Going on twenty years ago Hypercard, created by Bill Atkinson, felt like something helicoptered in from a William Gibson novel. “Make my own computer programmes? Pretty ones with sounds and visuals and proper interfaces? I am as a God!” Of course, I actually used it to make crappy catalogues and half-finished tools (sometimes half-finished catalogues and crappy tools) but, like everyone else, I could tell there was something big and important under the skin and, of course, some people actually built big, important things with it.
There was the mind-blowing Voyager CD Companion Series which used Hypercard to provide historical and musical context to classical music recordings – applications which I reckon would still seem pretty cool today (in all their one-bit glory) – and countless useful programmes interfacing Macs to cash registers and power stations and knitting machines – and millions of perfectly serviceable membership management stacks for Round Tables and scout troops and athletics clubs.
So it was really dispiriting to watch Hypercard disappear without trace over the next ten years or so – killed off, I suppose, at least in part by Mr. Berners-Lee’s less friendly but more flexible HTML, which, cleverly, allowed you to connect not just to resources on your hard drive but to stuff on other computers. Hypercard still exists in various specialist forms, some even adapted to the web, but it’s more-or-less irrelevant. Not exactly a hotbed of developer creativity (why not, I wonder?).
Anyway, the latest version of Applescript and its integration with OSX Tiger looks like a minor revival for the spirit of Hypercard (which is what got me thinking about it in the first place). Adam Goldstein, irritating geek prodigy, has written an excellent Applescript ‘Missing Manual’ for O’Reilly which I reckon is pitched nicely at people like me (old-timers with failing short-term memory) as well as at ordinary Mac users and which could conceivably get us all coding again.
Tiger, apparently, comes with some useful Hypercard-style dev tools for Applescript which could kick off a real renaissance for home-developed tools and gadgets just like Hypercard did all those years ago. The metaphor is different but the goal is the same – a library of useful and reusable scripts and applications that make life easier. I’m going to keep this book next to my Mac for a while and see if it triggers any creativity. Yeah right.