Twenty-five years ago Apple released a visionary product, Hypercard. Bill Atkinson designed the app to free people to create their own programs without the rigors of programming. Hypercard invited anyone to create “stacks” of linked cards that could display text, play sound, and show video. Hypercard was sort of like an internet browser for your hard drive except that it included authoring as well as consuming from the get-go. Apple abandoned Hypercard in its near-death days, but the idea lived on with General Magic. The Mosaic team credits Hypercard with many of the concepts that went into the first web browsers.
We celebrated Hypercard’s 25th anniversary at the Hillside Club in Berkeley this evening at one of Sylvia Paull‘s Cybersalons. Raines Cohen, co-founder of BMUG (Berkeley Mac User Group), once the largest user group in the world, drew out Bill Atkinson with initial questions and then wowed the audience by searching and displaying sites and photos on the web in real time as Bill and the audience brought them up.
Bill credits his success to Steve Jobs. “He believed in me.” They were best friends for three years, often as not having dinner together. Bill created MacDraw, QuickDraw, and Hypercard. Bill had gone independent by the time he wrote Hypercard. Apply had agreed to bury another brilliant programmer’s masterpiece, Mac Basic, to get a lifeline from Microsoft, which immediately killed it. Programmers were wary that Apple might not do what was best for their applications.
People in the audience stood up to tell Hypercard stories. A number of former Mac journalists were on hand. Some people credited Hypercard with having started their now successful businesses.
Bill? He spends a lot of time perfecting a postcard writing app. To his mind it’s cooler than Hypercard. You can upload a photo and the app will print a high res card, stamp it, write your message on it, and get it in the mail. It’s ironic, a sophisticated app that is out to save an old artefact, the post card. PhotoCard is s a free app for the iPhone.
I was struck by the simplicity of Hypercard. It was powerful but never added the useless chrome and doo-dads that modern apps ship with. Someone asked, “How did you know you were done?” Bill said he was finished when the kit was complete. You’re through when the app does what you’d asked it to do. Hypercard is sort of like Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language. You don’t have to be an architect or city planner to get the concept and apply it elsewhere.
Bill is very
high on iBooks Author
. It’s the closest thing there is to Hypercard. iBooks Author. It’s industrial strength multimedia manipulation with drag & drop, no programming.
Many of us have tread in Bill’s shoes, trying to find ways to enable people to pursue their passion without having to become experts in arcane domains like programming.