HyperCard turned 25!

HyperCard stack of cards - 3-D

On Saturday, August 11, 2012, HyperCard turned 25 years of age.

For those who are old enough and/or have paid attention, before SuperCard, LiveCode, and even Java, there was HyperCard, the card stack-oriented gem that made software development look easy. It featured paintable cards & backgrounds (in monochrome only) that could be linked together. It featured an English-based scripting language called HyperTalk that allowed users to literally program lines like, “add ten to numberOfApples”. And in HyperCard’s first big promotion, the Mac of the time was sold with it. Priced at $49, the full package came on double-sided (800KB) floppy disks—the kind of ancient floppies that require variable head speeds and, like the single-sided type, don’t work on most floppy drives past the twentieth century.

It was 1987, and MacWorld Expo unveiled something that would become one of the most influential pieces of software in history.  No one saw anything like it before. Sure, there were spreadsheets, word processors, the virtual Rolodex and other boring, life-sucking, business-oriented etc. software types, but HyperCard was unbelievably simple and easy to use. Before you could say “Mac Plus,” people would be showing off “go to next card” animations, making games, and yes, using it for business, all at no extra cost because of how easy it was (and still is) to make and modify stacks. So easy, a “Can’t Modify” feature and password protection had to be added.

In 1985, Bill Atkinson, with a small-yet-growing team spent a lot of time from start to a user-friendly release, and like many software developers probably ended up working long, hair-pulling hours—debugging on the older machines was slow. Atkinson was crucial in what was known as “WildCard,” hence the creator code WILD. In fact, his face was rendered into an icon, as one of the seemingly infinite number of B&W icons that come with HyperCard, used for icon buttons. He would stick around a few more years for the implementation of code externals (v1.2), sound playback and features that people that still use it (with an older Mac or emulator) take for granted. And no, he didn’t become part of the Google+ team.

Networking and Sound Recording

Audio window snapshot
Audio recorder and editor.

With or without Bill, the team would go on to add 8-bit sound recording (and editing!) and incorporate AppleScript™, Apple’s scripting language for communication between programs, including the Finder (technically an app) and other running copies of HyperCard, even over a shared network. Now users could have stacks, its cards or backgrounds — or the message box, my favorite part — create and move files and folders, manage binary data (as opposed to being limited to C-string text) and communicate with just about everything with ease.

Movies and Color
HyperCard 2.2, one of the most popular versions—especially among schools, was used for the incredible success that was Myst®, the commercial, color game that featured whole pre-rendered CGI environments that the player could move around in. Myst was so successful that not only did the HC team add QuickTime™ movie playing capabilities and Color Tools™, Apple included the Myst CD-ROM with version 2.3.5. Color Tools — which allowed people to literally AddColor, transitions and all — even came with its own painting software built-in.

Split Teams
When Apple decided to have or keep much of its software a property of Claris, they decided to include HyperCard. The reason why you see two credits, Apple and Claris, for the early versions of 2.x: some members decided to stay at Apple. Apple made the new viewer-only “Player” a part of the operating system package, and Claris would distribute the traditional “full” version, now no longer free when users got their Mac OS — HyperCard users were particularly upset with that. Another separate group in the early development of 2.0 decided to even make HyperCard IIGS, a version for the Apple IIGS!

End of the Road
For 2.4, movies were written into HyperTalk, the language originally created by Dan Winkler in 1986.  And 2.4.1, the final version was released merely to fix bugs in the Script Editor external.
HyperCard remained coded in Pascal, and for the Classic Mac OS environment, making it difficult to port or adapt to later versions of the Mac OS, QuickTime and plans of internet streaming. Apple saw expensive updates vs. SuperCard, arguably the color successor, and decided to discontinue their Classic creation.

Stacks for just about everything

Addresses stack snapshot
The Addresses stack (v2.4.1)

While many familiar with HyperCard may know of stacks used for calendars, charts, and music, particularly MIDI, even QTVR panoramas, it’s been recently discovered (or rediscovered) that someone developed a stack to control electric model trains! Besides Myst, a number of software packages have used stacks, at least in the all-in-one Player form, including the 1000 Games CD. As an educational tool, some Macs resold in the 1990s included the Student Resource Set, which featured a HyperCard-based planner.

On a self-promotional note…
I have many stacks of my own, including a virtually-unlimited endpoint polygon maker (with user functions, anti-aliasing), a 3-D world stack (and program for demos)—which can make also polygons into prisms, 8 & 16 bit sound editors (includes reverb effects, mattes, and wave tables for waves and transitions), a sound channel aligner (for when left and right are recorded separately), and an adapted software base called HyperXDB (discontinued), which included a stack with a DOS-like environment, as well as a disassembler (yes, I wrote a disassembler in HyperTalk, using ResEdit’s as a guide).

Okay, that’s enough!
Along with my externals, most of them coded in binary using ResEdit (I’m that kind of geek), the hex-editing externals have been used to alter or merely read binary files, even code, well before scripting languages like Python or Perl would come into play. In 2005 or so, I wrote a script that would calculate all of the prime numbers from 2 to 1,000,003, where the results would be stored in Extended Binary Coded Decimal (XBCD) — ‘F’ would be used as a separator.


Apple, the Apple logo, AppleScript, HyperCard, Mac, Mac OS, Mac Plus and QuickTime are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.

All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.


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