HyperCard for the Unconvinced (ABC94.04)

by Gareth Jones

News Flash: Apple Computer reclassifies its program "HyperCard IIGS" as "system software." What does this mean to a GS user who doesn't own HyperCard?

On the simplest level, it means that the system software has doubled from six to twelve 3.5" disks. You should be able to get a copy of HyperCard (without manuals, but with on-line help) from the same source as your other system software. Try an Apple Authorized dealer or your local users' group. As a last resort, try sending an order to either Joe Kohn c/o ShareWare Solutions II, 166 Alpine Street, San Rafael, CA 94901 where the cost is $15 (US) or,
Steve Cavanaugh, Apple Blossom Publishing, 26 Moulton St., Brockton, MA 02302 where the cost is $12.00 (US).

On a more significant level, HyperCard may cost you. The hardware requirements for running it include 2 MB of memory and a hard drive. In addition, any HyperCard user who wants to get started with the program should also order a copy of its three manuals from The Byte Works (phone 505-898-8183 or connect to http://www.hypermall.com/byteworks/ via the World Wide Web). You can advance in your use of the program by stealing scripts and script ideas from Macintosh HyperCard books and by using HyperCard's built-in Help.

HyperCard has always been a hard program to define. As a result, many people have not realized what it has to offer. Among other things, HyperCard IIGS is:

You may have noticed that I didn't use the word "hypermedia" to describe HyperCard. I suspect that some people haven't given HyperCard a chance because of that word. They want to solve specific problems: create a graphic, manage their finances, perform a calculation. "Will hypermedia help me do that?" they'll wonder, they'll come to the decision that it won't, and they'll go back to solving the problem in a paint program, a finance program, or BASIC.

It might help experienced Apple II users to think of HyperCard as BASIC for the GS. That is, it is available free as part of the system software, it gives control over the computer to the user, and anything you ever saw done in BASIC can be done better and easier in HyperTalk. That includes writing startup programs, creating, displaying, and editing text files, creating graphics under control of a program, animation, searching databases, and playing music.

The main difference between BASIC and HyperCard is that the hardest part of making a polished BASIC program, creating an attractive and error-trapped user interface, is the easiest part of making a HyperCard stack. Other differences include HyperTalk's access to the System Clipboard, GS fonts, SHR graphics, and control over new-fangled peripherals such as CD-ROMs and videodisks.

If you haven't used BASIC much, here's another way to think of HyperCard, direct from its creator: Bill Atkinson described it as a "software erector set." In it, you can create objects (text fields, buttons, art) and move them around the screen until you're satisfied with their look and functionality. This, incidentally, is how the Newton computer was designed: the engineers used HyperCard to try out various designs and functions. When they were satisfied, they built it.

The down side to HyperCard is, paradoxically, how much it offers you. Learning to control every aspect of this huge program requires real dedication, lots of reference material, and help from experienced hands. The reward for this effort is control over almost everything that your computer can do. In a time when commercial development of programs for the IIGS is slowing down, this reward is more valuable than ever.

I'll end this with the thought that GS system software has almost become a complete software suite. It includes music editing and playback (synthLAB), a simple word processor (Teach), a program launcher (Finder), backup software (Archiver), an arcade game (AppleBowl) and now it has the painting, programming, database, and icon editing capabilities of HyperCard as well. All we're missing are page layout and a spreadsheet. (Just kidding, Apple). The reincarnation of HyperCard IIGS as System Software is a great deal for GS users.

Gareth Jones is the former Editor of Apples B.C. News and a Contributing Editor of Hyper Quarterly, a new magazine-on-disk devoted to HyperCard IIGS stacks.

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