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posted by martyb on Saturday November 01 2014, @03:45AM   Printer-friendly
from the If-they-released-it-now-it-would-be-called-iCard dept.

HyperCard, an application program and programming tool released for the Apple Macintosh in 1987, represented the ‘computing for the people’ philosophy that enabled users to go past the pre-built software that came on their machines, and to program and build software of their own. "Mac users could use Hypercard to build their own mini-programs to balance their taxes, manage sports statistics, make music – all kinds of individualized software that would be useful (or fun) for individual users." Now Jer Thorp writes that the end of HyperCard left a huge gap that desperately needs to be filled – a space for an easy to use, intuitive tool that will once again let average computer users make their own tools. According to Throp, this type of plain-language programming makes sense, particularly in an application that was designed specifically for non-programmers. "I find the largest concern for learners to be not with the conceptual hurdles involved in writing a program, but with obscure and confusing syntax requirements. I would love to be able to teach HyperTalk to my students, as a smooth on-road to more complex languages like JavaScript, Java or C++." By putting the tools of creation into the hands of the broader userbase, we would allow for the creation of ultra-specific personalized apps that, aside from a few exceptions, don’t exist today."

HyperTalk wasn’t just easy, it was also fairly powerful. Complex object structures could be built to handle complicated tasks, and the base language could be expanded by a variety of available external commands and functions (XCMDs and XFCNs, respectively), which were precursors to the modern plug-in. But ultimately, HyperCard would disappear from Mac computers by the mid-nineties, eclipsed by web browsers and other applications which it had itself inspired. The last copy of HyperCard was sold by Apple in 2004. "One thing that's changed in the intervening decades is that the hobbyist has largely gone by the wayside. Now you're either a user or a full-fledged developer, and the gulf is wider than ever," writes Peter Cohen. "There's really nothing like it today, and I think the Mac is lesser for it."

 
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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 01 2014, @04:17PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 01 2014, @04:17PM (#112216)

    The *idea* of making programming easier has been around for a long time.

    I have built a couple 'area specific' languages myself. Almost immediately people try to do things that are not possible in the language. Then you add in a few more features. Then suddenly it is mega complex. Tons of edge cases that do not work right anymore. Hard to debug and follow etc...

    The thing is many people are not able to follow simple instructions let alone create them. Like goto the store and buy just milk and come home. They goto the store and buy 6 things and maybe the milk swing by their buddies house and maybe get some gas. Most people are not pedantic like that. Most people would be chill with the outcome so long as the milk is in the bag somewhere. But that is disastrous to a programmer. You have to be pedantic because the computer is. You are not satisfied with side effects. You want a particular result. Most people do not think that way. If I wanted the 'buddy'/'get gas' result I have to tell the computer exactly what to do. The person may have said 'oh the gas is low too I will get some oh and Brian wanted me to swing by and have a beer' without any instruction from me. A computer would have ignored all of that.

    That is sort of the reason most people do not 'get' computer programming. They think of them as 'magical boxes' because that is the narrative they get from everyone around them and movies/tv. When the reality is they are far from that.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 01 2014, @05:39PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 01 2014, @05:39PM (#112228)

    I remember that there was a fun game for Commodore 64 that taught the basic control structures and a few operators visually: you had to rig up a maze with a certain stock of parts to get a drop of water or something similar from the top (program initialization) to the bottom (exit 0) and accomplish a set of tasks along the way. The control structures were implemented as things like springs and pipes and levers and buttons that would trigger when touched a certain number of times, etc. It was a good introduction to the concepts behind branching and control, all without a line of code.