The Home Computer Wars
It's gratifying when people think you've done something significant enough to warrant a listing in Wikipedia.
And now I'm not only talking about my research, which you can see in many articles, it's not about my experience working at the 123helpme company on http://123helpme.org/
website. But this article is about another important achievement of mine.
My "claim to fame" is that I played a key role in the development of the first home computer, the Commodore VIC-20, which was also the first microcomputer to sell one millions units. I also conceived and contracted the design for the first computer modem priced under $100 (also a million seller), and originated the Commodore Information Network on CompuServe, one of the first Internet-style user communities.
I joined Commodore as Assistant to the President and Marketing Strategist on April Fool's Day, 1980 and went on to become the product manager for the first true home computer, the VIC-20. I was also a confidante and protege of Jack Tramiel, who was the "Patton" of the home computer era. When I joined the company, annual revenues were about $154 million and in 3 years we were the first billion dollar personal computing company. My product line accounted for more than half a billion dollars in revenues.
My real achievement was embracing the business philosophy of my mentor, Commodore founder Jack Tramiel, a Holocaust/Auschwitz survivor whose personal mantra was "we make computers for the masses, not the classes." The VIC-20, which I championed, helped design, and product-managed in 1980, brought affordable computing to school classrooms and living rooms around the world.
During Commodore's heyday, I was a PR spokesperson for the company, appeared on the Today show and other programs, gave countless interviews, attended half a dozen trade shows every year from the Consumer Electronics Show to Hanover Fair. Some interesting trivia - I called my product team the VIC Commandos and adopted as our slogan Benutzefreundlichkeit - which means 'user friendliness' in German. I also have a photo of myself showing Bill Shatner of Star Trek fame his first computer. After learning how to use a Commodore business computer, he went on to write novels and i believe screenplays on computer. He is a great example of how we got the world started in home computing. Like many pioneers, Commodore did not survive to enjoy the glory, but the legacy is profound.
The story is told in my book, The Home Computer Wars, which has become a collector's item. Autographed copies sell for as much as $380 from rare book dealers (most of my autographs include quirky poems).
I still receive occasional emails from Commodore fans, thanking me for making it possible to own their first home computer. In June 2010, a film crew spent several hours interviewing me for a documentary on the birth of the home computer. I'll post more information when the documentary is ready to air.
I once asked Jack how he coped with his Holocaust memories. Without missing a beat replied, "I live in the future." That phrase has become my own personal mantra, not to forget the past, but to keep me focused on the future. My entire career has been devoted to helping to make the future happen faster, by championing, studying, explaining and helping to develop radical innovations.
For those of you who may be interested in learning more about the history of the first home computer, I've included a few links to online interviews:
- What Was Japan for Commodore? (interview, 2004)
- An Interview With Michael Tomczyk (interview, 1996)
- Some Comments & Personal Photos (2007)