As a 2012 article in Ars Technica reminds us, “before the World Wide Web did anything, HyperCard did everything.”
HyperCard was a software “erector set” designed by one of the major early geniuses at Apple, Bill Atkinson. It was a radically democratized application development environment, so simple that 10-year olds could use it with little instruction to make school projects while professionals could use create breakthrough originals like Myst, and its even cooler precursor, Cosmic Osmo.
In celebration of the 30th anniversary of HyperCard, the Internet Archive just published a large collection of stacks, or Hypercard programs, including one I wrote (and hadn’t seen in years), MagMaker. MagMaker was a full interactive magazine development tool, proof for sure that HyperCard could be used by non-programmers to program. Unfortunately, MagMaker was published about, oh, 10 minutes before Netscape Navigator made the World Wide Web accessible to the common man. Needless to say, MagMaker did not set the standard for document publishing on the Internet.
Yet the humble little application did score a few firsts.
MagMaker was one of the first online publishing tools sensitive to typography. It could comb through vanilla text, like the Project Gutenberg edition of The Return of Sherlock Holmes, add smart quotes, en and em dashes and use a long list of geeky rules to generally fix things up. It was used to create some of the world’s first downloadable ads, or interactive press kits, produced on behalf of a major national music store chain (and distributed via Compuserve and AOL, remember those?). And it was used by at least one major magazine, Bust, for its first online edition.
Associated with its library, the Internet Archive built an emulator that makes it possible to run HyperCard stacks on any OS. Unfortunately MagMaker was a multi-stack application of a type the emulator doesn’t love. So, to get the full experience, you’ll have to find a really old Mac running System 9 or earlier. Sadly, Apple discontinued development and distribution of HyperCard when it moved to its current Unix-based operating system. Web browsers put it out of business. Yet, like a lot of early Apple stuff, it was powerful, elegant and fun, all at the same time.
I miss it.
Hypercard, what is it? It’s not hyper. It’s not even a card!
In this half-hour episode of the Computer Chronicles, HyperCard inventor Bill Atkinson, and HyperTalk author Dan Winker, along with chronicler and author Danny Goodman, present a charming and disarming overview of this ancient and magical software.