We Interrupt this Story…• This week was to be Part 3 of the story of MedTake, a pioneeringmicro system that introduced bedside computing for nurses...• But in the news this morning (April 12th,2012) was the sadobituary of a microcomputer pioneer, Jack Tramiel, famous CEOof two early microcomputer giants that rivaled Apple back then:• Jack founded Commodore,that sold 20M model “64”s,• And saved Atari after it waslosing out to Nintendo…• Although little or nothing to do with healthcare, since we’re onthe subject of microcomputers and with the recent passing ofSteve Jobs, I thought it worthwhile to recount Jack’s amazingsuccess story, both his incredibly inspiring personal life, as well ashis ruthless management style that sheds light on vendor CEOs.
Another Silicon Valley Kid?• So did Jack Tramiel startout as another SiliconValley kid like Microsoft’s:– Bill Gates &– Paul Allen• Or their early & dominantcompetitors at Apple:– Steve Jobs &– Steve Wozniak?
Brutal Youthful Experience• Hardly! Jack was born in 1929 in Lodz Poland,and at the age of 10 he watched the Nazi’sinvasion.• As an impressionable youth, he was fascinated bythe Wehrmacht Panzers rolling through town:– “It was a fantastic thing” he later recalled.• But the fantasy soon turned to terror as he andhis parents were later interred in Auschwitz.• The young Jack was personally examined by Joseph Mengele, the“angel of death,” and his father perished within a few monthsfrom Nazi “experiments” involving injection of lethal substances.• However, Jack did survive, and after the war he took a series ofodd jobs, learning English from watching American movies:“I figured I could handle just about anything" given the campexperiences. "60 individuals (lived) from 10-thousand people. I wasone of those 60. So from there on nothing was difficult to me."
International Business Machines• He learned his mother also had not perished in the camps and hemet her again in Lodz. In 1947, he married another campsurvivor, Helen Goldgrub, and they soon emigrated to the US.• He joined the US Army in 1948 and repaired mechanical (noelectronical then…) office equipment in the New York City area.• "At the same time I attended an IBM School for OfficeTechnology. It was also there where I learnt to repair electrictypewriters." • After 4 years in the Army, he took a job for just $50a week in a downtrodden typewriter repair shop.He worked Army connections to secure a servicecontract but didn’t get a raise or a bonus in return.• "I have no intention of working for people who hadno brains" he told his boss on his way out the door!• He and an army buddy started their owntypewriter company in the Bronx with a $25,000
Commodore’s Canadian Roots• With his international roots, it was no surprise that Jack left thefiercely competitive NYC/US market for a smaller neighbor:– “It was no large step to move to Toronto (in 1954) with my activities lateron. I thought that in a country smaller than the US my chances would bebigger...• What’s in a name? Fascinating how he came up with Commodore:– "We bought the (typewriter) parts in Czech and assembled them in Canada...But we still had no name for our company. One day while… in Berlin drivingin a taxi, we discussed some probable names – and suddenly I saw a car withCommodore on it, and because our favourite names General and Admiralwere already in use, we named our typewriters Commodore.”• (I promise a future HIS-tory episode on neat HIS product names!)• He next expanded into the manufacture of addingmachines, which were then going electronic (e.g.; TI)• To get his own chip, he contracted with a firm inNorristown, PA, right next door to SMS’ home townof Bridgeport (1969 –71, just before King of Prussia)!
MOS Technologies, Inc.• In August of 1974, eight Motorola employees including BillMensch and Chuck Peddle started MOS Technologies Inc.– Motorola was Apple’s chip of choice for its early years…• In June of 1975 MOS announced the MC6501 microcomputerchip for $20 and soon after the MC6502 for $25. This was trulybreakthrough pricing; the Intel 8080 costs about$150, which wasthe chip of choice for the IBM PC & its world of clones. In 1976,• MOS announced the KIM-1 with 1-MHz6502 CPU and 1 KB of RAM for $245.-MOS tried to sell the 6502 chip toApple, but Jobs did not offer enough.• Later that year, Tramiel buys MOSTechnologies for $60 Million so that itcan be a completely self-containedcompany, making its own chips
“PET” Peeve• Announced at the 1977 Consumer Electronics Show, Commodore’sPET (Personal Electronic Transactor) was a breakthrough home/personal computer designed as an all-in-one assembly, with acombined CRT, floppy drive and keyboard, much like the originalApple Lisa & Macintosh. It marked Commodore’s abandonment ofcalculators for PCs, and offered then-impressive capabilities:• Commodore’s (ex- MOS) 6502 processorwith either 4 or 8 kilobytes of 8-bit RAM.• A built-in monochrome monitor (no colorin PC monitors until IBM’s 1982 PC), with40 by 25 character graphics (less thanmost cell phone screens have today!)• A built-in cassette recorder for storage(no floppy disks in those early PC days)
Other Commodore Stars• The PET sold so well that Commodoresoon followed up with 2 equal hits:– The Commodore 64, pictured atright, which sold a staggering 20million units, roughly 40% of the USmarket at the time. It introduce(hooked?) millions of teenagers tocomputer games, including me andmy son whose gaming addictionruns well into 2012…• Like the early Osborne portable (Phil Klinehad one at McAuto!), Commodore alsotook a stab at a portable 64 with device onthe left, which didn’t sell nearly as well, justas Apple’s early portable blunderbuss.
Commodore’s Loss, Atari’s Gain!• However, Jack Tramiel fell out with his Canadian chairman andmajor shareholder Irving Gould, who had finance the MOSTechnology takeover. There was quite a stink at the time aboutshady financial dealings (unlike our HIS vendor CEOs today, noneof whom would ever be guilty of such shenanigans, right?)• Tramiel left Commodore, and bought Ataris loss-makingconsumer business from Warner Bros, and started competingagainst his old company. The first result was a cheap line of Atari8-bit machines, including the 520ST, known as the “Jackintosh,”pictured below. It was faster & cheaper than the early Mac…• However, all these non-Intel machines died aseries of slow deaths by the 90s when the IBM PCand its myriad of clones running DOS had totallydominated the market. Even Apple tanked sobadly Jobs left in the mid-90s. Commodoredeclared bankruptcy in 1994, and Atari in 1995.
Jack Tramiel’s Personal Side• Press reports contain numerous stories of Jack’s“ruthless” internal management style, pushingsubordinates to the breaking point, screaming atsome for days, and almost terrorizing his VPs…• If you read Steve Job’s bio, and inside stories ofBill Gates tirades (e.g.: “MicroSerfs” – a book Ihighly recommend to understand the psyche ofprogramming geeks), such styles are nothing new• We tend to place tech firm CEOs on pedestals, giving them (too)much credit for the hard work of the hundreds of unsung heroesamong the rank and file who do the true heavy lifting day-to-day.• I’ve been privileged to work with the best of them: like Macaleer atSMS, Barlow at McAuto, and met many more during our 25 years ofconsulting for hospitals, and have concluded they are all as humanas you and I, with the same foibles & quirks as any woman.
Requiescat In Pace• Yes, it’s sad to lose these early computer heroes as the years roll byand the IT world enters its 66thyear, since the ENIAC in Philly in 1945.• We owe CEOs respect for their amazing accomplishments primarilyas leaders, able to herd the brilliant “cats” (as beatniks used the termin the 50s!) in programming, marketing and many otherdepartments.• No, they aren’t the smartest people in the world, nor amazingengineers creating and assembling chips in a micro-world, norprogrammers laboring in logical labyrinths in code… They’re people.• Think of your hospital’s CEO: juggling Board members,medical staffs, impossible finances, unions, malpracticeinsurance, ancillary depts, hundreds (thousands?) ofRNs, new buildings, regs… now that’s a tough job!• So let’s remember their passing, taking pride in ourindustry that has come to dominate so much of humanlife today, and all within our own very short lifetimes!