Retro Computing Review: The Home Computer Wars

Mini-review of The Home Computer Wars (Michael S. Tomczyk, 1984, Compute! Publications, Inc. ISBN 0-94238675-2)

If you are 1., a computer industry history enthusiast, and 2., ever owned a Commodore computer such as the PET, VIC-20, or Commodore 64, then you should try to find a copy of The Home Computer Wars by Michael S. Tomczyk. Most computer history books I have read seem to only mention Commodore as a footnote, never seeming to give it its proper dues or recognizing how it impacted the industry. As far as I know, this book is the most detailed available when it comes to Commodore’s role in the history of computing.

The Home Computer Wars is subtitled “An Insider’s Account of Commodore and Jack Tramiel.” And that it is. This book is short on technical detail but heavy on the inside information on what went on in Commodore from 1980 to 1984. From the perspective of a fanatical Commodore user from the 80s (like yours truly), the most interesting aspect of this book is Tomczyk’s chronicle of the creation and marketing of the VIC-20. The VIC-20 was the predecessor to the C64, and it could be argued (as Tomczyk does) that the VIC-20 was the first real home computer “for the masses.”

This book is as much about Jack Tramiel as it is about computers. Tramiel was Commodore, and his method of management and goals for the company were called “the Commodore Religion,” and the insiders of Commodore who believed in his vision were called “Commodorians” by Tomczyk. Tramiel was a holocaust survivor that rebuilt a small calculator company into the first computer company to have over a billion dollars of revenue in a year.

It’s quite educational to read a home computer “history” book that was written long before the world decided on the “PC clones” that most of us use now. 1984 was still an era where the computer industry was barely beginning to emerge from a technological dark age of competing and incompatible platforms. In keeping with the theme of the title, Tomczyk writes as if he were a soldier in the trenches of a protracted land war. It’s a great read if you have the interest in the subject matter. Get a copy if you can. As of this writing, the author of the book is selling original first editions from his personal stock on Amazon.