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HyperCard

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HyperCard
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HyperCard

HyperCard is an application program and a simple programming environment produced by Apple Computer which runs natively only in Mac OS versions 9 or earlier (it can still be used in Mac OS X's Classic mode). It most closely resembles a database application in concept, in that it stores information, but unlike traditional database systems HyperCard is graphical, very flexible and trivially easy to modify. In addition HyperCard includes HyperTalk, a powerful and easy to use programming language to manipulate data and the user interface. HyperCard users often used it as a programming system for Rapid Application Development as opposed to a database.

HyperCard was originally released with System 6 in 1987, and was finally withdrawn from sale in March 2004, although it had not been updated for many years at that time.

Contents

History

HyperCard was created by Bill Atkinson and initially released in August 1987, with the understanding that Atkinson would give HyperCard to Apple only if they promised to release it for free on all Macs (an agreement that, according to Atkinson, ran out when the largely rewritten HyperCard 2.0 hit the shelves).

Apple timed its release to coincide with the MacWorld Conference & Expo in Boston, Massachusetts to guarantee maximum publicity, and HyperCard was a huge hit almost instantly. No one had seen anything like it on any machine prior to its release, and its power and ease of use is mostly unmatched even today. A huge number of people who thought they would never be able to program a computer started using HyperCard for all sorts of automation and prototyping tasks, a surprise even to its creator.

Apple itself never seemed to understand what HyperCard was. Management saw that it was being used by a huge number of people, internally and externally, and bug reports and upgrade suggestions continued to flow in from a wide variety of users; clearly people were interested in it. However it was also free, which made it difficult to justify dedicating engineering resources to improving it. Unwilling, or unable, to see that HyperCard was making the Macintosh platform, as a whole, much more interesting to the market, management let it languish.

Things started changing in late 1989, when internal politics (largely the efforts of Kevin Calhoun, a programmer at Apple) finally gained enough momentum to start an upgrade process. This resulted in 1990's HyperCard 2.0, a huge improvement on the original.

At the same time HyperCard 2.0 was being developed, a separate group within Apple developed and in 1991 released "HyperCard IIGS", a version of HyperCard for the Apple IIGS system. Aimed mainly at the education market, HyperCard IIGS had roughly the same feature set as the 1.x versions of Macintosh HyperCard, while adding support for the color graphics capabilities of the Apple IIGS. Although stacks were not binary-compatible, a translater program (itself a HyperCard stack) allowed stacks to be moved from one platform to the other.

Then, Apple decided that all software including HyperCard and the MacOS should be a part of their Claris division. Many of the developers refused to move from Apple. Claris, in the business of selling software for a profit, never understood how they were supposed to be profitable giving it away. Instead they wrote a new "viewer only" version, the HyperCard Player. Apple would include the HyperCard Player on the system CDs, while Claris would sell the "full" version commercially.

Users were rather upset to be paying to use the product which many considered to be a basic part of the Mac. Nevertheless HyperCard continued to be popular and used for a widening range of applications, from the game The Manhole, an earlier effort by the creators of Myst, to corporate information services and many thousands in between.

Despite the new revenue stream, Claris did little to market HyperCard. Development continued with minor upgrades, as well as the first failed attempt to create a HyperCard 3.0. Claris released upgrades to version 2 including a method to add color to stacks. That was about all they did. During this period, HyperCard began losing its market. Without a number of important features, namely color, HyperCard authors began moving to systems such as SuperCard and Macromedia's Authorware. More than two years after transferring HyperCard to Claris, Claris returned HyperCard development to Apple.

Several attempts were made to restart HyperCard once it returned to Apple. To management it appeared it had something to do with multimedia, and so the product was eventually rolled into the QuickTime group. A new effort to allow HyperCard to be used to create interactive QuickTime movies started, once again under the direction of Kevin Calhoun. The resulting HyperCard 3.0 was first presented in 1996 when an alpha-quality version was shown to developers at Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference. Demos were made throughout the late 1990s, showing every feature one could ask for; color support, internet connectivity, and the ability to be displayed in a web browser with no effort. For some reason the product was never released, and Kevin Calhoun, the real force in the effort, left Apple in 2001.

This, after years of continued on-again, off-again upgrades and general mismanagement, was enough to finally kill the product. What started as a groundbreaking product that seemed to be changing the world died the death of a thousand cuts and slowly disappeared as users grew fed up with what was now a hopelessly outdated product. Apple finally ceased selling HyperCard in March 2004.

Description

HyperCard is based on the concept of a "stack" of virtual "cards". Cards hold data, just as they would in a rolodex.

The layout of the cards is known as a Background in HyperCard-speak, but is identical in concept to a "form" as used in most similar applications (Visual BASIC for instance). Backgrounds could include pictures (its original purpose, "background picture"), picture fields, buttons, text, text fields (editors) and other common GUI elements, which would then be copied onto new cards.

Users can construct databases by opening the Background editor and drawing items onto it to hold the various pieces of data. For instance, an address book could be easily built up by adding a few text fields to hold the name and address. Once completed, the user simply adds a new card (by typing command-n) and types into the fields. The background could be modified at any time, allowing changes to be made with ease – something traditional database systems are very bad at. Basic operations such as search, add and delete were built into the HyperCard environment, allowing simple databases to be set up and used by anyone able to use the Apple Macintosh computer.

Scripting in the HyperTalk language allowed the system to be easily modified and extended. Unlike many scripting languages, HyperTalk proved to be usable by a wide range of users; allowable syntax included all sorts of versions of the same statement, all in readable English, to avoid forcing the user to write their programs in a particular format.

For instance, put the first word of the third line of field 'hello' into field 'goodbye' would do exactly what it seems to do. Achieving this sort of simplicity and readability required considerable work. For instance, it required allowing numbers to be specified either numerically (1, 2), as cardinals (one, two), or as ordinals (first, second), a "bother" that most languages would ignore, but one that dramatically improves readability.

Since the HyperCard world was limited to those items supported on the Background, referring to objects and the items on them was very easy. The example above shows how to access data within a field on a particular card, but one could refer to any object in the same basic fashion – including the stack itself. To make things even easier to refer to, all objects could be named, as in the example above.

Of particular interest was HyperCard's find command which would navigate to cards containing text. Whereas under a RDBMS something as simple as finding all records with the word "Bob" is a very difficult task, under HyperCard it was as simple as find 'Bob'. This could then be made more selective with modifications such as find 'Bob' in card field 'hello'. Similarly, it had a "sort" command that allowed evaluating entire expressions to classify sort order.

Adding scripts was also easy. The user simply "command-option-clicked" (or they could click the "Script" button in the item's property dialog) on any element in the stack, and an editor would pop up. The script could then be edited, saved, and used immediately. In addition, HyperCard contained the "Message Box", an interactive command-line in a floating window that could execute single lines of script. This of course also included the "find" command, which is why it doubled as a search dialog. HyperCard 2.0 added a fairly powerful and easy-to-use debugger as well.

HyperTalk was so easy to use that one of the main uses of HyperCard was not as a database, but as a programming tool. Thousands of "stacks" were written and distributed in the few years when HyperCard was widely available.

Externals

The power of HyperCard could be increased significantly through the use of external command and external function modules, more commonly known as XCMDs and XFCNs. These were small code fragments packaged in a resource fork that seamlessly integrated into the system and/or the HyperTalk language — an early example of the plug-in concept. Unlike conventional plugins, these did not require separate installation before they were available for use; they could be included in a stack, where they were directly available to scripts in that stack.

During HyperCard's peak popularity in the late 1980s, a whole ecology of vendors offered thousands of these externals for everything from HyperTalk compilers to graphing systems, database access, internet connectivity, and practically everything else. Many of these vendors had their businesses destroyed when HyperCard was handed to Claris.

Applications

HyperCard has been used for all sorts of hypertext and artistic purposes. Before the advent of PowerPoint, HyperCard was often used as a general-purpose presentation program. Examples of HyperCard applications include simple databases, "choose your own adventure"—type games, and educational teaching aids.

Due to its rapid application design facilities, HyperCard was also often used for prototyping of applications, and sometimes even for version 1.0 implementations. Inside Apple, the QuickTime team was one of HyperCard's biggest customers.

Missing image
Hyper_beethoven.gif
Beethoven's Ninth stack

A number of commercial software products were created in HyperCard, most notably the original version of the interactive game narrative Myst, the Voyager Company's Expanded Books, and multimedia CD-ROMs of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, and the Voyager MacBeth. The prototype and demo of the popular game You Don't Know Jack was written in HyperCard.

Activision, until that time primarily a game company, saw HyperCard as an entry point into the business market. Changing their name to Mediagenic, they published several major HyperCard based applications, most notably Danny Goodman's Focal Point, a personal information manager, and Reports For HyperCard, a program by Nine To Five Software that allowed users to treat HyperCard as a full-fledged database system with robust information viewing and printing features.

The HyperCard-inspired Supercard for a while included the "Roadster" plug-in that allowed stacks to be placed inside Web pages and viewed by browsers with an appropriate browser plugin. There even was a Windows version of this plug-in allowing computers other than Macintoshes to use the plug-in.

Legacy

HyperCard is one of the first products that made use of and popularized the hypertext concept to a large popular base of users.

Jakob Nielsen has pointed out that HyperCard was really only a hypermedia program since its links started from regions on a card, not text objects; actual HTML-style text hyperlinks were possible in later versions, but were awkward to implement and seldom used.

HyperCard saw a loss in popularity with the growth of the World Wide Web, since the Web could handle and deliver data in much the same way as HyperCard without being limited to files on your hard disk. Interestingly, HyperCard had a significant impact on the web as it inspired the creation of both HTTP itself and JavaScript (through its influence on Tim Berners-Lee's colleague Robert Cailliau).

Other companies were quick to see the power of HyperCard and offer their own versions.

  • SuperCard is a color version of HyperCard on the Mac with additional features, a full GUI toolkit, and now Mac OS X compatibility.
  • WinPlus was a Windows product similar to HyperCard.
  • Asymetrix's Windows application ToolBook resembled Hypercard, and included an external converter to read HyperCard stacks.
  • Oracle purchased a cross-platform clone and released it as OracleCard, renamed Oracle Media Objects, used as a 4GL for database access.
  • Most recently Runtime's Revolution incorporates all of HyperTalk (the HyperCard scripting language), and a large part of the feature set. It expands significantly on HyperCard's feature set and offers a full GUI toolkit. It runs on Macintosh, Windows, and Unix.

In addition, many of the basic concepts of the original system were later re-used in other forms. Apple built their system-wide scripting engine AppleScript on a language very similar to HyperTalk; it was recently discovered as a perfect fit for DTP workflow automation needs. AppleScript gained a graphical programming front-end called Automator in the most recent major release of Mac OS X, codenamed Tiger, released in April of 2005. Some see HyperCard as an ancestor to Visual Basic by Microsoft. One of HyperCard's strengths was its handling of multimedia, and many multimedia systems like Macromedia Authorware are based on concepts originating in HyperCard.

Trivia

Originally called WildCard during its development, the name was changed to HyperCard before official release due to trademark issues. The HyperCard application and its associated files retain a creator code of WILD, reflecting this period of development.

The last sixteen bytes of every HyperCard stack end with the pascal string "Nu är det slut …" (That is the end … in Swedish) though this is never seen by users.

Reference

  • Danny Goodman, The Complete HyperCard Handbook (Bantam Books, 1987)

See also

  • mTropolis: multimedia authoring using a drag-n-drop programming system
  • Automator: an easy-to-use script authoring enviornment
  • Stagecast Creator: one of a number of similar "if you see this, do this" programming systems

External links

  • HyperCard Pantechnicon (http://www.lca.uqam.ca/pan/pmwiki.php/Main/HomePage): a living museum of everything HyperCard that allows you to take everything home with you
  • A list of HyperCard links (http://members.aol.com/hcheaven/links/links.html)
  • History of Visual Basic (http://igeek.com/articles/History/VisualBASIC.txt): a partisan article by David K. Every exploring relations between MS software and Hypercard

HyperCard clones

  • PythonCard (http://pythoncard.sourceforge.net/): a modern, Open Source HyperCard clone based on the Python scripting language
  • SuperCard (http://www.supercard.us/): one of the first HyperCard clones, which still provides excellent support for current Mac features and Multimedia; imports HyperCard stacks
  • Revolution (http://www.runrev.com/): a powerful development environment based on MetaCard (http://www.metacard.com/); imports HyperCard stacks
  • WildFire (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/sphere_project/) (formerly the Sphere Project): another open-source HyperCard clone
  • HyperStudio (http://www.hyperstudio.com/): a HyperCard-like product marketed for and popular with education users
  • ShortDeck (http://blueapples.org/?pk=software/shortdeck): a free stack based development project

Discontinued

  • WinPlus download (http://www.angelfire.com/ab2/literacy/win.html): a discontinued HyperCard clone for Microsoft Windows; this page offers the "viewer" version only
  • HyperSense (http://www.thoughtful.com/hypersense/index.html): another HyperCard clone, originally for NeXT but now available on Mac OS X as well as part of Redstone's Eggplant (http://www.redstonesoftware.com)

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