HyperCard at 30
August 13, 2017 3:44 PM   Subscribe

August 11 was Hypercard's 30th birthday, and to celebrate, the Internet Archive has made a bunch of stacks available through emulation.

Described as a "software erector set," Hypercard was an environment on the Mac that made it easy for non-programmers to write code, or to assemble existing bits of code into something new.

Created by Bill Atkinson (who also created the original MacPaint and the Mac's underlying graphic routines), it shipped with every new Mac for years, later sold as packaged software. Although Hypercard itself had no Internet connectivity, the ways that it made it easy to link between cards of a stack (or other stacks) influenced the design of the World Wide Web.

It was one of many projects that Steve Jobs killed when he returned to Apple, although at that point, it had been on life support for some time already. There have been some imitators—Supercard and Metacard, which became Runtime Revolution, which became LiveCode—but none of them had the widespread appeal and charm of the original, with its one-bit graphics and other limitations.
posted by adamrice (27 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
This made me really happy to see the other evening.

I wish I still had any of my stacks. I probably could dig up some of the floppies they were on, if I tried hard enough, but I doubt they'd read.
posted by brennen at 3:51 PM on August 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hypercard lives on, sort of, in LiveCode.

It was way ahead of its time.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 4:08 PM on August 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

Long ago I was tasked with building a system to record the inspection of Fire Equipment (extinguishers, hoses, etc) on IBM compatible PCs, using Norand industrial handheld computers (with barcode scanners)

The problem required multiple questions and branching.... I had heard of Hypercard (but never saw it until about 20 minutes ago)... and so designed my system as a set of pages with links. I did it with Turbo Pascal on the PC, and Norands PL/N on their machines... later using Turbo Pascal in their MS-DOS based handhelds.

That system was the basis of my employer's business for about 6 years... thanks Hypercard!, for the inspiration.
posted by MikeWarot at 4:31 PM on August 13, 2017 [5 favorites]

Some real 17776 shit going on in a few of these, great to see again after all these years. I found HELL FARM CALENDAR pretty interesting from a historical hypertext fiction perspective.

If you're having trouble getting into these, you need to click the green "I/O" button on the screenshot, then wait for the desktop to boot (hopefully you hear a chime noise). Then double click on the top right icon (you may need to double click slower than you're used to in a modern computer), and double click the "HyperCard" folder again, scroll down that window a line and double click "HyperCard." Then when HyperCard has started, go to File->Open Stack, click the top bar and change it to "Desktop." Then double click "disk" and then double click the thing you came for and it should start.

Perhaps a neat feature would be to jump the emulator right into the hypercard stack to not have to go through this each time? I am not sure how simple / hard that would be for this system. Pretty amazing!
posted by neustile at 4:47 PM on August 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

Isn't SuperCard still being developed and sold? It's hard to tell from their website or Wikipedia article.
posted by Ampersand692 at 4:48 PM on August 13, 2017

Oh man, this brings back so many memories. HyperCard was one of my first experiences (at like five years old) that gave me the idea that computers could be a thing-explaining-device. I don't think I fully anticipated YouTube breakthroughs on repairing iPhones and the like, but I had the sense that, for instance, they could make a better encyclopedia than anything in print. Though I thought color would probably be a nice addition someday in the distance future...
posted by thegears at 5:26 PM on August 13, 2017

Could someone tell me the advantages of Livecode for simple user friendly programming over just learning Python for my kids?
posted by leotrotsky at 5:43 PM on August 13, 2017

wow. logged in for the first time in a long time to comment this! a summer job during college "programming" learning materials for the affiliated med school was my gateway drug to a fairly long career in tech. now I fly helicopters for work but HyperCard will always have a fondness in my heart for, in some strange way, leading me precisely to where I am at now.
posted by lomcovak at 5:52 PM on August 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Myst was created with HyperCard
posted by bz at 5:53 PM on August 13, 2017 [12 favorites]

Could someone tell me the advantages of Livecode for simple user friendly programming over just learning Python for my kids?

There are few to none. Python away.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:56 PM on August 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Myst was created with HyperCard

Mind blown
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:56 PM on August 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

My go to metric for how old you feel is not your turning 30... but how you feel at your younger siblings turning 30. Knowing now that I was creating hypercard stacks in 7th grade, containing a deeply felt allegory about how dinosaurs were better off because it was a meteor rather than the sun going supernova that offed them...I... I... don't know if I currently feel embittered or wise or wistful, or as a has been, or should have been. Regardless, it feels like a sibling has turned 30, and i don't know how old I feel about that.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 8:03 PM on August 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

Could someone tell me the advantages of Livecode for simple user friendly programming over just learning Python for my kids?

Well, they'll find something with a UI much easier in LiveCode, but Python will ultimately be a better employment prospect.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 11:40 PM on August 13, 2017

neustile: If you didn't know, HELL FARM CALENDAR is part of a series that's worth checking out. ARE YOU A SPACE ALIEN is the one I remember.
posted by BiggerJ at 12:07 AM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

For fans of avant-garage rock who also had access to Apple computers in 1993, The Story of Pere Ubu hypercard [direct .hqx link] is still available via the band's Web site.
posted by mykescipark at 12:47 AM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I will tell you one thing I don't miss: that Contacts stack that shipped with HyperCard. I had to support that thing well into the OS X days, and I had to spend a lot of time explaining what a “free-form database” was and why simply importing their hundreds of addresses gathered over a decade couldn’t just be imported into some other program with a couple of clicks…
posted by Ampersand692 at 12:52 AM on August 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

Ampersand692, that tradition continues today in FileMaker.

Strength: It allows anyone to design a database.

Weakness: It allows anyone to design a database.
posted by oheso at 4:13 AM on August 14, 2017 [6 favorites]

I remember when I first saw Internet Gopher (previously) as a HyperCard stack. Good times. Slow, but good times.
posted by ZeusHumms at 6:46 AM on August 14, 2017

Ah, HyperCard. The thing that could have been.

Atkinson has said he kicks himself for not putting networking capability into the program. It easily could have jump-started the World Wide Web years before Berners-Lee came along.

Personally I always thought it should have been burned into the Macintosh ROM like BASIC was with the Apple ][. It should have been something every kid had access to from the moment the computer was switched on. In the meantime, it allowed you to boot from startup and replace the Finder which was awesome.

One little tidbit to close: HyperCard was inspired by an LSD trip! (skip to 22:38)
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:28 AM on August 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

Writing this post gave me a wave of nostalgia that surprised me with its intensity. I did a lot of work with HyperCard back in the day. I wrote a shareware stack for moving flat-file information between stacks and tab-separated text files (or stacks to stacks, or text files to text files), which got written up in the printed (!) compendia of shareware that we used to use before the Web. I wrote a clipart navigator/installer for a friend's clipart collection, which used a XCMD for navigating a SQL database, and for which I had to invent a new form of Japanese text encoding (that was fun). I kept all my job logs in a stack that in some ways was better than what I have even today. I used HyperCard for an extremely crude static-site generator, and as a membership database for a conference that automatically imported e-mails spit out by a web form.

When I switched to OS X, I went cold-turkey on old software, and that included Hypercard. I never managed to adapt myself to AppleScript, even though the languages were supposed to be similar. I never picked up Filemaker. I've never found that playground for casual coding that let me whip up something useful.
posted by adamrice at 7:39 AM on August 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

I am currently thinking out a modular synth patch (cables and knobs) logger with actual photos of the modules front panels as a UI. Popup menus to select values. All in Supercard. I've used this program for years. Mainly to build generative grammar text generators. The "card" metaphor is a great approach for modeling data, loads of data. From all my programming from assembler to OOP this approach was the first where I felt like I could just deal with the abstract realm of data structures and algorithms and the code just wrote itself. (Thanks to Wirth.) The promise of everybody a programmer with HyperCard and Smalltalk never came to be because nobody really wants to program, just watch TV. But a a few of us were able to take advantage of this technology.

By the way, the whole hypertext card thing was not Atkinson. It was first proposed I think in the 40's by some guy whose name I can't remember. A manager I had at Apple back in the day always pointed this out whenever someone started gushing about Atkinson.
posted by njohnson23 at 8:55 AM on August 14, 2017

Sure. There were ideas out there before Hypercard. Vannevar Bush's As We May Think. Douglas Englebart's Demo. Ted Nelson's perpetual vaporware Project Xanadu.

Conceptual underpinnings are important, but as Steve Jobs said, "real artists ship." Bill Atkinson shipped.
posted by adamrice at 10:32 AM on August 14, 2017 [6 favorites]

HyperCard (HC) changed a LOT of lives, and had a profound impact on the design and implementation of multimedia software at the time. I was there at the peak of its influence, doing some crazy software projects in it that went beyond what my team had been doing with VideoWorks Interactive (which had all the slick color animation and graphics abilities distinctly lacking in HC), including the Oldsmobile Consumer Computer project (a turnkey multimedia kiosk seen at car shows in the late eighties, where you'd go through the Olds product line, configure a car with extras, and walk away with a printed car price estimate), the enclosure with the (custom) touchscreen Mac II and LaserWriter built by the guys in the Olds body shop. We were invited to show off the project at the Apple booth in some New York tradeshow, with John Sculley walking up to our demo station and refusing to believe we had HC running _in color_ (which was a hack, we used the HC plugin to run VideoWorks animation inline with the HC stack, creating the illusion of fullscreen color graphics), and the insane database stuff we did to manage all the user input, format it for printing, and save it off for datamining (something the Oldsmobile folks weren't even thinking of at the time, but which was a huge bonus, and for which they gave me some extra cash).

Years later, I ended up cutting a deal with Bob Guccione and Penthouse to do "Penthouse Interactive", a cutting-edge adult CD-ROM project authored primarily in HC, and with an even more creative way to "fake" a full-color UI with interactive animated buttons, and inline video which was spec'd to run on a single-speed CDROM drive, quite the insane achievement at the time. We shot the video specifically with the idea that it would be compressed in Quicktime, so I kept a close eye on details that would impact frame-differenced compression techniques (I made Julie Strain ditch her sequin dress, and had the stage crew spray a brass bed down with water, in order to minimize specular highlights), something no one had really done up to that point. I walked away from the product right after it was delivered (that's a much longer, more sordid story), Bob presented the finished product to investors as _his_ vision of the interactive future of media, and raised $80 million in investment funds based on it. Fucker never saw it until it was completely done, and had zero tech input, something I demanded, and which drove him crazy - until he saw the finished product, and fell in love with it.

And then there was the SmutStack - conjured by my dear old friend Chuck Farnham (those of you involved in the tech industry back in the mid-nineties, living in the Bay area, might recognize that name), which was somewhat infamous in underground HyperCard circles.

Yeah, suffice it to say, HyperCard was a very big deal at the time, and the fact that Apple didn't properly leverage it to be one of the important tech tools of the online era was yet another glaring example of their funky management and lack of longterm vision.

And to set the record straight: digital historians will note that the promise of a visual database system certainly didn't originate with HC, that distinction belongs to an earlier pair of products, FileVision and Business FileVision (Telos Software), those things did magic even HC couldn't match years later. I wrote a feature review of BFV for MacUser sometime in 1985-86, and laid out some sample applications of it that would be closely mirrored by HC a couple years later.

There were few programs I've encountered and fell in love with during my long, weird digital career, but HyperCard was definitely amongst the most influential ones - besides Photoshop, After Effects and VideoWorks.

30 years ago, seems like a lifetime. Or three. Le Sigh.
posted by dbiedny at 1:59 PM on August 14, 2017 [13 favorites]

I developed some things early on in Hypercard. It was very easy to put simple things together, the fixed-size, card metaphor helped a lot in that respect. What found though was that it didn't scale well to larger projects. You would tend to tie UI and data and logic together too much, and there was no real way to visualize logic or data independently of the way it presented on screen.

Which of course was the point, it wasn't supposed to scale, it was supposed to bring simple programming tasks to the masses, which it was great at.

I also remember abusing XCMDs massively to write code that talked to WDEFs through the event manager to interact with resizable windows and floating windows. We were using Pascal for most projects (developing programs for faculty to use in classes) and so were used to having a bit more flexibility in the UI and how we interacted with users. Then of course screens got bigger and we got color... Still it was fun playing with this stuff.
posted by dougfelt at 10:51 PM on August 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

I remember being blown away by a multimedia collection browser in a museum in Japan in 1990. It was running on an SE/30 and you could call up items and it would show you where they were from on a map and what culture they were from. Must've been a HyperCard thing.
posted by scruss at 9:29 AM on August 15, 2017

You can upload your own stacks here- http://hypercardonline.tk/
posted by bhnyc at 1:06 PM on August 15, 2017

« Older Moderneast   |   “We were all at fault, and we were all victims too... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments