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Danny Goodman Talks About HyperCard

by Derrick Story
08/17/2001

Editor's Note: On March 29, 2001, I ran an article titled, The Death of HyperCard. The story began with an e-mail from Steve Collins, iHUG spokesperson, but once published, it resonated with many of the Mac faithful. One of our readers, Scott Widney, was interested in the story and sent an e-mail to Danny Goodman posing the question, "I'm curious to know how you feel, given your involvement with HyperCard." Here is the verbatim e-mail exchange between Scott and Danny. I thought you might be interested in light of a recent article by Steve Figgins titled, HyperCard and Python.

Danny Goodman to Scott Widney, April 24, 2001

I shed my buckets of tears for HyperCard (and what might have been) many, many years ago. The first crude demo that Bill showed me was, at its root, what the World Wide Web has become. Coulda, woulda, shoulda.

Despite valiant post-version 1.1 efforts by dedicated and exceptionally bright serfs (their recollection brings fond memories), HyperCard never truly recovered from its detour to the Claris dungeon and the dungeon masters. It's a tale of perhaps the biggest opportunity Apple missed in its self-defense against a rising Windows tide.

When I look at the current product, I see facets that are still ahead of their time, not the least of which is the extraordinarily elegant HyperTalk language by Dan Winkler -- a kid straight out of college, who Bill Atkinson said was the only programmer who could keep up with him. At the same time, aspects of the product have been embarrassingly behind the times for years. Kevin was well on his way to fixing that, but the scenery changed.

See also:

The Death of HyperCard? -- With the release of Mac OS X, the venerable HyperCard application is in danger of extinction unless it is carbonized. It is time to let go and say goodbye, or should it be saved?

Hypercard and Python -- Hypercard was once a killer Macintosh application, a hypertext GUI design toolkit. Will a similar development tool work for Python?

iHUG -- International HyperCard User Group

 

Comment on this articleAfter reading this exchange between Scott and Danny, plus Steve Figgins article on Python and HyperCard, do you think the open source route has a chance?
Post your comments

I've been through the imminent death of HyperCard once before (some old-timers might remember my little red "I Love HyperCard" badge stickers from a Macworld Expo long ago). But this time, the situation is far worse due to the politics and history behind HyperCard. The product got its initial boost, visibility, and bundling in 1987 through the internal championing efforts of John Sculley. If anyone today believes that Steve Jobs even hears any syllable past "Hy" before his imaginary stab wound scar starts burning, they're dreaming.

Scott Widney to Danny Goodman

You sound pretty weary.

I agree that HyperCard was way ahead ahead of its time, and still is in many aspects. No environment has put the power of programming into so many otherwise unprepared hands. I also feel that the influence of HyperCard and HyperTalk on many of today's shining stars has gone largely unacknowledged. In the preface of your JavaScript Bible, Brendan Eich mentions this influence, which in turn has surely affected the World Wide Web. Even the Windows world has been touched: In my opinion Microsoft's entire Visual Studio (which started with Visual Basic) owes homage. Anyway....

A lot of what I'm seeing indicates that HyperCard is still in use, especially in the education market. Surely that is a market that Steve can't ignore. Nor is there an alternative for him to offer educators. More importantly, there is a real interest in the Open Source community in seeing HyperCard continue.

So what do you think? If the code was "opened", those behind-the-times aspects would quickly be brought up-to-speed. Most likely it would go cross-platform, thereby bringing it to an even wider audience, while still supporting the existing user base. And so on....

Do you think it would be worthwhile?

How do you think it could be accomplished?

Would certain parties hold on to the source, even when they don't intend to do anything with it, just to nurse an old wound?

Danny Goodman to Scott Widney

Steve likes to blow peoples' minds when he makes announcements -- e.g., titanium cubes that do Vulcan mind melds. I simply can't see him making any kind of public deal over a 15-year-old technology, no matter how many users depend on it. It took Sal Saghoian over a year of kicking and screaming from _inside_ Apple to get Steve to even acknowledge AppleScript.

I think that a couple practical matters stand in the way [of creating an open source version of HyperCard]. Number One is that the code base must, by this point, be extremely fragile and convoluted. Does anyone know where all the bodies are buried? This leads to Number Two: IMHO, Open Source works when there is a strong leader behind the effort -- a leader who _does_ know where all the bodies are buried and can act as a spiritual advisor to the developer community. I know of only one person who has the knowledge to fill the role (Kevin Calhoun), but does he have the passion, will, and resources to assume the role?

There may also be legal issues connected with the product that an Open Source effort wouldn't want to mess with. Years ago, Apple caved into a small developer's patent claim on certain aspects of HyperCard's conceptual design. So, there may be patent licensing issues that would have to carry over to a 'freed' HyperCard, and some organization (who?) would have to shield developers from further claims.

[In response to Scott's question: How do you think it could be accomplished? Would certain parties hold on to the source, even when they don't intend to do anything with it, just to nurse an old wound?]

That "certain party" is too mercurial to predict. Perhaps with enough community pressure (and legal clearance), he could make a grand gesture to set it free. Even so, I wouldn't give the project good survival odds unless some of the other issues I mentioned above are addressed resolutely. Setting HyperCard free to be carbonized by the community may be worth a shot, but all that would do, IMO, is keep the life support machinery powered until the next rolling blackout.

Scott Widney to Danny Goodman

[In response to: There may also be legal issues connected with the product that an Open Source effort wouldn't want to mess with. Years ago, Apple caved into a small developer's patent claim on certain aspects of HyperCard's conceptual design. So, there may be patent licensing issues that would have to carry over to a 'freed' HyperCard, and some organization (who?) would have to shield developers from further claims.]

That would be Paul Heckel. His company was HyperRacks, Inc. and his product was ZoomRacks. He wrote about this in his book "The Elements of Friendly Software Design" in the early 80's. I'd forgotten about that -- poor, foolish, young Apple.

He also took aim at IBM, Microsoft, and Asymetrix (ToolBook). If I remember correctly, Paul's biggest concern was proper attribution for his work, and his licensing war was the tool for getting same.

Thanks again! Take care!

Danny Goodman to Scott Widney

[In response to: Thank you for taking the time to respond! I'd like to forward some of our discussion to Derrick Story at O'Reilly & Associates. Any objections?]

No objections, but only if you forward the entire transcripts of our discussion. That'll prevent comments from being taken out of context.

[In response to: That would be Paul Heckel.]

Yep.

[In response to: I'd forgotten about that -- poor, foolish, young Apple.]

Yep, yep. All the while, Apple was spending millions on the ridiculous "look and feel" lawsuit against Microsoft/Windows.

Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit www.thedigitalstory.com.


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