Commodore User

The Home Computer Wars

Author: Bohdan Buciak
Publisher: Compute
Machine: Commodore 64

Published in Commodore User #21

The Home Computer Wars

Everyone likes a nice rags-to-riches story. The hometown boy (or girl), for example, who makes it big in the cut-throat world of business. Jack Tramiel's success with Commodore has all the right ingredients.

A Polish Jew, Tramiel takes his horrific memories of Auschwitz to America after the Second World War. He drives a New York cab and repairs typewriters, gets involved with business machines, pocket calculators and finally computers. From there it's non-stop to the top - the top being the building of the biggest home computer company in the world.

To add a bit of spice to the story, he acquires the reputation of being a ruthless, pugnacious and big-mouth entrepreneur - this is the stuff that Dallas is made of. So it's a great story and it takes a sensitive and perceptive writer to make the most of it. Sadly, Michael Tomczyk fails on both counts.

Describing his tome as 'an insider's account' of Commodore and Tramiel, Tomczyk fails to take a detached view, fails to show any modesty as to his own involvement in the Great Events and fails to give any valuable insights into Tramiel himself.

Why? Because to Tomczyk, also of Polish extraction, Tramiel has reached Olympian proportions. His business practices may be ruthless, he may sack people as easily as ordering a burger, but he can do nothing wrong. And Tomczyk is quick with the justifications.

But Tomczyk's worst offence is his constant use of the 'War' metaphor which Tramiel himself coined in his much-quoted "business is war" statement. So the Commodorians are described as 'guerillas' and 'admirals' and 'generals'. But the worst offence is saved for Tramiel himself: "Jack was not just a president or company founder. He was a presence, like Mahatma Gandhi must have been a presence."

Despite the lousy writing, there is a lot to be gleaned from this book. Tomczyk's story starts with his own arrival, just when the Vic was being developed. He takes us through that, on to the C64 and finally, to Tramiel's departure and intention to buy up Atari. If you scan scrape off the turgid and mundane details of who's who at Commodore, you've got some useful material.

In short, Michael Tomczyk has managed to ruin what amounts to a great story - his material is strong but his writing gets up your nose. If Tramiel makes an equally big success of Atari, let's hope someone else gets to write the sequel.

In summary, a great story from a lousy writer.

Bohdan Buciak