I should continue about my journey in Europe after many many days of hiatus, but what happened in the afternoon have led me to change my plan. I am going to blog about a story I heard instead.
Yes, a story of other people, not me. I felt that I had to get this out soonest possible because it was very, very fascinating and it was so extraordinary that if I didn’t do it while the memory is fresh, I would regret for the omission of the details even if I did find the time to write about it later.
And it would written in English, an exceptional decision to make ( for this blog anyway) given the extraordinary nature of the story.
It was 4.30pm local time in Canterbury, I wanted to reserve the best part of my Canterbury experience for tomorrow, so I decided to retire early to my room. I stay in a mix-dormitory room. But nonetheless I was still a bit surprise when I saw a mother and her son staying in the room, they came back early from whitstable– it seemed that I wasn’t the only one who came back early.
As I sat on the chair to have a rest, the son started talking with me, and we exchanged information about our background, and I was quite amazed to learn that the son’s father stayed in Malaysia before, and the father loved Malaysia’s weather, food and everything. What a small world!
The son’s father is called AJ Harding– John Harding.
I then introduced myself as a programmer, this piqued his interest, and it turned out that John Harding was a programmer as well. And a very good one.
John Harding was serving in the RAF ( Royal Air Force) and he was posted to Malaysia right after World War 2, this was how he got acquainted with Malaysia, a former British colony.
But Harding most illustrious career was not with the RAF; his most illustrious career was as a software programmer. At the peak of his career he ran a company called Molimerx of 600 programs and 150 programmers, and the company was doing the software development work for a lot of industry clients. Being a programmer genius himself, Harding assembled a team of talented programmers to take up a lot of the contractual programming work. One of such programmers is Brian Howarth
Back in the good old days when we didn’t have PHP, C#, it was BASIC which ruled the world. So we are talking about the period which was the dawn of the Personal Computer; the day when Apple II, TRS-80 were debuted.
It was in late1970s and early 1980s.
That was a time when Apple was barely moving out from the garage, and Bill Gates was still making his Microsoft Basic and was way before he bought the MS DOS and licensed it to IBM for a hefty sum of money. It was a time when everything was up for grabs, when a gold mine was opening up and there were not a lot of takers were in the field. Harding was one of such takers, on par– or maybe even bigger– than Bill Gates or Steve Jobs at that point of time.
It was unimaginable that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were made billionaires but Harding languished. No one would have guessed that– at that point of time– things would have taken so different turns for them. Indeed, things really changed fast in computer industry.
Being a large software company, Molimerx dealt with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs at that time. Little known to all, Microsoft was not the only company Bill Gates had; when Microsoft was still a startup, Bill Gates had another company. Marion Harding, the wife of John Harding, dealt with Bill Gates in the capacity of a director of Milomerx over the matters of that company( not Microsoft). Things were going bad for that company, and subsequently it was closed down. Gates managed to extricate himself and survive, but his another partner wasn’t so lucky.
We all knew that Microsoft licensed the MS DOS to IBM, but from what I heard, IBM initially didn’t want MS DOS. It wanted LDOS, the OS system developed by Molimerx, for it was far more superior than MS DOS. Everyone was expecting the deal to go through, but John Harding balked at the last minute and decided not to pursue a contract with IBM. So IBM ended up with MS DOS, the rest, as they said, is history; we all know that hardware is just commodity and it is the software that is the key to everything. Bill Gates knew this earlier and sold his OS to everyone, not just IBM. Molimerx restricted its LDOS to BBC Micro. BBC Micro computer didn’t take off, and so languished the LDOS.
Marion Harding was devastated when her husband passed up the opportunity to do business with IBM. The experience was so painful for Marion that she was literally sick for it. The passing of this opportunity, coupled with other management problems in Molimerx, made Molimerx weaker day by day. Brilliant programmers were leaving, or rather, were dismissed, and internal problems were starting to manifest and these all led to the crumbling of Molimerx. After ten years in operation, Molimerx was forced to close down.
John Harding and Marion got a divorce later. I didn’t ask why. After the divorce Marion detached herself from computer as much as she could. She became an artist after a few years in the university to study arts. It was very difficult to think about what you could have had and what you have passed up, so she simply “erased” a lot of the memories of that period of time.
There were a lot of happenings in the Harding family but I wouldn’t narrate them in this post.
Just imagine what happened if Molimerx got the deal instead of Microsoft…. the whole history of personal computing might very possibly take a very, very different turn. The Internet as we know it, and subsequently the smart phones, tablet might have still existed but they might be totally unrecognizable to us today.
And here I am, meeting with Marion Harding and John Harding’s son, Ruan Harding. To meet with people whom could have ( or have not) influence the evolution of technology, and consequently, the rise of many, many technology companies such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Netscape, Sun and to a certain extent, my own company and my fortune, in this humble backpacker hostel, that is really a profound, profound experience. I didn’t sign up for this when I wanted to do a backpack trip, I didn’t expect to hear this story. I can’t help but to think of “what if”, “what if John Harding was more flexible in his dealing with everything, everyone?”, “What if Molimerx got the IBM deal?”. History is very interesting for precisely the reason that a small change now could have a large consequence later and no one would be in a position to predict what would happen next. We can’t unwind the clock and go back to rectify our decisions and see what would turn out, but this doesn’t stop me from fancying an alternative universe.
As a pioneer in computer industry, Molimerx only get scattered mentions in the Internet; Wikipedia doesn’t even have an entry of it although it has several entries about its outstanding employees. It is my hope that someone who is more knowledgable than me can fill in the details, lest we lost our history, or lest we let only the winners to write the history in the way that they want it to be written.