Commodore pioneer Jack Tramiel dies: Wozniak, industry and tech pros react

Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, remembers tech pioneer and Commodore founder Jack Tramiel in an interview with Gina Smith. Tech pros who cut their teeth on early systems like the Commodore 64 and the Atari Series computers weigh in on how those early systems got them in the biz. Tramiel, 83, has died.

Jack Tramiel, the tech revolutionary and Holocaust Auschwitz concentration camp survivor who brought the Commodore 64 and Amiga Series computers to the world in the early and mid 1980s, has died at 83.

Those two computing lines were prescient in that, unlike efforts from Apple and IBM at the time, Tramiel wanted a computer for the "masses" and targeted home rather than business users. The systems were far ahead of their time in many ways.

Tramiel's death is a huge loss, Apple co-founder and inventor Steve Wozniak told me in an interview today. (Disclosure: I co-wrote Wozniak's memoir, iWoz: How I invented the Personal Computer and Had Fun Doing It — WW Norton, 2005).

In 1975, Wozniak and the late Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs tried to get a few thousand dollars from Commodore as Wozniak was designing the Apple II, which he said was in breadboard state at the time but was working already as the first color system. No go.

"Steve Jobs asked for a few thousand dollars, but Commodore decided it didn't need color in its graphics. Chuck Peddle, who was a marketer for the firm that made the original (6500 series MOS) chips for the Apple I and II, got to Tramiel," Wozniak told me, "and convinced Tramiel that Commodore instead needed to go with cheap monochrome systems." That was the inexpensive 1976 Commodore PET, but in 1982, Commodore entered with the Commodore 64, a truly ground-breaking system on which many tech pros cut their teeth.

I'll keep adding to this as tech pros I work with via my geeky tech blog and some I correspond with regularly on Google + and other social networks weigh in. One thing is certain: Jack Tramiel will make the history books for his prescience, early on, regarding building a computer for the home and not just business as long ago as 1976.

Not all of us remember the 8-bit C64 — check out this vintage 1982 commercial to take a walk back in time. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Tramiel, who are mourning today.

"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 Commodore really sold just so many of them. Wow, it was the right move," Wozniak said today.

Wozniak added that he fondly remembered Tramiel and saw him not too long ago — calling him "such a nice guy." There were no hard feelings on either part, Wozniak said, just a lot of mutual respect that only grew through the decades that followed.

"The Commodore 64 and the Video Toaster were super impressive for their time," he said.

Anyone who owned the Video Toaster knows how far ahead of its time Jack Tramiel really was.

Tech pros I contacted expressed similar sentiments. Here's a sampling.

Shane Brady, a tech pro and computer programmer in Kansas, said something a lot of readers echoed in emails to me today, said, "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."

New Jersey IT pro Clifford Hamblen said he had a (Commodore) 64, a 128 and an Amiga. "For its time the Amiga was one heck of a computer. Compared to the boring command line IBM PC that was in every office."

Here's an infographic that should bring back memories on the C64 — for those old enough to remember and a great treat for those who don't.


Gina Smith is a NYT best-selling author of iWOZ, the biography of Steve Wozniak. She is a vet tech journalist and chief of the geek tech site, aNewDomain.net.

Editor's Picks