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Technology (Apple) Technology

HyperCard, What Could Have Been 159

bobwrit sends us to Wired for a look back by the author of HyperCard, Bill Atkinson. Quoting: "HyperCard is a programming environment that can create applications as diverse as utilities and games by linking 'cards' arranged into 'stacks.' Commands are executed through a natural-language scripting language called HyperTalk... The software has been phenomenally successful and highly influential. But Atkinson feels that if only he'd realized separate cards and stacks could be linked on different people's machines through the Net — instead of cards and stacks on a particular machine — he would have created the first Internet browser."
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HyperCard, What Could Have Been

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  • by unixcrab ( 1080985 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @08:32AM (#23535303)
    "I grew up in a box-centric culture at Apple". Say no more...
  • by PhrostyMcByte ( 589271 ) <> on Sunday May 25, 2008 @08:35AM (#23535315) Homepage

    Okay, so calling HyperStudio "programming" is a stretch, but it was definitely a gateway drug for it.

    Playing Doom on my uncle's computer may have got me interested in computers, but using HyperStudio in elementary school was my first experience with programming and is probably what started me down that path.

  • Re:HyperCard? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SimHacker ( 180785 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @09:05AM (#23535433) Homepage Journal

    Sorry to break this to you, but ALL computer programming languages are "made up". First you make up a language, then you implement it, then you use it. It's not like they just dig programming languages out of the ground like coal.


  • by Dogtanian ( 588974 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @10:04AM (#23535659) Homepage

    No such thing existed at that time. In 1985, the networks were fragmented into dozens of incompatible protocols, the environment which could have made Hypercard into the first web browser simply didn't exist and therefore there was no opportunity to make it into such.
    Since you mention incompatible protocols, there's another related issue. Unlike the WWW, HyperCard was proprietary, and the hypothetical NetHyperCard would likely would have remained so to some extent.

    Its open nature was (as far as I am aware) a major benefit of the WWW, and probably helped it take off pretty quickly. Thus, it's *not* a foregone conclusion that a proprietary NetHyperCard with very similar capabilities would have taken off in the same way.

    In fact, it's quite probable that had NetHyperCard existed and been released in the mid-to-late 80s, it would have been been Mac only and tied specifically to AppleTalk networks [] (rather than TCP/IP). This is already partly implied by what you say above; but I also think that NetHyperCard would have *remained* proprietary and Apple-centric- and hence a niche product- until (or *if*) a clearly successful open product persuaded Apple to change their mind. Which likely would have been the WWW anyway!

    But by the time it was visibly successful enough to force Apple's hand, the WWW would likely be the established standard. My guess is that- allowing time for the company to action it- Apple would have released a pseudo-open, multi-platform, TCP/IP-friendly version of NetHyperCard circa 1997-99. And since everyone would already be using the WWW, NetHyperCard would still be ignored.

    To cut this long story short, even if it had been invented long before the WWW, I still think it's unlikely that we'd be using NetHyperCard instead of the WWW today.

    Of course, had NetHyperCard been invented before the WWW, it's quite possible that Apple could have taken legal action against it in some form; but even if successful, I think that this would be more likely to stifle things overall than make NetHyperCard a success on the scale of the web. In that sense, I'm glad that it never came to fruition.
  • Re:Yeah yeah yeah (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 25, 2008 @10:09AM (#23535685)

    Didn't check who posted it until after I saw the year of the article: 2002.

    TFA is a retrospective on a multimedia programming language. Did you expect it to be of sufficiently general interest to appeal to all readers? The Subject line is abundantly clear. Maybe you could rub a couple of neurons together, read the Subject line, and give it a pass?

    I wonder if the original article had been about Prolog or Forth, would it have received the same bonehead response?

    Anyway, obligatory article discussion. When I got hired into a university support job back in 1995, I remember having almost the same discussion with my future boss. At the time, Hypercard was the overwhelmingly dominant development tool for simple academic and research applications. We ended the conversation with something like, "and it seems like this Mosaic thing is coming up fast, I wonder if Hypercard will survive that?"

  • Re:HyperCard? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by larry bagina ( 561269 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @10:36AM (#23535827) Journal
    hypercard isn't a language. HyperTalk is a language. HyperCard was a combination of runtime environment and IDE (like Flash or GUI Designers) witha graphic editor thrown in.
  • Re:Yeah yeah yeah (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MobileTatsu-NJG ( 946591 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @12:30PM (#23536439)
    "In your preferences, under "Authors", you can uncheck his name, and his stories should disappear for you."

    Everybody knows that. The problem is that the moderation system rewards righteous bitching. It's the idiots with mod points that are keeping these memes alive. "Oh look, somebody's complaining about kdawson. I hate him, too. If I mod him up, instead of rewarding Slashdot with more page views, they'll stop posting kdawson's stories!"

    Oh well, back to reading +5 posts about how kdawson sucks, Balmer throws chairs, and nobody wants a cell phone that does anything more than make and receive calls.
  • Re:Yeah yeah yeah (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CCFreak2K ( 930973 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @01:17PM (#23536715) Homepage Journal
    This is actually true. Hindsight is 20/20. Of course he could've made the first browser (or one of the first). A lot of other things could have been done, too, but they didn't because the foresight to see these kinds of things is hard to come by.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 25, 2008 @06:18PM (#23538759)

    Yep, the masses who used Macs to earn money rarely had trouble affording them.
    Which masses are we referring to here? A few people who were lucky enough to have access to expensive graphics workstations, or the other 99.99999999999% of the western world at that time?

    I was going to make an argument that there were THOUSANDS of small businesses that set up shop in the late 80's with nothing but a Mac and a Laserwriter, and made more than enough money to pay for the equipment and upgrades. They didn't need "expensive graphics workstations" to get started... but you obviously know nothing about that, so you have to look back on that period with nothing but envy and denial.

    "Boo hoo, I couldn't afford a Mac as a toy, so obviously the 'masses' couldn't buy it either." Stop whinging, get a life!

  • by FlunkedFlank ( 737955 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @11:11PM (#23540505)
    Didn't HyperCard also spawn AppleScript? My understanding is that without HyperCard there would be no AppleScript as we currently know it, as it was based heavily on the design of the HyperCard scripting language.
  • by Budenny ( 888916 ) on Monday May 26, 2008 @04:27AM (#23542185)
    The real problem with HC was the Cupertino lockin mentality. They have always had this tension between a software group, which would, if left to its own devices and tasked with maximizing the business, sell on all platforms - third party hardware in the case of the OS, or Windows and Unix as well as Mac OS in the case of Hypercard. They've even had the same tension with hardware - if they cut the hardware group loose, they would probably sell millions of designer computers with Windows rather than OSX preinstalled.

    You can see the potential realized in the case of Filemaker. When released to Windows, it turned into a real business and did not hurt the Mac at all. You can also see it in the case of iTunes. But with Hypercard, the mania for Mac-only solutions to promote the sale of Macs resulted in the destruction of what could have been a great standalone business unit. In effect, Apple forced the creation of Visual Basic, and then forced people to take it up, by denying them the product they would have bought if they Apple had just made it available. E-World was the same blinkered and doomed thinking. And in the early days of Classic, in effect they forced people who wanted computers to Windows, when they would probably rather have, many of them, had Macs. Apple could not meet the demand, and would not meet the price. But the customers had to have computers, so they bought from people who would sell to them. Who can blame them?

    In a typical show of pique, they then killed HC rather than, for instance, open source it. The attitude seems to have been that if we could not make it work, and make it work on our platforms only, then no-one should have it. In case they made something of it?

    Apple has done well in recent years. But nothing like as well as it could have done if it had bent its efforts to allowing the really creative groups in Apple to form business units and take their products to market and follow the trail of demand. And if it had stopped spending so much energy on stopping people buying Apple products because their requirements did not exactly fit in all respects with the Cupertino model of what they should be.

    If we look at the recent results in absolute terms, it seems a great story. If we look at what could have been, its the record of a company consistently failing to realize the potential of its own creativity. Crippling it, in fact.

    The essential conceptual failure is the failure to appreciate that the fact that something is impossible to run on non-Apple systems is not a benefit to the Apple user. It applies to OSX as much as to e-world as to Filemaker. Its a focus on delivering what you think is your prime quality, integration, while failing to see that your real strength is as an innovator and business segment creator.

We declare the names of all variables and functions. Yet the Tao has no type specifier.