R.I.P. : Commodore Legend Jack Tramiel

According to Forbes, Jack Tramiel has died at the age of 83.   Most Atari fans know Jack as the founder of Commodore who skillfully outwitted the first video game company in the early 80’s by beating the pants off the Atari computer division  with the low-priced Vic-20 and C-64.   Later in 1984, when Atari was in a financial meltdown , he snapped up the company for little more than a promise to pay back some bad debt, and went on to make the whole shebang profitable again by 1987.

Among other products, Tramiel’s Atari released, developed, or licensed: The Atari XE line of computers, Atari ST line of computers,  The Atari XE Game System, The Atari Lynx, the Atari Jaguar, The Atari 2600 Jr, The Atari 7800, The Atari TT line of computers, The STacy, The Atari Portfolio, and the Atari Falcon030.   Tramiel’s Atari went of out business in 1996.

For years, many Atari fans had a negative opinion of Tramiel,  his sons and how they ran their version of Atari (Atari Corp.).   The common belief at the time was that  the Atari of the late 80’s and 90’s had good products, but did not market or advertise them aggressively enough to the public.   However, history tells a different story where the lack of advertising takes a backseat to other factors.   In 1987, just as Tramiel was pulling Atari back to life, the worldwide DRAM shortage cut off  his ability to produce hardware at the rock-bottom prices that were the cornerstone of his strategy. At the same time, the tastes of gamers and computer enthusiasts changed dramatically and Tramiel’s Atari was simply not able to keep up with the times.     Kids wanted video games from Japan, or at the very least, with modern designs and the ability to save their game. Computers went mainstream with PC compatibles, leaving custom computers with unique operating systems (like the Atari ST) destined for for a short life.  In hindsight, Tramiel did the best he could with what he had, and probably kept Atari alive far longer than if anyone else had been in charge.

Jack Tramiel should be remembered as a pioneer who gave computing power “to the people”.   His cost cutting and aggressive business tactics might have been unsavory at times, but the result was net postive.  Tramiel’s adage “Power Without the Price” allowed for millions of kids (of all ages) around the world to taste the freedom and exhilaration of owning their own computer, and by extension, helped pave the way for our modern, digital, and online connected world.

-Steve Fulton




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