My tribute to Jack Tramiel, Commodore PET and the Atari ST

Jack (or Jacek) Tramiel has died at the age of 83. He was born in Poland, survived Auschwitz, and emigrated to the USA in 1947. He founded a typewriter import company called Commodore Business Machines, which transitioned into digital calculators and then a computer called the Commodore PET.

This was my first computer, which I acquired second hand.


I had an external disk drive that was almost as large as the computer itself. There was a word processor called WordCraft that was rather good, though you could only fit a page of A4 into the 32K of RAM. A spreadsheet called VisiCalc that was excellent. And a database manager whose name I forget that was terrible.

The great thing about the PET was that you had to program it. BASIC was in ROM, and in essence when the computer started up it said to you “write some code.”

You could also get a book called The Pet Revealed which indexed every address and what it did. This was a computer you could actually understand.

Tramiel left Commodore in 1984, after a triumph with the bestselling Commodore 64. He acquired the video game company Atari from Warner Communications. In 1985 Atari released a 16-bit computer called the Atari ST, based on the Motorola 68000 CPU.

Picture © Bill Bertram, 2006

The Atari ST was my second computer. At the time, the choice was between the Atari ST, the Commodore Amiga, the Apple Macintosh, or a PC.  The Mac was too expensive, and the PC was both expensive and looked out-of-date with its character-based user interface. The ST (or “Jackintosh”) won over the Amiga for my purposes (mainly word processing) thanks to its excellent high-resolution 640 x 400 mono monitor and low price. I was sold.

The ST proved a great choice. There were many superb applications, and ones which come to mind are Protext, Signum, Superbase, Notator, Calamus, Logistix, Degas, Neodesk; and for gaming Dungeon Master, Populous, Falcon and more. I still have it in the loft though I really should find a better home for it.

The ST was also well supported for programming. I used mainly GFA Basic and HiSoft C. There was also an innovative game creator called STOS.

Admittedly there was a touch of “held together with string and glue” about the ST which I suspect was to do with Tramiel’s personality and desire to prioritise bringing value to the mass market. That said, my 1040STE in the loft still works so I cannot complain.

I learned a lot and achieved a lot with Tramiel’s computers. Thank you Jack Tramiel.

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