The Life of Jack Tramiel Part 4 - The Atari Commodore War

This is Part 4 in a 4 part biography of Commodore founder Jack Tramiel.

  • Part 1 see: The Life of Jack Tramiel Part 1 - Holocaust Survivor to Commodore Founder
  • Part 2 see:  The Life of Jack Tramiel Part 2 - Commodore Enters The Computer Age
  • Part 3 see: The Life of Jack Tramiel Part 3 - From Commodore to Atari

After bouncing back from being forced out of Commodore, the company he founded and single-handedly built into an empire, Jack Tramiel was now the owner of Atari, with plans to be the first to release a 32-bit home computer. In attempts to keep their hold on the market, Commodore bought Amiga and went up against their former owner in a race to be the first to reach the 32-bit home computer age.

Tramiel Turns the Tables

To try and slow down the release of Tramiel's upcoming computer, Commodore sued three of the main engineers that left to work with their old boss, sighting that they stole Commodore owned technology and brought it over to Tramiel.

Not one to let his old company best him, or his team, Tramiel discovered the Amiga deal with Atari, and knowing that Commodore now owned Amiga, he counter-sued them for damages and violating the original Amiga agreement.

The court battle went on for years, and eventually, both companies released their 32-bit computers - the Atari ST and the Amiga Computer.

Eventually, the lawsuit was settled out of court, and as part of the settlement Commodore withdrew their long-standing lawsuit against their former engineers who now worked at Atari.

Over the following years Atari and Commodore had a very public battle in the market, but during this time both Apple and Microsoft has taken a stronghold on the computer industry and were leaving little room for the competition.

The End of Commodore and Atari?

In the end, Commodore filed for bankruptcy in 1994 with their assets split up. Today Amiga and Commodore are owned by two separate companies who are currently seeing a bit of a resurgence thanks to the nostalgia and name recognition value.

After dropping out of the computer market, Atari did see a little more life with the release of the Atari 7800 console and repackaged their most popular system as the Atari 2600 Jr.

Tramiel Takes on Nintendo

1989 Atari went head-to-head against Nintendo in the handheld video game market by releasing the Atari Lynx, a color 8-bit handheld system that actually used chip technology from Commodore owned MOS Technology. While the Atari Lynx was superior to the Game Boy in many ways, and released the same year, it couldn't beat the brand recognition of Nintendo and their flagship franchises such as Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong and Tetris.

Atari then tried to sue Nintendo for using monopoly tactics to force retailers to push Nintendo products over the competitors, and while Nintendo was later found guilty of price fixing and refusing to sell their products to retailers that also sold competitors products, Atari inevitably lost their lawsuit.

In a final attempt to regain the former Atari home console glory, in 1993 under the Tramiel family's leadership, Atari released their final home video game console, the Atari Jaguar. The Jaguar was the first 64-bit home video game console and far more powerful than any other home video game system on the market.

While the Jaguar was critically acclaimed and had a faithful hardcore fan base, it released to a flooded market, competing with not only the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo but also the Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and 3DO. In the end, the Jaguar was a commercial failure.

Despite the failure of the Lynx and Jaguar, Atari was still doing financially well under Tramiel's leadership, however, Tramiel grew weary of the home console industry and no other systems on the horizon, he decided to sell the company in a reverse merger with hard drive manufacturer JT Storage. The merger formed the company JTS Corporation, of which Jack Tramiel remained on the board of directors.

Never Forget

While running Atari, in 1993 Tramiel helped co-found the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and continued to be actively involved in the museum years after his retirement from the computer industry.

When, Vernon Tott, one of the American soldiers who helped liberate Tramiel from the horrors of the Ahlem Concentration Camp passed away in 2005 from Cancer, Jack Tramiel paid tribute to Tott by engraving in the Memorial Wall "To Vernon W. Tott, My Liberator and Hero."

In an interview with NPR Tramiel explained "I have to make sure that this man is going to be remembered for what he has done. His family should know that he is to us, a hero. He's my angel."

The Tramel family is now out of the computer industry, instead owning a real estate and investment company Tramiel Capital, Inc.

On April 8, 2012, Jack Tramiel passed away at the age of 83, leaving behind one of the greatest video game and computer legacies of all time.