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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: 4, Informative) by hemocyanin on Saturday November 01 2014, @04:35PM

    by hemocyanin (186) on Saturday November 01 2014, @04:35PM (#112220) Journal

    I remember in the late 80s my chemistry prof using hypercard for something or other, and I've heard over the years how useful and easy it is. So I'm interested. I've never used visual basic so I don't have that as a reference point, but I found supercard to be difficult to use the first time and I think it would be hard for a person who never programmed. I am not an incredibly skilled programmer (I'm a hobbyist) -- I know enough to know I don't know much and all of my experience is text based, not with drag and drop type tools though I'm vaguely aware they exist.

    In TFS, the main selling point of hypercard was apparently, an easily understood syntax. I think that misses the point -- any syntax will be understandable. What I think is hard for people, is rigid syntax, and it turns out that supercard has its own rigid syntax. If I hadn't accidentally stumbled on the documentation, I would still be trying to make a "hello world" alert box (*) that worked instead of spitting out an error about getting to the end of the script unexpectedly or something equally uninforming -- what was obvious was that it was broken because I didn't know the exact magic incantation to make it work.

    So for example, if you make a card, add a button, make sure your icon is the pointer not the hand, double click the button, click the "script" button in the popup, click the "commands" button in the next popup, select "alert" from the dropdown, you see this:

    on mouseUp
    alert [«type»] «prompt» [explain «text»] [without cancel] [time out after «seconds»]
    end mouseUp
    NOTE:  some elements inside "[]" are mandatory, some are not.  Trial and error to determine.

    The part that took me 20 minutes (the first ten being spent to get to this point), was figuring out what "type" of alert I was going to use, but not knowing the "type" keywords (**), and unable to find the documentation, all I got was error. Once I found the documentation, it was easy of course (except for the excessive clicking you have to do to get to that point).

    Which brings me to my point -- syntax is NOT the problem. RIGID syntax is. People are used to, and good at, interactions that mean the same thing but come in infinite varieties. Walk to a fastfood counter, say "gimme a number 1" or "may I please have a cheeseburger -- the one with the single patty" or "cheesburg numero uno bro" and the clerk will almost certainly get it, then ask "do you want fries with that?" If the clerk was a rigid syntax computer language, it would fail until you said exactly: "I want cheeseburger number 1." THIS is where people get frustrated with programming.


    (*) Finding the syntax help was much more difficult than I would have expected: not on the website, the help menu search led me to an FAQ with no info -- turns out below the search is a menu item to get to the syntax list, but it didn't register with me for some reason. I may have clicked it too earlier and saw nothing -- in one of the tool windows is a "?" icon which I clicked at some point and got the usual OSX popup about running software downloaded from the web for the first time, meaning the documentation is a separate application. Whatever reason, maybe I'm an idiot, I had a devil of a time finding the documentation.

    (**) [plain|caution|note|stop]

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