TRIBUTES have been piling up for Jack Tramiel, a Holocaust survivor and founder of the pioneering home computing firm Commodore, who died this week.
In 1982 his firm released the Commodore 64, a simple, cheap machine that introduced millions to computing.
The massive success of the product led Mr Tramiel to run a full-page newspaper advertisement in 1983 boasting that “Commodore ate the Apple”. It was later claimed in a biography that he had turned down the opportunity to acquire Steve Jobs' firm for just $100,000 in 1976.
Jack Tramiel was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1928. When the Second World War and Nazism arrived in 1939, he and his Jewish family were confined to the city’s ghetto. In 1944 they were transported to Auschwitz, where his father died.
After liberation, Mr Tramiel moved to the United States, where he joined the army and learned to repair typewriters. Demobbed in 1949, he set up a typewriter shop in New York with a GI loan, which he moved to Toronto in the 1950s.
An insider trading controversy in the 1960s forced Commodore to move back to the United States, to the nascent Silicon Valley in California, which set the company on its path to becoming a home computing pioneer.
After getting into the electronic calculator business, Commodore made its first computer, the VIC 20, in 1977, the same year Apple introduced the Apple II. Mr Tramiel had already established his firm’s focus on low prices, however, and the VIC 20 became the first PC to sell more than a million units.
The Commodore 64 followed in 1982. With more memory than the competition, colour graphics and a characteristically aggressive price, it was an instant hit and went on to sell an estimated 17 million units worldwide.
Unlike the Apple II and other PC rivals, it came with an RF modulator that allowed it to be plugged into a television, making it a viable alternative to a video games console for many. Classic titles such as International Karate, Ghosts n’ Goblins and Commando ensured the Commodore 64’s place in gaming legend.
Jack Tramiel left Commodore in 1984, apparently after a falling out with its chairman. His legacy was already assured, however, and he continued to influence the industry until the mid-1990s via the Atari Corporation, which he bought months after his departure from Commodore. Its first PC under his leadership, the Atari ST, released in 1985, became a favourite with musicians thanks to its built-in for the MIDI standard, for example.
“Jack Tramiel is really the man who brought the average person into the computer industry," Michael Malone, a Silicon Valley historian and author, told the LA Times.
“Everyone remembers Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak at Apple, but in those early years the war hadn't been won yet by anybody."
“You basically had Apple first, then you had Commodore, Atari and later IBM. And for the first five years of the personal computer industry - 1976 to '81- it was a crapshoot as to who was going to win."
Jack Tramiel, 83, died of heart failure on Sunday, his family said.