34 years of HyperCard, the missing link to the Web #Hypercard #VintageComputing @arstechnica

HyperCard, software sold by Apple from 1987 to 2004, allowed you to create “stacks” of cards, which were visual pages on a Macintosh screen. You could insert “fields” into these cards that showed text, tables, or even images. You could install “buttons” that linked individual cards within the stack to each other and that played various sounds as the user clicked them. You could also turn your own pictures into buttons.

Not only that, but HyperCard included a scripting language called “Hyper Talk” that a non-programmer could easily learn. It allowed developers to insert commands like “go to” or “play sound” or “dissolve” into the components of a HyperCard array.

The beauty of HyperCard is that it lets people program without having to learn how to write code — what I call “programming for the rest of us”. HyperCard has made it possible for people to do things they wouldn’t have ever thought of doing in the past without a lot of heavy-duty programming. It’s let a lot of non-programmers, like me, into that loop.

David Lingwood, APDA (via Wikipedia)

Even before its cancellation, HyperCard’s inventor saw the end coming. In an angst-filled 2002 interview, Bill Atkinson confessed to his Big Mistake. If only he had figured out that stacks could be linked through cyberspace, and not just installed on a particular desktop, things would have been different.

“I missed the mark with HyperCard,” Atkinson lamented. “I grew up in a box-centric culture at Apple. If I’d grown up in a network-centric culture, like Sun, HyperCard might have been the first Web browser. My blind spot at Apple prevented me from making HyperCard the first Web browser.”

When the web came along, programmers took inspiration from HyperCard in adding graphics and interactivity.

Marc Andreesen of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois. Andreesen’s team launched Mosaic in January of 1993; it was the first browser available on PCs, Macs, and UNIX systems. Mosaic morphed into Mosaic Netscape a year later.

“Wow,” I thought, as I surfed various sites. “This looks like HyperCard.”

When Tim Berners-Lee’s innovation finally became popular in the mid-1990s, HyperCard had already prepared a generation of developers who knew what Netscape was for. That’s why the most apt historical analogy for HyperCard is best adapted not from some failed and forgotten innovation, but from a famous observation about Elvis Presley. Before anyone on the World Wide Web did anything, HyperCard did everything.

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