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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 nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @08:58AM (#23535403) Homepage Journal
    Not if he restricted it down to all Apple machines. They could and did interconnect with local-talk.

    Who says you HAVE to be mulitplatform to be useful?
  • by Arcturax ( 454188 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @09:14AM (#23535459)
    It was so easy to use and the program language was incredibly flexible and you could write almost english like statements with it.

    I did some amazing stuff with Hypercard when I was in high school. I created several games, though I didn't have the net then and was unable to release them. One of the games was a full blown RPG game (icon like, think early Ultima games) where you moved using arrow keys. I even implemented fake windows using fields so you could select spells and the like. Monsters could cast back at you as well and there were flying fireballs/iceballs that were animated using hypercard script. Another neat innovation was making the card bigger than the screen size (I was a on a Mac Plus at the time). When you neared the edge of the screen it would scroll the viewport with you. There were other neat things like you could walk behind treasure chests and columns if your guy's middle point was above their middle point, or in front if he was below their middle point on the screen. It could also save games out to disk separate from the card and load them in to continue. I wasn't able to finish it, but it was working extraordinarily well. Unfortunatly, my old Conner 80MB drive got corrupted and I lost everything. Months of work blown away thanks to the fragility of System 7.

    So that project ruined, I went into making a multiuser home stack since I found the home stack with it kinda of useless and boring. I implemented the ability to have hypercard users and each would have to log in and then would be set permissions to use stacks (scripting, authoring, etc). It also had email that would tell you when someone read your message and later I was able to exent that to network email and even instant messaging when I got a copy of an XCMD that let me send data over the Appletalk network. This was before things like email and instant messaging were available to anyone but college people and researches who had access to this thing called the "Internet". The main screen after logging in had your email, make important notes (Quick notes I called it) and also a "Quick Connect" section that let you launch favorite applications and stacks from the control panel. Lastly, there was an administration application that would let you manage users rights as well as reset passwords and lock or unlock accounts. You could even run reports on their log ins and activity. I still have an earlier copy of the system, before I had networked email and I think I still have the IM test stack I made as well.

    The rest of my stuff, including an attempt to recreate the old RPG was lost when I entrusted them, including my copy of the Hypercard application to a Zip drive. Click of death brought back the pain of the original losses and now I have no more copy of Hypercard and I cannot find a replacement or my original disks. Then college came and I was pulled into C programming and what not. But I never forgot Hypercard and many times while working in C, I would lament about how easy the task was to do in Hypercard, and what a grind C made it into.

    What I do have, I am tempted to email my stuff to Atkinson, if he still has a public email, to show him what a 14 year old kid was able to do with this thing. Mainly the early version of my multiuser stack, the admin too, and if I still have it, the IM app. I did make one more thing, but it's probably better I never give it to anyone... I made a hypercard virus stack. Not a C virus, it's written in hyperscript and basically it tries to find your other stacks and infect them with itself rendering them useless. I never released it and it was made just to see if it was possible. So yes, Hypercard was extremely powerful and really, I wish it had become the web because it is so freaking easy to use, even compared to web tech we have today.
  • by Everyman ( 197621 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @09:30AM (#23535529) Homepage
    Strangely enough, HyperCard didn't crush the corporations like Kevin Kelly promised it would:

    "HyperCard is uniquely suited for activist causes. It goes without saying that its great ease of use and flexibility favors the underdog. Activist groups have often relied on people power and maneuverability to counteract the brute economic and political force of various Powers-That-Be; HyperCard can enhance both of these advantages."

    This quotation is from page 164 of "Signal: Communication Tools for the Information Age," Kevin Kelly, editor. Foreward by Stewart Brand. A Whole Earth Catalog. Point Foundation, 1988.
  • HyperCard Smut Stack (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SimHacker ( 180785 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @09:37AM (#23535561) Homepage Journal

    Anybody old and perverted enough to remember the infamous "HyperCard Smut Stack"?

    I still associate nipples with the "ping" sound.

    Years ago I was recounting how cool HyperCard was to a group of people at some dot-com trade show, and when I mentioned the HyperCard Smut Stack, one guy (Chuck Farnham) said "oh, I wrote that". My jaw dropped and my eyes bugged out, not only because I happened to run into the author after all those years, but also because he would actually admit to it!

    But as it turns out, Chuck has no shame. He used to do bizarre live stunts on Live 105, a San Francisco Bay Area radio station, on the shock jock Alex Bennett Show []. He's infamous for some of his other exploits (this is just the tip of the iceberg, most of the other stuff is really not safe for work, let alone live radio):

    During his days at Live 105 Alex would have stuntman Chuck Farnham cover himself with food to feed the homeless. This allowed Alex to get around the San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan's ban on feeding the homeless without a permit.


  • by jht ( 5006 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @11:24AM (#23536105) Homepage Journal
    My tech skills have never (and I mean never) been inclined towards programming. It was always by far my weakest point. Anything more than a simple shell script has always been beyond me (despite that, I've managed to have a decent career in IT because there are a lot of things other than programming I can do well, fortunately).

    Then HyperCard came out. It is still the only programming environment that I understood immediately. Within a few months, I'd produced several applications of varying usefulness (a guitar tuner, a lotto application that automatically tailored to each state's game, and a train layout app) that I happily posted around for downloading and even got a few dollars for. I re-wrote my resume as a stack, and sent it around on a floppy when I was jobhunting (This was before the Mac ghetto era of the early '90s). I could do things with HyperCard that I never was able to master with conventional languages.

    Basically, in my eyes, HyperCard was the best chance ever at a programming environment for average people. It had plenty of flaws, and never even properly made the transition to PPC (let alone today's era), but it was an amazing tool - especially for the era. I do still miss it now.
  • by Typoboy ( 61087 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @12:25PM (#23536407) Homepage
    You refer to Harry Chesley's HyperBBS [] which I used to run as my first BBS, before switching to Coherent [].

    HyperBBS would 'read' every page of a stack to the modem-connected user, buttons would be menu items, editable fields would be inputs, and locked fields would simply be read.

    Choosing a menu item would take you to another page..

    The modem user didn't see it, but the home menu (IIRC) looked like a house, the cards for logging in were embellished for the benefit of no-one but the sysop.
  • by commodoresloat ( 172735 ) * on Sunday May 25, 2008 @01:57PM (#23536977)
    That virus sounds interesting; I remember there were a couple of viruses out there for HyperCard; I remember dissecting one of the disinfectant programs and realizing that it worked by trapping the "set" command which (as I recall) was used to infect other stacks or change the info in them. For someone who knew little about computers it was amazing to be able to figure out what an application was doing and how, and even make your own. I made an application to help with writing papers that could store little bits of information (mostly quotations) along with bibliographic citations to use by copying and pasting into a word processor. (I probably should have been just writing the papers at the time but writing the program was way cooler).

    One of the coolest apps I remember reading about was from an article in High Times about a guy who was growing weed remotely; he had his garden monitored by X-10 cameras all connected to a Mac plus. He'd dial into his mac from anywhere and connect to a HyperCard stack; from the stack he could see whichever camera angle he wanted and control when the water and/or lights would turn on. He could tell if a light had burned out or whatever, and there was some kind of motion detector that would tell the stack to call his cell if someone entered the facility. All in all, it was pretty clever app illustrating some of HyperCard's possibilities; I can only imagine what could have been done with HyperCard and the Web.
  • Re:Yeah yeah yeah (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DECS ( 891519 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @02:37PM (#23537221) Homepage Journal
    This is a typical Leander Kahney / Wired article that hyper-sensationalizes a story nugget that, rather than just pointing out what really happened, suggests a arc of drama that really isn't even accurate.

    While Apple execs didn't really get HyperCard (and hated the idea of giving it away, as Bill Atkinson's deal required), it did serve as the model for Viola, a project by Pei-Yuan Wei at UC Berkeley to clone HyperCard for X Window systems.

    "I got a HyperCard manual and looked at it and just basically took the concepts and implemented them in [X Window for Unix]," Wei later explained. Wei intended to adapt Viola to use the Internet to distribute its hypermedia documents, but then happened upon the work already done by Berners-Lee on NeXT.

    Adopting the HTTP architecture of Berners-Lee's www service resulted in the creation of the ViolaWWW web browser for X Window systems in 1992.

    From there, NSCA's government funded (thanks, Al Gore) Mosaic browser, pattered after ViolaWWW, resulted in both Netscape and Spyglass/Internet Explorer.

    Wired missed the real story of a stepping stone towards the user created web and instead created a dramatic soap opera about how Apple missed Sun's network genius because it had boxes with lines rather than lines with boxes. Never mind that Sun never managed to deliver either a web browser that mattered (HotJava?) or make any consumer contributions that caught on (client side Java?), just make a wild suggestion that makes no sense and allow your audience to come to a faulty conclusion that Apple should have been marketing the network, a product it wasn't selling, rather than the PC, a product it was. And on top, suggest that "owning" the browser market was or could be possible and/or profitable for anyone.

    This reflects the typical tech pundit-mentality that everything should be owned by Microsoft-like companies, because it worked so well for Microsoft to monopolize the PC OS market. In reality, the utility software concepts (the core OS, web browser, codecs, protocols, etc) that pundits often think "somebody" should have owned are all better off either collectively owned in the form of open industry standards, or wide open in the form of free/public domain.

    The world would not be better off if the web had developed around pioneering, but proprietary HyperCard software owned by Apple. Ideally, the web will continue to be based on open standards, and proprietary extension elements like Flash/Silverlight/ActiveX will all go away.

    Safari on Windows? Apple and the Origins of the Web []

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 25, 2008 @03:01PM (#23537419)
    I started working at a mail order company in 1997. They had no computers, and ran everything manually with paper invoices/etc.

    I had learned HyperCard in middle school, and applied my knowledge to a system that would do invoicing, customer database, and shipping. I convinced the owner by purchase some used Mac IIsi computers, and up we went (localtalk phonewire network and all). After a year, I figured out a way to "share" the database between multiple machines: I had updates to customer's cardfiles written as update text files on the server, and other copies of the database would update their records based on these files. We still use this exact system today (11 years later). We have 60,000+ customer records being held in HyperCard stacks.

    In 2000, I decided to take our products to the web. We purchased a fibre-optic internet connection, a PowerMac G4, and LiveCard. Using WebSTAR server, and LiveCard with HyperCard, we were able to build an online store for ordering products. We used this system until June 2007, when our online customer database CRASHED. I had already been programming in Runtime Revolution when our webstore crashed, so I ported (in about 2 months) our online HyperCard store to Runtime Revolution's CGI engine and HTML.

    If you miss HyperCard, the best replacement I've found is Runtime Revolution's CGI function, Apache, and Linux/Mac OS X. You have to "double code" (ie: write your programming, and write the HTML to interact with it), but this is far faster, more powerful, and better looking that HyperCard ever was. And, you can use the same language as HyperCard.

The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning, and does not stop until you get to work.