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Programming Apple

Why Was Hypercard Killed? 392

theodp writes "Steve Jobs took the secret to his grave, but Stanislav Datskovskiy offers some interesting and illustrated speculation on why HyperCard had to die. 'Jobs was almost certainly familiar with HyperCard and its capabilities,' writes Datskovskiy. 'And he killed it anyway. Wouldn't you love to know why? Here's a clue: Apple never again brought to market anything resembling HyperCard. Despite frequent calls to do so. Despite a more-or-less guaranteed and lively market. And I will cautiously predict that it never will again. The reason for this is that HyperCard is an echo of a different world. One where the distinction between the "use" and "programming" of a computer has been weakened and awaits near-total erasure. A world where the personal computer is a mind-amplifier, and not merely an expensive video telephone. A world in which Apple's walled garden aesthetic has no place.' Slashdotters have bemoaned the loss of HyperCard over the past decade, but Datskovskiy ends his post on a keep-hope-alive note, saying: 'Contemplate the fact that what has been built once could probably be built again.' Where have you gone, Bill Atkinson, a nation of potential programmers turns its lonely eyes to you."
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Why Was Hypercard Killed?

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  • by hessian ( 467078 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @02:37PM (#38217014) Homepage Journal

    In the 1970s, one manufacturer made the hardware, operating system and (most of) the software.

    Apple wanted to resurrect that model in the 1990s and got beaten back by the "open" architecture PC clones, which were from a more flexible type of system.

    Apple finally rediscovered its favorite business model in the iPhone, because cell phone customers haven't yet figured out that phones are little computers with antennas now.

    Jobs and his cronies killed Hypercard because it would have thwarted that model. With Hypercard, all software was driven by a powerful database and configured as interface. It would have revolutionized the web and how we make custom software (now done in VBscript) today.

    But, it might have let things get out of control, and Apple couldn't allow that.

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @02:37PM (#38217024) Journal

    Where have you gone, Bill Atkinson, a nation of potential programmers turns its lonely eyes to you.

    Bill Atkinson: ... and that is how HyperCard works. Sir, HyperCard stands to transform most of your average users in application developers. It will be liberating and put the world at their ...
    Steve Jobs: People don't "want" to be liberated. People don't want to think. People don't want to have the burden of imagination placed on them. They want my imagination superimposed on top of theirs. They want what I tell them to want.
    Bill Atkinson: ... okay ...
    Steve Jobs: Nobody knows what to do with your 'HyperCard' program, look at all those buttons. All those buttons screaming at me, all night long. Pushing me into the lockers. Stealing my lunch money. NO MORE BUTTONS.
    *hurls a paperweight as hard as he can several feet from his desk*
    Bill Atkinson: Um, we can change the UI ...
    Steve Jobs: More than that, trim it down. Just a few options. 'Applications' is too broad -- too many branching factors.
    Bill Atkinson: Well, we could limit it to just database applications ...
    Steve Jobs: No, you know what people like? Photography. Make it make photos! Hold on a second ...
    *Jobs snorts a huge line of cocaine off his desk*
    Steve Jobs: Oh jesus that was good. Wait, wait I'm getting something ahhhh ahhhh la la la la la ahhh I'm getting something. Write this down: Postcard making application ... ahhh that takes your photos and sends them to people ... ahhh over the goddamn internet ... with very few buttons.
    Bill Atkinson: Sir, you're throwing away such a powerful application for mere postcard func ...
    Steve Jobs: Goddamnit Atkinson, this is exactly what HyperCard -- I mean PhotoCard -- needs to make it out there. Now go forth and do!
    Bill Atkinson: Yes my master ...

    And that's where Bill Atkinson has gone []!

  • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @02:38PM (#38217030) Journal

    The spirit of hypercard was easy content creation/scripting by users. Over time that became Geocities, and now it's Facebook. Very few people want to program as an end in itself, and it's not like hypertext went away, the tools just became progressively less low-level and geeky.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @02:42PM (#38217078)

    Look, the average user is not us. The average user doesn't want to program their computer. The average user is, in fact, in the market for an expensive video telephone that also plays Angry Birds. That's why HyperCard was killed, and why the company that killed it went on to make literally unimaginable amounts of money. I don't like Steve Jobs or the direction Apple has gone in the past twenty years but I'm not going to delude myself into thinking that "what I like" is "what everyone wants and needs"; there are enough people here already doing that.

  • no conspiracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nine-times ( 778537 ) <> on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @02:51PM (#38217176) Homepage

    People tend to see conspiracies whenever something doesn't go the way they'd like. "Why didn't you do what I wanted you to do? It must be that you have a secret plan and you're out to get me!" In reality, I doubt that it was about Jobs wanting to make sure people can't do [whatever] with their computers, but because various people don't want to bother with it. In spite of the article's claim that there were "frequent calls to [revive Hypercard]" and a "more-or-less guaranteed and lively market", there probably wasn't enough actual interest to warrant development.

    See here's the thing: there are lots of things aimed at allowing people to script/automate things. There's Applescript and Automator, and some of these sorts of "programs" can be made with Filemaker products. If you want to get deeper, you can get Xcode for free. It's not as though there are no tools available.

    I think the real problem is that there's a lot of people who don't want to deal with the complications of making their own applications, even if it's as simple as Hypercard. Then there are people who do want to make their own applications and are willing to learn Xcode. There isn't a lot in between, and for those people, Automator and scripting serves well enough, and Apple probably thinks those are better solutions than Hypercard.

  • by Forbman ( 794277 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @02:51PM (#38217186)

    Actually, I think that more than a few do, but the current programming tools are actually more or less for those who do it for a living.

    BillG was right - give the amateurs a decent enough tool to make THEIR lives more interesting. Granted, it does then frustrate the hell out of the professionals at work when these amateur hacks somehow metastasize off of their original builder's desktop and becomes a business tool, but... the wiser of us then see this as an opportunity to come up with a spec for a "real" application that is much closer to how the people actually doing that work see and do their work...

  • by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @02:52PM (#38217194) Homepage Journal

    Look, the average user is not us. The average user doesn't want to program their computer. The average user is, in fact, in the market for an expensive video telephone that also plays Angry Birds. That's why HyperCard was killed, and why the company that killed it went on to make literally unimaginable amounts of money. I don't like Steve Jobs or the direction Apple has gone in the past twenty years but I'm not going to delude myself into thinking that "what I like" is "what everyone wants and needs"; there are enough people here already doing that.

    beh. the average office drone actually needs/wants to get easier. hypercards helped with that kind of stuff. they were used by now bald senile geezers to do stuff that nowadays turns into a fucking web app with a 9 month acquirement/development contract. I suppose it helps the economy in some weird way though. same goes by the way to desktop access databases which have their place. nowadays it's put online after being contracted to some php dweebs.

    you want the real reason hypercard got killed? Jobs had too much riding personally on tech from next.


  • by mikael_j ( 106439 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @02:52PM (#38217198)

    Ok, so maybe AppleScript and Quartz Composer aren't 100% exactly what Hypercard was, but they're still there, and there's Xcode if you want to do "real" development. Not to mention that you've got all the usual *nix tools available if you're that kind of power user.

    To pretend that Apple killed Hypercard because it interfered with the Mac "walled garden" is just a conspiracy theory. If that was the reason it was killed and remained dead then Mac OS X wouldn't ship with python and Bash. Apple wouldn't have been giving Xcode away (and recently selling it as a download for $5). Nor would they have provided Quartz Composer and AppleScript.

    But yeah sure, walled garden, ooooh, spooky...

  • by ultramk ( 470198 ) <ultramk&pacbell,net> on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @02:55PM (#38217224)

    Apple didn't kill Hypercard, the WWW did.

    But by the time they actually stopped selling it, it hadn't been updated in many many years. All the people who were really into Hypercard had long since migrated into two different technologies: Supercard, which is still being made I guess (most versions of Myst were built on it), and this little technology called... oh gosh, what was it now... "HTML" or something like that.

    Seriously, just about anything you could possibly want to do in Hypercard could be done just as easily in HTML with the advantage of being accessible to the world at large. There were a few exceptions, but those were taken care of at first by plugins and now by HTML5.

    Mind you, I say this as someone who ran the Hypercard SIG at one of northern California's largest MUGs.

  • Look, the average user is not us.

    But that doesn't mean Apple has to actively hinder the average user from becoming us.

  • by sunderland56 ( 621843 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @02:57PM (#38217254)
    Any cancelled project that was *truly* useful has several open-source versions of the same idea. So, where is hypercard for linux?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @03:00PM (#38217296)

    beh. the average office drone actually needs/wants to get easier. hypercards helped with that kind of stuff. they were used by now bald senile geezers to do stuff that nowadays turns into a fucking web app with a 9 month acquirement/development contract.

    No it doesn't, it gets done with an Excel macro, which is a more appropriate tool. Hypercard was fucking awesome if you were a kid trying to learn a bit about programming, but it never had a place in the business world. And even if it had tried to cater to that market, Apple didn't have the market penetration for it to matter.

  • by Anrego ( 830717 ) * on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @03:06PM (#38217378)

    Or Excel.

    As a developer my first instinct was to baulk.. but I've come to accept that Excel can be pretty useful for ultra simple business "apps". Most business-y stuff revolves around tables of numbers anyway.. throw a little VB logic in there and you can get a lot done for very little effort (and you won't even miss that chunk of inner child).

  • by robmv ( 855035 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @03:06PM (#38217384)

    Centuries ago (in some parts of the world a mere fraction of a century): Look, the average person is not us, The average person doesn't want to read and write, they only want to follow the rules we write and read for them.

    Stop being elitist, some day people will have the tools to solve their computing problems themselves. Regular users write spreadsheets, add formulas, add simple scripts, they only need better tools to do more than that

  • by jandrese ( 485 ) <> on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @03:15PM (#38217470) Homepage Journal
    Supercard was expensive, it's not the sort of thing a parent would buy on a whim. The beauty of Hypercard is that it came with the OS so kids could discover the joy of coding on their own. The language was designed so a person reading the source could start to figure it out quickly. It was the perfect gateway language.

    Unfortunately, Hypercard gave way to Hypercard Player, which then became a specialized commercial product, and at that point Hypercard as phenomenon was dead.
  • by Slashdot Assistant ( 2336034 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @03:16PM (#38217490)
    FileMaker Pro and Excel cover the bulk of small-scale tools and automation needs in the office. AppleScript and Automator bind them together to be able to build some pretty good systems. You may be romanticizing the old days. Just as now, most people had neither the ability nor the inclination to make things easier. HyperCard was powerful and relatively accessible. Let's not kid ourselves though that the average number cruncher or sales guy in an office is going to fire it up and quickly churn-out a CRM system that isn't a piece of shit?

    It's mostly pot-luck if someone in the office has a hacker mentality or even enough of an interest to begin coding/scripting. Given how computing in general has changed, I'd suspect that a smaller percentage of people are coming in to today's workforce with a hacker mentality. How many people below the age of 30 would have begun with computers that dropped them straight in to BASIC? How many computer magazines these days publish code listings, compared to in the 80s?
  • by voidptr ( 609 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @03:35PM (#38217692) Homepage Journal

    XCode is still free with OS X today, long after Apple absorbed NeXT. Plus, Apple has dumped plenty of resources into XCode and Cocoa every year to make it easier and easier to do simple programming tasks of the sort which is being discussed, things like Core Data and Bindings on top of Interface Builder.

  • by Kamiza Ikioi ( 893310 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @03:36PM (#38217710)

    "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."
    - Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of DEC

    Steve Jobs also famously said that the people don't know what they want until it is shown to them. He spoke of Henry Ford, saying that if he had asked what people wanted before the automotive revolution, they'd say a faster horse.

    I don't believe people don't want to program. In fact, they absolutely do want to program. They just don't want to learn a programming language to do it. Natural language programming and learned skillsets are how we teach children. Few people want to use a calendar, but you can talk to Siri, and it interfaces for you. Few people want to work spreadsheets, but does all of the calculations for you.

    People want to be in control. They just want that control to conform to their natural skill sets, not new obscure skill sets.

  • by ocdude ( 932504 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @03:38PM (#38217728)
    The average user doesn't want to become us. They want to get stuff done and not have to think about the underlying application or hardware or even HOW they are getting their tasks accomplished.
  • by Caerdwyn ( 829058 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @03:49PM (#38217898) Journal

    If Hypercard and the concept behind it is so great, why aren't you superior basement-dwellers writing your own? If you've been "bemoaning" its loss for over a decade, why aren't there a hundred open source versions?

    Oh yeah. You want Apple to do it for you, at their expense, so you can take it for free while at the same time claiming you invented it and bashing Apple for doing all your research and hard work for you. You want to keep yourselves on pedestals so that nobody can send an email without consulting a Birkenstock-clad neckbeard. Too bad Apple is making all the toys that previously were your domains to "idiots" and "sheep" and anybody else who doesn't think that you should need to devote your life to computing to be "worthy" of using a computer.

    No wonder nobody important pays attention to what the "Slashdot community" wants.

  • by Capt.DrumkenBum ( 1173011 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @03:53PM (#38217938)

    "How many computer magazines these days publish code listings, compared to in the 80s?"

    I miss those days. Copy typing in a progran for hours from the magazine. Finally to type RUN, and see the glorious "SN error at 30", and the dawning realization that you had hours more of trying to figure out your typos, or worse trying to figure out what they had misprinted. Then to finally get it to run only to discover the magazine artists had shown great artistic license with their artwork next to the program listing.
    Finally to forget to save it to tape, shut off your computer, and realize you could do it all again tomorrow. :) Those were the days.

    Also, get off my lawn.

  • by jgrahn ( 181062 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @03:53PM (#38217940)

    Look, the average user is not us. The average user doesn't want to program their computer. The average user is, in fact, in the market for an expensive video telephone that also plays Angry Birds.

    Isn't it possible that this is because Apple and others trained the average user to believe that?

  • Re:Occam's Razor (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @03:58PM (#38217996) Homepage

    The exception that proves the rule. If on the other hand you had listed hundreds of applications, you would have proven your point.

    Same thing happens with functional programming. People don't realize just how pathetic it sounds when they always use the same three examples to prove that they matter.

    Compare this to the list of examples you would give if you were asked for successful programs written in C, C++ or Java.

  • Re:no conspiracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jalefkowit ( 101585 ) <.moc.ztiwokfelnosaj. .ta. .nosaj.> on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @03:59PM (#38218008) Homepage

    Or an even simpler explanation -- rather than going through Apple's portfolio looking for things to axe, Jobs instead went through the portfolio looking for things to keep, and axed everything that didn't make the list. Given Apple's cash-strapped position in the late '90s, the list ended up being relatively short -- desktop Macs, laptop Macs, OS X -- so anything that wasn't directly related to one of those things was going to get cut.

  • by SirGarlon ( 845873 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @04:13PM (#38218180)

    The average user doesn't want to program their computer.

    Have you ever noticed that whenever anyone in IT speaks of the "average user," it is always with more than a hint of contempt?

    And so we throw the exceptional user under the bus because (we claim) the "average user" doesn't want to think. I did not know we were in the business of promoting mediocrity.

    I'm not going to delude myself into thinking that "what I like" is "what everyone wants and needs"; there are enough people here already doing that.

    Amen to that! However has it occurred to you that users might not only be different from "us," but also different from one another? I think there is a lot more diversity in the computer-using population than we tend to think there is: diversity in expertise, diversity in needs, diversity in preferences.

  • by billcopc ( 196330 ) <> on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @05:04PM (#38218742) Homepage


    The computers I use are nothing like the ones my wife or parents need. They have no use for 12 cores and 48 gigs of ram . They don't know what a compiler is. They mostly think programmers are weird magical beings that speak in "binary" and know how to do their own taxes. When I talk of all the work I do with virtual machines, I now make references to Inception, because that's as close as they will ever get to understanding the concept. They think a server is a mythical hyper-expensive meta-machine that is neither PC nor Mac, that houses mysterious super electronics including quantum processors and dilithium cores.

    These people never had a use for Hypercard, and never will. They can barely distinguish the two buttons on a standard mouse, and have to retype their password 10 times until they get it right (it's "password2", because "password1" would be too obvious!). For their uses, the more appliance-like things are, the better. Most users today are stumped by a command line. God forbid they'd have to use that thing with all the letters on it, that's for "serious hacker shit" only.

    Apple simple saw that the so-called "power users" were a dwindling species, replaced by Lifehackers and Redditors and other barely-technical wanna-bes. Now you're either a user or a developer, with not much of a market for people stuck in the middle, where Hypercard thrived.

  • by ILongForDarkness ( 1134931 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @05:12PM (#38218860)
    It is also a matter of who's time does it save? Perhaps burning 2 weeks of your time is worth it because it is saving your boss that 6 hours twice a year, or your customer who is frustrated with the process. Or automating is the only way it will get done. As it: the user just won't do that step unless you make it really easy for them. Ex. add the time you started this task to this spreadsheet every day will you? Versus a form popping up asking "what's your task"? In my experience automation tasks often happen because there isn't anything better for you to do. Say your doing sys admin work. 20hrs a week you are sitting around because things are running smoothly. So you spend that time automating things so that each week the remaining time required becomes less and less. You can than manage more things, or spend more time reading comic books or whatever.

    Lastly a huge justification for automation: things are done consistently. Forms are completely filled out, user accounts are profiled correctly, network shares have group rights assigned appropriately etc. If you do things manually you might forget something, or leave random stuff incorrect later (ex. employee leaves a department but no one knows what they have access too, what they should have access to etc, so it is always a manual process doing any change).

  • by ILongForDarkness ( 1134931 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @05:22PM (#38219026)
    And pay us oodles of money because we are the wizards and they the pages. Works for me. People interested in a craft will figure out the tools. People not interested won't care to learn they'll get someone else to do it for them. Ex. I'm not interested in masonary. When I needed brick work done I didn't say "well I only need a chisel, a hammer, and a bucket to mix motar". I didn't care, it didn't interest me, I certainly couldn't be bothered spending the time to become proficient in the task so I paid a few grand and had someone that already knew what they are doing to do the work for me. Works for me, they got the sunburn while I played videogames.
  • by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @06:46PM (#38220368)

    Which came out first on the NeXT.

    Excel is what Microsoft has done for innovation and bringing the world forward in this space. i.e. Nothing.

    Seriously. What are you thinking? Microsoft's business model is selling you the same thing again and again and again every 18 months. This time with strips.

  • by Zadaz ( 950521 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @06:47PM (#38220378)

    If people REALLY wanted a Hypercard-like program, there were alternatives.

    Yup. It was called HTML.

    Around 1995 there was a university teaching some kind of "The future of publishing" class. It was mostly just Hypercard. Some FTP, Gopher, etc. About 3 weeks in the prof came in said "To hell with Hypercard, we're learning HTML." even though the prof was learning right along with the students.

    Within a year all of those students had been scouted by internet startups.

  • by Caerdwyn ( 829058 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @06:56PM (#38220494) Journal

    And just how many hours a day do you think average users have available to become "You Lite"? Do you even practice what you preach on any subject other than software?

    Next time you seek health care or travel, be glad that doctors, plumbers and pilots don't have the same attitude toward you which you have toward them. Discover your own antibiotics and do your own labwork. Do your own surgery; if you're too lazy to learn, screw you and your tumor. Muck out your own septic tank so you can smell like you act. Fly your own damned plane, and while you're at it, BUILD your own damned plane. And house. And car.

    I'm building my own plane, so yeah, that does in fact make me better than you, Linux-boy. Like the attitude? Got it from you.

    --pilot, mechanic, ham "extra", and... oh yeah, software engineer.

  • by b4dc0d3r ( 1268512 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @10:07PM (#38222112)

    I automate things because I can.

    I watched a coworker have to click 'submit' and then select 'today' 40 times in a row every day because the required data entry tool for attendance tracking comes up with a blank slate, not sensible defaults for the use case.

    So I made a daemon app - when you click the submit button, it auto-populates whatever you had there before. Saved 30 minutes every day.

    But I didn't calculate how much time it would save. I just knew it would be annoying as piss to do that 40 times a day, and she didn't have the skills to fix it. So I did. On my own time, after hours.

    I chose my house via website scraping and automation, and I know far more about various internet related subjects than any reasonable person because I insist on automation. I would rather automate a task that I might use again rather than do it twice manually. Sometimes I don't have the choice.

    I don't know WTF hypercard does exactly, but I can guarantee you that anyone who used it has a leg up on their coworker or cohabitant or cohuman.

    The more you practice saving time, the better you get at actually saving time. Hypercard, Excel, Powerpoint, whatever it is - there are shortcuts, and we should practice using them. Point is, you have to practice saving time. If you automate something that no one ever uses, you probably learned something. And that means a lot, probably more than whatever you earn per minute times the number of minutes spent.

Someday your prints will come. -- Kodak