Jack Tramiel, founder of Commodore International, died last weekend. In the video game world, he was best known for bringing the Commodore 64 to market. The machine was one of the earliest examples of mass market computers. Its low price and relative accessibility introduced an entire generation of people to video games and to computers in general.
I like learning about the medium's history, but I have to admit I know less about Tramiel and Commodore than other early figures. Commodore doesn't hold the same cache as Atari or Nintendo, and Tramiel wasn't as much a rock star as Nolan Bushnell. Despite all this, Tramiel's leadership and aggressive business tactics helped video games sneak their way into millions of American homes. Ask any designer over a certain age about where they got their start and you'll hear the name Commodore again and again.
My family was a bit slow to adopt the home computer lifestyle, so I never owned a Commodore 64. Without any first hand experience, I'll have to rely on others to describe their experiences with the company and the man who ran it. A quick search reveals Brian Bagnall's Commodore: A Company on the Edge, might be a good place to start. However, I'm also interested in less formal recollections. If any of you all have Commodore-related memories, please don't hesitate to share them in the comments. Even the history of digital media relies heavily on the stories we pass down.
I have a hard time wrapping my mind around what Tramiel experienced in his life. He survived a concentration camp and immigrated to America. He grew up in a pre-penicillin world where having electricity in your home was by no means a given. He saw computers transform from room-size behemoths under military control into mass market consumer goods. He saw the birth of the microprocessor, the rise of the web, and the proliferation of smartphones. He and his contemporaries made Silicon Valley (and who knows, maybe even the world?) what it is today.
If you get a chance, read a few of Jack Tramiel's posted obituaries. By all accounts he had a long life. I hope it was a good life. It was most certainly an influential one.