Commodore founder Jack Tramiel passes away
Jack Tramiel, who founded Commodore International, passed away this past Sunday at the age of 83. Born in 1928, Tramiel survived Auschwitz and a labour camp in during World War II, and later emigrated to the United States and started building typewriters. He later set up Commodore Business Machines in Toronto for supply chain purposes, and branched into computers with the Commodore PET, which was a staple of computer classes in schools at the time.
It was the Commodore PET that inspired me to get my first computer, the VIC-20. Before then, I was always “into art”. In particular, I loved drawing, and writing, and always wanted to do that sort of thing for a living. That’s until I discovered computers, with the aforementioned VIC-20. I grew up a Commodore kid, eventually trading in the VIC-20 for a Commodore 64. I didn’t have any real interest in either Microsoft or Apple because they were vastly inferior products.
With its colour screen and large software library, I spent many a night messing around with the computer in my bedroom, and hogging the phone line to dial into various BBSes, hoping to hear the squeal of a modem on the other end instead of a busy signal. At one point I started using a program called Doodle, which allowed the user to draw in colour on the computer, and I filled up floppy discs and data cassettes with my digital creations, pining for a colour printer to make them real.
As it turned out, I got access to one for free. In high school at an undisclosed time in the 80s, I was in the art department office talking with my art teacher, when I saw a Commodore 64 box along with an OkiData colour printer just sitting in the back corner. When I asked her about it she said every department in the school got one, even though the art department never had a need for computers, so it had been collecting dust for a while.
That’s when I (probably in an overly excited voice) explained to her that the art department could do something with it, and I could show her. She said that if I knew how to set up it, I could do whatever I want with it. Of course, the next day I had a stack of floppy discs with images (and some demos), and set about setting up the gear.
While the resolution of these images wasn’t great, she was surprised that people were painting on computers, as I took her through the software. Best of all, she let me print out my work, which had previously only existed on the screen, and she even asked me to show each of the art classes what could be done. I was even allowed to do some of the class assignments directly on the computer.
To make a long story short, it was Commodore, from the VIC-20 to the Amiga that enabled me to combine my love of computers with my love of art, and ultimately go down the career path that I have.
For that, I’ll be eternally grateful to Commodore the legacy of Jack Tramiel.
Rest in peace.