Still Longing For HyperCard

Reading about RunRev's successful Kickstarter campaign and their subsequent Open Source lease of Live Code Community Edition reminds me of just how much I used to love HyperCard, and how much I've longed for something like it over the years since Apple stopped development.

For those who weren't around during the late 1980s, HyperCard was a fantastic all-purpose development tool on the Mac. It seemed for a while like there was nothing any normal person would want to do with a computer that couldn't be accomplished in HyperCard. Between 1987 and 1992 I must have done hundreds of things with it. Off the top of my head here are a few I recall: Cataloging my audiocassette collection, designing and issuing tickets and custom passes for live events, managing a clippings library for my college-lecturer girlfriend, building an animated faux-3D board game. I could go on.

If you don't know anything about the application, go read the HyperCard entry in Wikipedia, though I'm sure that doesn't do it justice. Like most legendary and beloved software (or hardware), there's something intangible in the way all the parts came together to make something greater. Sure it was a simple GUI-based database tool. Yes it had a scripting language that ordinary people could figure out. Absolutely it predates and prefigures the World Wide Web with its implementation of HyperText. Oh and yes, the first great CD-ROM game was built in it.

All of the above is commendation enough, and the Live Code people would be delighted if they achieve a fraction of that I'm sure, but histories still don't adequately capture the incredible feeling of empowerment that I felt when the 9" mono display of the Mac Plus came alive with the possibilities of HyperCard, and it seemed like I could build pretty much anything I could think of. Perhaps it's similar to the buzz I first got when I encountered BASIC on the Commodore PET, or later when we figured out how those first web pages were built and made our own. Perhaps it's what fans of the Raspberry Pi are going on about recently. For me though, HyperCard occupies a special place in the evolution of computing, one that pointed not to a future in which we all wrote code, but to one in which no-one needed to, because the computers did the heavy lifting for us, and became truly the bicycles for the mind of which Steve Jobs spoke.