This story was originally published by the Australian Computer Association and written by Graeme Philipso

David Hartley, Bill Gates and the one that got away.

There is one early Australian software entrepreneur who really stands out. He did a lot, but he could have done so much more. It is a little known tale of what might have been.

David Hartley (not to be confused with the British computer scientist of the same name) started his working life in 1966 as a civil engineer with Brisbane City Council. His work later took him to Namibia in southern Africa, where he was introduced to computing while conducting mathematical modelling of rainfall in the vast Okavango river basin, using FORTRAN on an ICT 1500.

When he returned to Australia he decided that computing was more interesting than civil engineering. He started Hartley Computer in Brisbane in 1974 to develop software for the accounting profession, on the rationale that accounting could be easily computerised but that many in the profession did not realise that.

His first effort was to write a program in BASIC called AANCS (Australian Accountants Number Crunching System) to run on a Hewlett Packard cassette based desktop calculator. But the HP machine had only a one line display, and Hartley was approached by Wang to rewrite the program to run on a Wang 2200, the company’s newly popular small minicomputer, which had a full display screen, and ran off floppy disks. He called the Wang program HAPAS (HArtley Professional Accountants’ System).

The new software was very successful – it was the only software in Australia designed specifically for small accounting practices. Hartley also designed SHEILA (System by Hartley for Entirely Integrated Ledger Accounting) for larger organisations. The venture included building hardware (the Hartley 3900 – see Chapter 22) and an operating system. Both the hardware and the software were very innovative. In Hartley’s words:

“The operating system was called RT86, a ‘true pre-emptive multi-user multi-tasking operating system for the 8086 chip. It was launched in 1980, 15 years before Windows PCs had that capability.

“Hartley Computer was one of the first mini/PC computer vertical market successes in the world, with ultimately 250 staff and 3,000 sites in seven countries. In the process I became known as ‘the father of computer client accounting’, and we won several awards. The success was killed by hubris and a messy divorce. Big lessons, only partly learned at the time.”

The company sold thousands of copies of HAPAS in Australia in the 1970s and early 1980s. With the improvements in price performance of imported minicomputers Hartley moved out of hardware manufacturing and concentrated on software. At one stage Hartley was the largest global customer for Wang minicomputers.

How history could have been very different

In 1979, Hartley expanded the business to the US, setting up in Denver Colorado. The US business was run by Roger Brownlee, who built the operation there to over 100 customers. But financial problems developed as Hartley diverted more and more funding into the development of his hardware platform.

The US business was closed, much to Hartley’s regret. He believes that had it continued the entire history of the microcomputer industry could have been very different:

“When IBM launched the IBM PC it decided to use the Intel 8088 (an 8-bit external bus sister chip of the full 16 bit 8086 we had chosen). IBM asked Intel for an introduction to someone who could supply an operating system. Intel knew of our work in Australia, but did not make the introduction because we were not in the USA.

“Instead they introduced IBM to Bill Gates, who did not even have any Intel chip based software at the time. Bill was smart enough to rush out and buy what became MS-DOS for $50,000 [see Chapter 24]. And so MS-DOS was inflicted upon the world – a huge cost compared to what could have been with our far superior RT86, and Microsoft was on its way.”

In 1982, Hartley Computer was put into receivership by the Queensland Government. Hartley says this was under a technicality via a loan guarantee, “even though there was no commercial reason or need as business was booming with just some cash flow issues during financial year end, exacerbated by a cargo handlers strike in Sydney, which the bank understood.”

David Hartley believes that he was being punished for not having donated to the Joh Bjelke-Petersen Foundation, a kickback vehicle for the corrupt Queensland Government. Embittered by the experience, Hartley moved to Hong Kong in 1985 and founded Banksia Information Technology (BIT), which designed and manufactured IT gear, including PCs, modems, and an early voice-activated fax/phone switch, called PHAXswitch.

He later returned to Australia and developed HAPAS Mark II. In 1993, he went to the United Kingdom and with some colleagues set up Hartley Computer UK, which gained over 1000 accounting practice clients ranging from sole practitioners to PricewaterhouseCoopers. In 1999, the company was sold to British accounting software vendor Sage, and Hartley moved to the Caribbean. He still lives there today, where he is a self-described ‘Caribbean Blockchain Evangelist’, pursuing initiatives using the new blockchain technology, including work on accounting systems for what he believes to be the new age of blockchain business.

Hartley was admitted to the Pearcey Hall of Fame in its first year in 2003 for ‘distinguished lifetime achievement and contribution to the development and growth of the information technology profession, research and industry’.

Veteran ICT journalist Graeme Philipson is researching and writing the Heritage Project book, which is due for release on the 50th anniversary of the formal incorporation of the ACS.

About ACS

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) was formed 50 years ago, when the various state computer societies joined forces.

To mark the occasion, the ACS has initiated a heritage project to honour the many individuals who have contributed to the growth of the ICT profession in Australia.

At the heart of the project is a history of computing in Australia. It is not just a history of the ACS, but the history of a profession.

Australia has the longest computing history of any country, excepting the US and the UK, and CSIRAC in the Museum of Victoria is the oldest computer still in existence.



Pacio has published this article with the kind permission of the ACS.


Also published on Medium.

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The Semantic Web is an ideal in which every piece of content comes with a meta description about what it is. But even 25 years after the invention of the WWW, the Semantic Web is still far away. The blockchain opens a new chance to implement the dream of Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web.

Do you remember how hard it was to get meaningful information in the time before the Internet? You had to order a book, usually not knowing if what arrived days later had the answer to your question. Or you visited a library – for millennials: that’s a public building with many books that you can borrow. The books you wanted usually weren’t available.What a relief the invention of the Internet was. Or was it? Let’s say you want to find out how to launch a successful crowdfunding (an ICO) for a new cryptocurrency. You ask the almighty oracle Google: “How to make an ICO”.A lot of what you get is:
  • Opinion
  • Multiple slightly different worded copies of the initial opinion
  • Advertising disguised as an opinion disguised as information
  • Misleading opinions
  • Answers to questions you didn’t ask
  • Aged or ageless information in an ever-changing environment
  • Disinformation

What you don’t learn is how to make an ICO. You might find all the raw data but you are starting with a huge handicap:

You don’t know the right questions. So you won’t find the right answers.

It’s a long and steep learning curve to identify which questions to ask. You will also have a hard time qualifying the findings.

We still have the half-knowledge we had until the 1990s, but this time we have the illusion of knowledge.


We could all be smart

“A new form of web content that is meaningful to computers will unleash a revolution of new possibilities”. Thus spoke Tim Berners-Lee in 2001. He should know since he invented the Web. But why would we want computers to find content meaningful?

“On the internet, nobody knows that I am a dog”, says a famous cartoon from the stone age of web-based communication. When we enter the term “ACME running shoes” into Google, what do we get? Is it the ACME shop or Amazon, or an infomercial about the shoe? Is it runner’s blog or is it even an article on the bad conditions of workers in the ACME factory? Google can guess, but without some sort of metadata, it can’t know.

Metadata is data about data, like the information in your passport describing your name, features, and nationality. People can be classified and so can every piece of data in the world. Google should know what a particular piece of content is, and we humanoids should have a language to ask for what we want.

But it ain’t that easy. If you want to receive the critical journalistic article on the ACME shoe factory you have to make a lucky guess for the words such an article might use. Google offers you a button “Feeling lucky?” that gives you a random result. Very often, our searches feel random.

What is behind the term “Semantic Web” is the solution to the randomness: all content is classified. Users (as well as computers) have access to the taxonomy and know how to search. Looking for the critical article:

“Who: ACME running shoe company;

 type of content: journalistic article;

sentiment: critical;

topic: labour laws”.


Then you can feel lucky because you get what you were looking for. But we don’t search this way. So we can deduct, that 25 years after the invention of the WWW and 17 years after Berners-Lee’s statement, the Semantic Web has not come around yet. A holy grail of efficient data management. King Arthur is still out looking.



Author Cory Doctorow has an explanation for why we still search in the dark. “Why would I create truthful metadata if it doesn’t benefit me?” Lying is cheaper than telling the truth. Everybody has the highest incentive to look good on the Internet. For this we pretend, exaggerate, lie, steal, embezzle. Or we work the machine.

As Cory Doctorow writes: “Observational metadata is far more reliable than the stuff that human beings create for the purposes of having their documents found. It cuts through the marketing bullshit, the self-delusion, and the vocabulary collisions.”

Have you ever wondered why the Internet is a cradle of mediocrity? The reason is search engine optimization. It is a technique to predict the keywords people might use to find something and create a text that is keyword-friendly more than it is useful.

If a system demands everybody to play ball and be nice, that system will have a hard time.

The truth and nothing but the truth

Semantic data forces content to be truthful about itself. If it lies, it can be penalized. Mind you, it doesn’t prevent the author from lying in the text. But with semantic data at least you know what you are getting. Exiting times have come in the decades-long fight for a smart web: machine learning can help to auto-classify content. Combined with the immutability and incorruptibility of the blockchain you can create a new standard for global data exchange.

We at Pacio are doing this in the field of management data. But more about that in a different post.




Pacio is creating a decentralised semantic data application platform and will produce the first Semantic Business Web on the blockchain.


Also published on Medium.

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