HyperCard, the lost link in the evolution of the Web

Original author: Matthew Lasar
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Before the Web managed to do anything, HyperCard did everything.

Somewhere around 1988, the owner of my apartment made a deal with me. She will buy a Macintosh computer, I will buy an external hard drive, and we will leave this system in the living room to use it in turn. For the most part, she used the computer because I was computing on the IBM 286 and just wanted to track Apple’s progress. However, after we set up the Mac, one evening I noticed one program on it in the application menu. HyperCard? I thought. “What is this?”

I opened the program and read the instructions. HypercardAllowed to create "stacks" of cards, or visual pages on the Mac screen. It was possible to insert “fields” into them, where text, tables or even images were shown. It was possible to put “buttons” that linked cards from the stack with each other, playing different sounds by pressing - I especially remember one rattling sound that I can’t forget to this day. You could also turn images into buttons.

Five cool piles of HyperCard

1. The most famous project in HyperCard history was probably Myst . Cyan released the game in 1993, but it took two years for the founders of Cyan, Rand, and Ryan Millerov to build complex landscapes that carried the whole generation. The disc contained 40 minutes of music, 2500 images and an hour of QuickTime video.

2. Prior to Myst, the Miller brothers made a fuss with their game The Manhole (1987), specifically designed for children. Before the CD was released, the program required working with a bunch of floppy disks on which 600 interconnected screens were stored. You can watch the game using the YouTube video.

3. The Whole Earth Catalog team found out about HyperCard before the program was launched on the market in 1987. “The scale of the catalog and its natural division into cards made it an ideal way to test the program’s capabilities from Apple’s point of view,” Kevin Kelly recalled later, so Apple "sponsored us to tell them everything we learn by processing the catalog into HyperCard format." Whole Earth Hyperlog contained 9,742 pages and cost $ 150.

4. In the HyperCard format, an almanac of the Time Table of History was published . It mainly talked about science and technology, and it was released on a Macintosh CD in 1991. It contained more than 6,000 hypercards, and it sold for $ 150.

5. It is also worth recalling the interactive catalog of books from Voyager Company . In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the company released an amazing series of interactive CDs, including the electronic version of the comic book by Art Spiegelman Maus, Companion for Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and the popular Beatles movie “A Hard Days Night” in the form of a “movie book” in the kit. " The choice of HyperCard was "logical", as explained in the description for the series. HyperCard, "simulating a stack of cards, is similar in spirit to the book."
In addition, the HyperCard program included the HyperTalk scripting language , which even a programmer could not learn (as I was). It allowed developers to insert commands such as "jump" or "play sound" or "disappear" into the components of the HyperCard array.

I became interested in this, and began to stack. None of them became anything more than just a collection of hastily created images, sounds and aphorisms, but at some point I looked at my watch and found that it was already 4 in the morning. I was amazed and exhausted, and went to bed, while the visual components of the stacks of cards danced in my head.

And if you look at our historical clock, then in August 2019 HyperCard will turn 32. What happened to this program? I searched and found the eulogy of this program from entrepreneur and programmer Tim Oren, dated 2004, written the week that Apple removed this program from the market. He argued that the problem with HyperCard was that Apple was never able to figure out what the program was for.

“What was that?” Wrote Oren. “A tool for programming and designing user interfaces? Lightweight database and hypertext document management system? Media creation environment? Apple has not answered this question. ”

Therefore, the Cupertino-based company sent this program into exile in its Claris division, where it got lost among more interesting projects, such as Filemaker and the ClarisWorks office suite . “With Apple’s tacit agreement, after it reabsorbed Claris, the most dedicated fans, especially those from the educational community, supported the life of this program,” Oren continued.

But even before the cessation of development, the inventor of HyperCard foresaw its end. In a 2002 anxious interview, Bill Atkinson admitted to his “terrible mistake”. If he had thought that stacks can be connected among themselves in hyperspace, and not just installed on specific computers, everything would have turned out differently.

“I missed HyperCard,” Atkinson complained. “I grew up in a culture bounded by Apple.” If I grew up in a network culture like Sun, HyperCard could be the first web browser. My blind spot at Apple prevented me from turning HyperCard into the first web browser. ”

HyperCard may not have become the first web client, but I think that it deserves a greater place in the history of the Internet.

Computer library

In the year that the HyperCard television show came out of San Francisco, Computer Chronicles released a program about it. And the leading episodes quickly determined what it was based on.

“HyperCard is based on hypertext,” Gary Kildol told Stuart Cheyfet. - This concept was invented by Ted Nelson and Doug Engelbart in the 60s. The basic idea is this: if we try to conduct research on a topic, then materials on it exist in all sorts of different places. These may be books, magazines, tapes, Compuserve [the first major commercial Internet provider in the USA / approx. transl.] - and it would be nice to somehow connect all this in electronic form, so that, for example, we can, by clicking on Beethoven, jump from one page to another ... That was the essence of hypertext. ”

Theodor Nelson proposed the concept of hypertext back in the 60s and tried to implement it in the never-completed Xanadu project . Without losing enthusiasm, Nelson turned into an expressive preacher of this idea. In his 1974 book Computer Lib / Dream Machines, he defined hypertext as “a form of recording that branches or performs an action upon request; it is best expressed on a computer display. ” By simplifying the process of distribution and access to information, hypertext and hypermedia could free society from those whom Nelson considered an overly professionalized digital information elite.

“As they say, war is too important to give it to the care of the generals,” Nelson wrote. “Custody of computers can no longer be left to the clergy.”

However, the "clergy" itself quite well released technology into the wild in the 1970s. Three years before the book was released, ARPANET architects , a prototype of the Internet from the Department of Defense, revealed the details of their project at a public event in Washington, DC O.K. Meanwhile, two engineers from Bell’s labs at AT&T worked hard on UNIX, the operating system that will become the backbone of the network. Fearing government antitrust reprisals, AT&T did not stay in the software sales market and donated UNIX to colleges and universities at reduced prices. And these schools, with the financial support of the National Science Foundation, created hundreds, and then thousands of “nodes” of ARPANET in the 1980s.

And then came 1989, when a programmer from CERN, a huge Swiss physical laboratory, suggested using a hypertext network there. “Most systems today use a single database,” Tim Berners-Lee explained . - And this gives access to many users using a distributed file system. Few products literally took on Ted Nelson’s idea of ​​a “document universe” [docuverse], allowing cross-referencing between nodes in different databases. ” However, Berners-Lee firmly decided to create one.

On the way to the web

ViolaWWW HyperCard-inspired hypermedia browser

About two years later, Berners-Lee created his own web browser and then published the library of this project so that programmers can develop their own versions. Soon, a group of Finnish students developed the Erwise browser. Unfortunately, at that time the country was in a protracted recession, which greatly reduced the possibilities of Erwise.

“At that time in Finland it was impossible to build a business on Erwise,” explainedone of the team members. But other developers also downloaded Berners-Lee code. Among them was Pei-Yuan Wei, who worked on the UNIX X-terminal at the University of California's Experimental Computing Division at Berkeley. Where did Wei get inspiration for his ViolaWWW browser? He thought of a program that he really liked, although he didn't even have his own Mac.

“Then HyperCard looked very attractive, graphically, with these hyperlinks,” Wei later recalled. “I received instructions for HyperCard, I studied it, and simply implemented all the concepts in X-windows,” in the visual component of UNIX. The final Viola browser had HyperCard components: bookmarks, history, tables, graphics. And he, like HyperCard, could run programs.

It was in 1992. By that time, a web client for Mac was already being developed - it was made by Nicola Pellou and Robert Kailiau Samba, also influenced by HyperCard. And all this activity was enthusiastically watched by a young developer Mark Andrissen from the National Center for Supercomputing Programs at the University of Illinois. Andrissen's team launched the Mosaic browser in January 1993; it was the first browser to run immediately on PC, Mac, and UNIX. Mosaic a year later turned into Mosaic Netscape.

Soon after, I downloaded Netscape on a Dell PC. “Wow,” I thought, going to different sites. “This is very similar to HyperCard.”

HyperCard Legacy

The Cosmic Osmo game for HyperCard, still available on Steam.

What is the place of HyperCard in the history of innovation? Of course, there is a temptation to condescendingly treat a program by comparing it, say, with an optical telegraph , the forgotten predecessor of a magnetic telegraph ; or with mechanical television by John Logie Byrd , the forerunner of electronic TV; or with experiments on downloading music via cable connection or from the satellites of William Meister, unsuccessful, but inspired the appearance of America Online.

However, all these projects failed. HyperCard was incredibly popular, and all over the world. The Melbourne Museum Victoria, which describes Australia's scientific and cultural history, has published a list of the ways Melbourne teachers used this program:

  • A bunch of exam questions with answer options.
  • Collection, storage and use of training materials, including Excel graphics.
  • KeyNote-style presentations and student flyers.
  • A calculator with many mathematical functions and plotting.
  • Interactive science instruction with animation and sound.
  • Fractals.
  • Training material on a geographic information system.
  • Oil spill modeling.
  • Literacy development.
  • Road safety.
  • Interface to Oracle database.
  • Toxicology database.
  • Select and play tracks on a video disc.
  • Interactive educational presentation of jobs in the wool industry.
  • Interactive educational games “Crystal Flowers” ​​and “Grandma’s Garden”.
  • “Beach Footprints” - a study of local shores and shells.
  • TTAPS is a print training program for schools.

Even in August 2002, there were 10,000 developers for HyperCard in the world . Three years after the release of the program, the Computer Chronicles program continued, telling about the development of HyperCard. They discovered HyperCard software designed to manage a television studio. MIT released an interactive video magazine based on the program. The seventh grader wrote a timeline for Russian history for HyperCard, and among children even preschool children played with this application.

Unsurprisingly, Cyan programmers originally wrote their incredibly popular Myst adventure puzzle in the form of a stack of HyperCard. This explains the excellent graphics of the game and the quality of the animation, interspersed with background sounds or sudden video clips. But even in 1987, when the Mac was black and white, HyperCard developers and artists produced subtle and awesome products that are rarely found on today's Web.

Adventure Puzzle Myst - perhaps the pinnacle of HyperCard evolution

How did creator Bill Atkinson define HyperCard? “Simply put, HyperCard is a software building kit that allows people who cannot program to collect interactive information in one place,” he said in 1987 in Computer Chronicles.

When Tim Berners-Lee's innovation finally gained popularity in the mid-1990s, HyperCard had already prepared a generation of developers who knew what Netscape was for. That is why the most appropriate historical analogy for HyperCard is not some failed and forgotten innovation, but a paraphrase of the famous statement about Elvis Presley. Before the Web managed to do anything, HyperCard did everything.

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