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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Commodore Ate The Apple

My dad drove a hack in NYC for many years after WWII, and so did Jack Tramiel.

A death camp survivor who met his future wife in Auschwitz, Jack - not Apple, not Tandy - went on to found Commodore Business Machines and the mass market for personal computers.  It was his VIC-20 that was the first PC to sell a million units; and his Commodore 64, the first multimedia PC (audio), sold 20 times that, a billion dollars worth.  And his technology was fueling revolutions long after he left Commodore (to found Atari) - the Amiga, upon which the Video Toaster was based, won an Emmy of 1993.

Tramiel was like a mirror image of Jobs.  They were both extremely difficult to work with and even harder to work for, but that's where similarities end.  Tramiel was ever the Machiavellian businessman, seeking to reach the mass market and make a ton of money while conducting war against competitors; Jobs, ever the visionary, creating design so compelling that business success just flowed from it.  It was almost like PCs were LSD, and Tramiel played Kesey to Jobs' Timothy Leary.

Jack Tramiel died on Sunday, but his formula is immortal.  Hire the very best engineers, but run everything else on a shoestring and slash costs.  Then, slash prices.  Reach the mass market.  Vertically integrate.

And, above all, try to be a mensch - and everything else will work out.  Also so unlike Jobs, Jack was a vital philanthropist.  I will never forget him.

(Corrections have been made to this post.)