A famously private and often difficult man, Jack Tramiel resists easy eulogization in death with the same stubbornness that made him such an enigma throughout his life. We know that he was born Jewish in Poland at just about the worst possible historical moment, and that he alone of his family survived the horrors of Auschwitz. Yet we know little more about his early life; he has a few different birthdates on record, and even his own sons are not certain of his birth name. We know that he came to America, and in a classic American tale transformed himself from a penniless refugee into a computer executive and millionaire. Yet even in those later years there was an air of mystery about this brash bulldog of a man. You never quite knew what he was thinking, never knew whether to label him a scoundrel or a visionary. Perhaps he was both.
Tramiel's two most famous quotations are "Business is war" and "Computers for the masses, not the classes." Together they illuminate some of the contradictions of the man. Under the former mantra, Tramiel seemed to positively delight in betraying and destroying not just competitors but also suppliers, dealers, and even his own employees when they crossed or betrayed him in reality or in his imagination. Under the latter, he placed computers in the hands of an entire generation who couldn't afford the pricier, more respectable, and much less fun machines from Apple and IBM. Even if your childhood memories don't include a friendly blue screen and a blinking BASIC READY prompt (too bad for you!), Tramiel changed your life. Linus Torvalds is only the most famous of the thousands who discovered the wonders of computers through the VIC-20 or Commodore 64, then grew up to build the digital future we live in today. In the process of living through one of the most crazy life stories I know, Jack Tramiel changed the world.