Commodore founder passes away at 83

The industry has lost another one of its pioneers. Jack Tramiel, founder of Commodore, passed away on Sunday at the age of 83. He left behind a wife, three sons, and their families.

Tramiel in 2004. Source: Commodore.

I was too young to spend much time with Tramiel’s Commodore 64, but its impact is hard to ignore. The system was a best seller and remains firmly ingrained in popular culture 30 years after its release. The Amiga was also hugely significant, though it came out after Tramiel’s departure from the company.

Tramiel himself led a rather extraordinary life. He was born in Poland in 1928, survived the Auschwitz death camp, and emigrated to the United States after World War II. According to a Fortune Magazine piece posted on the Commodore website, Tramiel joined the U.S. Army in 1948 and was put in charge of office equipment repair. He used those skills to open a repair shop in the Bronx. By 1955, he had moved to Toronto and founded Commodore.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Comments closed
    • Vrock
    • 8 years ago

    Tramiel ruined Atari by trying to turn it into Commodore. Shame.

    • ronch
    • 8 years ago

    I haven’t used a C64, instead being bought an IBM PC/XT clone back in the 80’s. Having said that, I can certainly relate to those who owned a C64 and how fond they were using them. For some reason I still cherish those days of CGA graphics and floppy disks. It’s certainly nothing compared to today’s computers, but they had a certain allure back then. Perhaps, using less colors and simple beeps, it left more to one’s imagination to fill in.

    Condolences to Jack’s family. He’s certainly a great man.

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 8 years ago

      While the IBM PC/XT had simple beeps, one of the strengths of Commodore was the custom chips like the C-64’s SID chip for audio.
      [url<]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MOS_Technology_SID[/url<]

    • Byte Storm
    • 8 years ago

    Sad day for Gaming. RIP

    Though I’m curious if the Crown, Philosopher’s Stone, and Sword were in his home or not.

    • shank15217
    • 8 years ago

    Anyone who survived Auschwitz would probably be fearless to just about anything, extraordinary man by extraordinary circumstance.

    • LoneWolf15
    • 8 years ago

    I still think of the Commodore 64 as the finest example of being able to code great things using about 40k of ram or less (38911 basic bytes free).

    I also think of it as a time when truly ingenious games were made. Some serve today as the forerunners of modern day greats, (think Toy Bizarre as the forerunner of the original Mario Brothers). Early speech and sound that was well done. Expansion through floppy diskettes, cartridges, printers, even modems.

    RIP, Jack. You and your company made a product that truly influenced my life.

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 8 years ago

      It did have 64K of memory. It was possible to POKE() some of your data into the RAM behind the system ROM addresses and then PEEK() it back out in BASIC. For assembly programs, you could turn off most of the system ROM to free up even more memory.

      If you’re going to get nostalgic about games for the 64, my favorites included Lode Runner, Jumpman, Lemmings, M.U.L.E., Epyx Summer Games, and all of the Infocom text adventures.

      P.S.:
      Let’s toss in Spy Hunter, Impossible Mission, Gyruss, Ms. Pacman, Pitstop 2, Arkanoid, Attack of the Mutant Camels, Beachhead, Defender of the Crown, Blue Max, Archon, The Bard’s Tale, Crush Crumble & Chomp!, David’s Midnight Magic, Defender, Dig Dug, Dragon Riders of Pern, F-15 Strike Eagle, Fire Power, Frogger, Galaxian, Gauntlet, Q*Bert, Raid on Bungeling Bay, Robotron 2084, Seven Cities of Gold, Silent Service, Space Taxi, Sword of Fargoal, Tapper, Ultima III and Zaxxon.

        • LoneWolf15
        • 8 years ago

        You forgot Trolls and Tribulations, and Fort Apocalypse, but other than that, I think you’re doing pretty well. 😀

        Bungeling Bay rocked. Possibly the best software to come out of Broderbund ever.

        • UberGerbil
        • 8 years ago

        Yeah, in assembly you had most of the address space to mess around in, other than the graphics memory (which was laid out in a sane manner, unlike Woz’s “save a few cents in hardware” design for the Apple ][). It had quite a few hardware enhancements compared to its competitors in the day, like hardware sprites (though getting enough of them for many games required some tweaky programming) and hardware sound. People figured out to get an awful lot out of that limited hardware (which nevertheless seemed luxurious compared to the everything-in-software Apple ][). There were registers to shift the entire screen by up to 8 pixels horizontally or vertically, enabling some nifty effects with very little code. You could set it to trigger a scan-line interrupt — and, if you knew what you were doing and didn’t try to do too much, you could service that interrupt and then set it to trigger again further down, allowing you to do things like paint the background in horizontal bands of various colors by just updating one register. Probably the most fun assembly language programming I’ve ever done.

    • PrincipalSkinner
    • 8 years ago

    Edit : Reply failure.

    • jdaven
    • 8 years ago

    I once played Rampage with a friend on the C64 for so long that it overheated and crashed. That device was so fun that it rivals the ability of some PCs for its gaming credentials. You could plug in two joysticks, use cartridges, cassettes, disks or type in some Basic from a computer game magazine.

    Thanks, Jack. RIP!

      • UberGerbil
      • 8 years ago

      Yeah, C-64s were the first machine I saw with an overheating problem under heavy use. We used to pull the cases off them and turn hair driers and desk fans onto them to keep them cool. Mind you we were doing game development in assembly so they were getting run pretty hard.

    • elmopuddy
    • 8 years ago

    I lost *many* hours on my C64, gaming, coding, typing in lines of numbers from gaming magazines.. and ever typed some papers. Sad news.

    • RedAdmiral
    • 8 years ago

    First computer I ever wrote any software for, and started me out to where I am today.

      • Yeats
      • 8 years ago

      I learned BASIC on a Vic 20… and I never had more fun with a computer than my Amiga 500.

        • JustAnEngineer
        • 8 years ago

        I taught myself basic on an 8K white-screen Commodore PET. My Amiga 2000 was the most entertaining computer that I have ever owned.

          • UberGerbil
          • 8 years ago

          Well, I taught myself BASIC on punch cards but that very 8K PET was the first interactive machine I got to work on. It’s amazing to think how much time per byte I invested in that thing compared to what we have today.

          • mutarasector
          • 8 years ago

          Same here. Although I learned BASIC on the C=64, my Amiga made programming *fun*. I remember a program I initially wrote in C=64 Basic (for a board game I used to play called “Starfleet Battles”) and
          porting it to AmigaBasic. Just being able to move away from line numbers and going to line >labels< for sub routines was soooooooooooo nice. When Basic compilers finally came along, I thought was in heaven. I think I also still have my Lattice C, ManxC, and ARexx tools around here somewhere, (I still have a ton of Starfleet Battles game materials too). In fact, I first joined the GEnie service because of the Commodore 64 and Amiga, which also led me to becoming an assistant sysop on GEnie.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 8 years ago

        [quote<]I learned BASIC on a Vic 20[/quote<] Same here. It was truly amazing to behold.

        • mutarasector
        • 8 years ago

        I had a couple of A500s myself. I did my own hacking on them to accommodate the newer ROMs and chipset, as well as my old A1000. I was at an Amiga DevCon in Atlanta (back in 90-91?) where another developer who designed and sold a replacement daughterboard for the 1000 (Greg Tibbs) and I were up in his hotel room wrestling with my 1000 to get all the molex header pins to line up so we could install one of his replacement daughtercards onto it, and replaced the noisy PALs and installed an ECS chipset.

    • LiquidSpace
    • 8 years ago
      • yogibbear
      • 8 years ago

      Are you serious?

        • PrincipalSkinner
        • 8 years ago

        I wonder what he said…

      • Price0331
      • 8 years ago

      You edited your post 5 times and that’s the thought you shat out?

      • Deathright
      • 8 years ago

      I hope you get banned for this.

      • Cyril
      • 8 years ago

      LiquidSpace has been banned for being either a terrible troll or an objectionable human being.

        • superjawes
        • 8 years ago

        Why not both?

        • lilbuddhaman
        • 8 years ago

        I bit late, but good riddance. We’ll be on the lookout for LiquidGalaxy, FluidSpace, and other versions of his name in the coming weeks.

        • UberGerbil
        • 8 years ago

        Thanks Cyril. I realize you folks try to give people as much rope as you can in the hope that they’ll turn into reasonable and responsible members of the TR community, but the rope has to end somewhere.

        • ClickClick5
        • 8 years ago

        Aw, I go to lunch and someone gets banned… 🙁
        I missed the ban-worthy comment.

        Anyway, “640K is more memory than anyone will ever need.”

        I remember my dad saying the same thing about the 64k. :p

          • UberGerbil
          • 8 years ago

          When I first got my hands on a 48K Apple ][, after working within the confines of an 8K PET, I blurted something like “I’ll never fill this thing up” (with my code). In fact, it took me about 4 months 😉

          (Bill [url=http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9101699/The_640K_quote_won_t_go_away_but_did_Gates_really_say_it_<]didn't say that[/url<], of course. Though he did sign off on the 640/384 split of the 8088's address space into user/system, and he may have said something like that to Tim Paterson at the time, but it was understood to be in the context of the 1MB available and not in any larger sense.)

            • ClickClick5
            • 8 years ago

            I stand corrected sir.

            Heh, I remember the joy of going from 16MB to 64MB and how much better my games would run at the time. I have 16GB now and am in a state of “nothing will ever fill this”. But as time keeps teaching us….something will eventually.

            Though…cloud computing would remove the mass need for ram on the client side. The cloud servers would have to be 256GB+ to sustain the on-the-go demand of people.

            Hum, Firday Night Topic: Will the regular user’s desktop/laptop need “more” RAM in the future? Or will we stay where we are now?

          • derFunkenstein
          • 8 years ago

          yeah, i’m dying to know what he actually said, but since Jack Tramiel is wearing a yarmulke in the photo, not to mention survived Auschwitz, my guess is it has to do with his heritage.

        • VILLAIN_xx
        • 8 years ago

        That’s one down.

          • derFunkenstein
          • 8 years ago

          sorry, they won’t ban me. I’m too cute.

            • VILLAIN_xx
            • 8 years ago

            Yes, you are. ::: pinches cheeks :::

        • dashbarron
        • 8 years ago

        Justice fine sir.

    • dpaus
    • 8 years ago

    Their building is just a couple kms south of our offices, on Pharmacy Ave just south of Steeles. It’s basically across the street from a huge IBM Canada building. I’ll be in that neighbourhood tomorrow, and will definately pause to pay my respects.

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