn’t try to save it! It makes me wonder whether a family-run public company would really have been so bad compared to the alternative that played out.

Oh, the alternative histories that could have been. When you hear the stories, Bill and Steve were actually pussycats compared to Jack. And although his great accomplishments were admittedly built on the brilliance of people he bullied around, like the astoundingly amazing Chuck Peddle, Al Charpentier, and “the Bob’s” (Russel and Yannes), Jack was still one of a kind, a pioneer, and helped shape our world in ways he is rarely credited with.