A tribute to Jack Tramiel, father of Commodore 64 (gallery)

Jack Tramiel was the king of the computer industry in the 1980s when the market for home computers first took off.

Topic: Hardware
1 of 13 Andy Smith/ZDNet

Jack Tramiel, known as the Father of the Commodore 64 - the best-selling computer of all-time, died on April 8 at 83. For more about Jack, read Violet Blue's story.

ZDNet UK blogger Jack Schofield knew Tramiel during the 1980s and described him as "a jovial, cigar-smoking, balding and somewhat portly Jewish businessman known for hard bargaining and for the slogan: 'Business is war'."

Here is Jack Tramiel as he appeared during the 25th anniversary of the Commodore 64 at the Computer History Museum.




2 of 13 Andy Smith/ZDNet

Tramiel began using the name Commodore in 1952 with Commodore Portable Typewriters. He then turned to sales of typewriters, followed by adding machines, and calculators with some success before moving to computers.

In this video, Jack tells ZDNet's Violet Blue that he founded Commodore Computing "by accident" and that he never cheats at Pac-Man.

3 of 13 Andy Smith/ZDNet

Tramiel made his best move by buying chipmaker MOS Technologies which owned the 8-bit 6502 chip that became the dominant CPU for several years. You could find it in many Commodore products including the C64 and in other well-known computers such as the Apple I, Atari 400/800, and Apple II.

He used his chip to undercut the prices of his competitors leading to the success of Commodore Computers.

4 of 13 Andy Smith/ZDNet

The first Commodore computer built during Tramiel's tenure was called the PET 2001 or Personal Electronic Transactor and was released in 1977. According to the Commodore PET Alive fan site: it "was a fully integrated computer with the monitor, motherboard, keyboard and cassette drive all in one package" - a big advantage over the competition.

The first PET models had 4KB of RAM and a black-and-white screen of 40x25 character graphics. Later models featured 8KB RAM and 12-inch screens. It also had a chicklet keyboard.

PET's astounding early success was a big surprise to Commodore leading to major backorders soon after it was launched.


5 of 13 Andy Smith/ZDNet

Three years later, the VIC-20 showed up as a cheaper alternative to the PET 2001. It was limited with 5KB of RAM (3.5KB useable) but it did have a 40-KB add-on memory cartridge. The VIC-20 did have a real keyboard and sold at retail stores (K-Mart) for $299.99. It also featured the first modem under $100.

The VIC-20 was the best-selling computer in 1982, with 800,000 units sold. It was quickly forgotten after the new and improved Commodore 64 was released in 1983.

6 of 13 Andy Smith/ZDNet

Next came the all-time champion, the Commodore 64. This proved to be the first computer for millions (including myself) with all-time record sales of at least 12.5 million units although many estimates figure the number to be around 17 million.

The C64 was an 8-bit machine that ran on 64KB of RAM. Its audio and video were improved over previous computers and it cost just $599 when released - about half the price of an Apple IIe. Its price eventually dropped to $199. C64 was also marketed for the masses - sold in retail stores - repeating the success of the VIC-20.

7 of 13 Andy Smith/ZDNet

The famous log-on screen of the Commodore 64. But this one isn't an original. A new company called Commodore USA obtained naming rights and is selling a new version of the C64 that is basically a shell covering a modern PC. Like the original, the new C64 can be connected to either monitors or televisions, however it offers 1080p HD and 6 Channel High Definition Audio playback. Prices started at $595, same as the original.

8 of 13 Andy Smith/ZDNet

Here's what the latest version of the C64 looks like (and a gallery).

9 of 13 Andy Smith/ZDNet

After getting into a dispute at Commodore, Jack left and purchased ailing Atari from Warner Communications. By this time the industry moved on from MOS 6502 processor to the 16/32-bit Motorola 68000.

The Atari 520ST was also known as the "Jackintosh" due to its graphical user interface. It used the Motorola 68000 and competed against Apple's Macintosh and Commodore's Amiga computers.

10 of 13 Andy Smith/ZDNet

The Atari-130XE which was announced in 1985 was the last of the 8-bit computer series. It came with 128KB of RAM.

11 of 13 Andy Smith/ZDNet

The Atari Lynx was the first color gaming handheld and was released in 1989 for a price of $179. Nintendo's GameBoy was released at about the same time and although it was black and white, its price tag of $99 took a bite out of Lynx sales.

12 of 13 Andy Smith/ZDNet

The last gasp of Atari was the the first 64-bit gaming system - Jaguar - released in 1993. It proved to be a commercial failure. Jack sold Atari 1996 and retired to Monte Sereno, California.

Source: Evan-Amos

13 of 13 Andy Smith/ZDNet

Jack was born in Poland in 1928 and was sent to a Jewish ghetto in 1939 after the Nazi occupation. He was sent to the Auschwitz death camp in 1944 where he was examined and then transfered to a labor camp before being freed by the U.S. Army in April 1945.

In 1993, Jack was a co-founder of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Its collections contain more than 12,750 artifacts, 49 million pages of archival documents, 80,000 historical photographs, 200,000 registered survivors, 1,000 hours of archival footage, 84,000 library items, and 9,000 oral history testimonies.

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