To many today, HyperCard is probably an unknown word. To some of us Mac pioneers in the 1980s, the mention of HyperCard would have fired up our “war” stories and what wonderful things we created then.
Today, the proliferation of languages and software development kits, no matter how object-oriented, such as XCode, Java, C, or HTML5 related technologies, it is not entirely easy for the average non-programmer to attempt anything remotely useful. Even for seasoned programmers, modern scripting or programming languages may pale against something from a distant past (in a computing paradigm) – HyperCard.
In my opinion, Bill Atkinson is truly one of the greats on the Mac platform. He contributed to some of the early code and software programs such as the Menu bar on Mac Finder, QuickDraw, MacPaint, and HyperCard.
When I was a digital publishing and interactive media pioneer evangelizing the Mac in the 1980s, against some behemoths on the PC/DOS/Windows front, I had several moments of “wow”.
The first time I was floored was Adobe Illustrator 1.0. Within days, I became perhaps one of the very few who used the clunky Mac mouse to draw on the monochrome screen of the Mac Plus, illustrations that ranged from sports cars to human figures. Many of these became sales tools for our salespeople to pitch to advertising agencies and design studios. I never did need a tablet to draw, and even with the rather imprecise mouse, I could draw rather beautiful illustrations on the Mac.
The next big “wow” was Bill Atkinson’s HyperCard.
HyperCard worked like a stack of cards, where each card can have interactive or static components such as text blocks, bitmapped graphics, buttons, fields, and so on. The interactivity can be on “master” cards, or designed on individual cards, and a user can navigate across cards from user-defined functions behind the buttons or other components on the cards. There was also an object-oriented programming (OOP) scripting language known as HyperTalk, which lent more programming powers to the user.
The metaphor of HyperCard was surprisingly simple, and wondrously easy to create usable custom software programs. With hyperCard, I created quite many sales training tools, presentation and kiosk programs, and later on, even interactive press kits. Those were the days of 3.5-inch floppy disks, and the HyperCard stacks could even be optimized to fit on floppies to be given away. Subsequently, when CD-ROMs became more common, it was quite easy to embed larger presentations or programs on them. I was able to create custom industrial training modules using HyperCard, when I was the lead developer of software-based training programs in a large disk drive company in the 1980s.
I am writing this piece as my personal tribute to HyperCard and what Bill Atkinson gave to many of us.
The age of HyperCard was empowerment, specifically, the empowerment of average computer users then, to allow kids and grown-ups to create anything useful for themselves, or shared with others. HyperCard closed the gap between everyday computer users with those who were seasoned computer programmers. The wizards of code lost some of their shine when the magic of HyperCard was entrusted in the hands of the non-coders.
That age has come and gone when HyperCard was dropped when Apple moved to the Mach BSD-based OS X platform (inherited from the NeXTstep). What came after was complexity in the name of progress. The average user today, has become “de-empowered”, restrained, and force-fitted, into whatever the vendor decides. Although there has been many attempts to resurrect HyperCard outside of Apple, not many have achieved the same elegance and simplicity that we old-timers have experienced in its golden age.
I am still hoping for something like the best of HyperCard to come into existence, again. There has been many attempts on the HTML5 front, none which has become wildly successful yet like Hypercard did in its prime, but time will tell.