Sunday, 26 April 2015

Remembering JARING

I felt quite dumbfounded last night when I surfed to The Malaysian Insider news portal and found sad news of Jaring, which was the country's first Internet service provider, facing liquidation.

When I subscribed to Jaring as a user in the early 90s, my subscriber number was 3xxx which made me one of the earliest persons to be tuned into the Internet.

I remember that there was a long form to fill in and I needed someone in my old office to approve it. And I remember that I did have a somewhat tough time convincing my immediate supervisor to sign on the dotted line because nobody in the bank had heard of Jaring, let alone the services it offered.

But I did manage to get the form signed eventually. I submitted it to Jaring a few weeks later when I was on a chess holiday to Kuala Lumpur and soon later, I received instructions on setting up my desktop computer and dialling into Jaring's server.

In those days, computers did not come with any networking capabilities and initially, I had to borrow an external modem to plug behind the computer. My borrowed modem - I think it was a Hayes-compatible model - was a rudimentary piece of plastic box measuring about two inches by one inch by five inches, which was popular among a very small community of bulletin board users here to connect to services like Compuserv or AOL. But with this tiny modem running at 300 bits per second, I had made my first Internet contact with the outside world. Later, I managed to buy a 14.4kbps internal modem, which was a quantum leap in speed, before upgrading to an internal 28.8kbps card.

Not only that, my Internet connection was by dial-up. The modem made all sorts of screeching noises and it connected with the Jaring server. And I could stay connected for long hours on one dial-up at a cost of a mere 10 sen. At that time, Telekom hadn't charged users on a "per minute" basis yet. Of course, staying on-line then meant that my house telephone line was tied up for a very long time and nobody could call out or anyone call in.

My very first email address, supplied by Jaring, was With this email address and UUCP protocol, my vista opened up as I was soon connected with friends studying in foreign universities. I joined USENET and was soon receiving messages from newsgroups. Essentially, it helped me in writing my chess columns.

Compared with today, the Internet was chugging along at a very slow pace. But it proved sufficient for protocols like Gopher, FTP and Telnet which allowed users to log into foreign servers and get access into the public areas of their computer network.

The World Wide Web was in its infancy then and Netscape was just about coming out. If I'm not mistaken, the first version of Netscape I used was not even version 1.0 - it was only a beta version - but it was just about usable on my old desktop running on an Intel 286 chip. The first HTML pages were exclusively text on a grey background, not like the present-day white background which everyone takes for granted.

Later, I joined instant messaging chatrooms such as IRC. Instant messaging gave way to connecting to chess servers like FICS. I even had an account with ICS, the commercial Internet Chess Server, which allowed me to play chess online with other chessplayers around the globe.

I did all this with my Jaring account. At Jaring, the name of Mohamed Awang Lah  was synonymous with the Internet service provider. He would come into the Jaring newsgroup and provide helpful advice to any problem faced by the Jaring subscribers. His people were equally helpful. I remember once when I had some technical problems with logging in, he asked one of his technicians to come round to my house in Seberang Jaya and troubleshoot it.

But he being in Kuala Lumpur and I being in Penang. we never had the chance to meet until sometime in the mid-2000s when I was already at Mohamed Awang Lah came visiting our Penang office at the Hotel Equatorial and that was I finally got to meet him face-to-face.

No comments: