The Electronic Labyrinth


In August 1987, Apple revolutionized how people interact with their computers by packaging Bill Atkinson's HyperCard free with every PC sold. Atkinson, the creator of MacPaint, had been inspired by work on new interface technologies at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC). Alan Key, who left PARC for Atari, and was later made an Apple Fellow, was a particular influence, as was Vannevar Bush and the SmallTalk language.

HyperCard uses the metaphor of a stack of cards, each of which may contain pictures (PICT or PICT2), text, and other interface elements. These may be drawn or selected from the menu. Functionality is provided through HyperTalk scripts attached to buttons. These may be simple links to other cards, or complicated programs in their own right. Sound, video, animation, and video disc control are all supported.

Though able to run on any Mac, and requiring as little as 1 MB RAM, HyperCard deserves faster processors and more memory. As an interpreted language, it is very slow.

Though HyperCard popularized the idea of hypertext, it is not a hypertext system itself. The only built-in navigation aids are the search and history functions. However, since basic scripting is within the grasp of any developer, it is easy to use HyperCard as the framework for a hypertext system. Its main limitation is that anchors are restricted to interface objects such as buttons. Anchors may not be placed in full text, and hence must be manually moved if the text changes.

In its first year, one million copies of HyperCard were sold. The stack paradigm has become so popular that it has spawned clones (SuperBook, PLUS, and ToolBook), each of which offered an expanded feature set. Claris, a company Apple formed to handle their software, responded with versions of HyperCard that supported variable card size, multiple windows, and scrolling. Version 2.1 also provides a report writer, a debugger, several print options, and a host of sample scripts and buttons.

HyperCard is currently sold as an "upgrade" for $70 Canadian. There is no reader module--end-users must own a copy of HyperCard to run their stacks. At one time, this was a sure bet; today, many users might not own HyperCard. Recently, Apple took control of HyperCard back from Claris. Hopefully, they will once again bundle it free with new computers.

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M5A 1J2

Phone: 416-941-9611

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Phone: 408-727-8227

© 1993-2000 Christopher Keep, Tim McLaughlin, Robin Parmar.
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