Hypercard: Because it's thirty+ years old now

Who here has used hypercard? What can you tell the rest of us that this article does not?


I never used it - never had a chance to - but I read about it, probably in BYTE, and it sounded rather special. I’m not sure I got the idea that it was a fully capable programming environment.

HyperCard - What Is It? by Brian L. Dear

Finally, the Macintosh has a friendly environment for programmers. HyperCard has been called a hypertext system, a relational database manager, a game, and an “information handler.” Despite all proclamations, however, it’s none of these; rather, it’s a tool for developing any and all of them. Undeniably, it’s a fun way to work, but what exactly is it, and why the fuss?

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I never used it either. Macs were (and still are) out of my price range and not all that interesting to me. But I do remember reading several articles on “advanced” hypercard stuff in DDJ in the late 80s early 90s. Might be worth a look. I don’t know how much they said is mentioned in the article above. I didn’t read the article and it’s been 30 years since I read the relevant issues of DDJ.

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Oops! What an omission… but I too didn’t read it, until now. And it’s a very good article! Thanks @Singletona!

It turns out you can run Hypercard in your browser courtesy of the Internet Archive, and they have many stacks available. They even have an automatic upload process for your own stacks - see their article here. Here’s a comment from it:

I am dying to know where some of these stacks were scraped from. I was made aware of this by a google alert for my name leading me to a HyperCard animation I made and uploaded to AOL when I was 10 which I was sure I would never see again. My mind was blown today. This is amazing.

And here are some thousands of preserved stacks to explore in-browser. I see there are games, and utilities, and mind maps, and all sorts. Here’s one about Pi:

For myself, I wrote one or two little mind-maps in AmigaGuide, or possibly a mini-adventure, which if you include AREXX scripting might approximate the capabilities, if not the user-friendliness, of HyperCard. (It’s not sandboxed…)

I see there’s an in-browser recreation too, ViperCard - via Why Hypercard Had to Die.

Nice idea - all of DDJ is online and searchable, so here’s an example:
749 An Introduction to HyperCard Programming DAN ALLEN

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The base paradigm with HyperCard was stacks of cards. You would drag and drop fields on to cards, and the cards would become templates for new cards.

A simple example is an address list. You’d make a blank card with Name, Address, City, and Zip.

Then you’d create a new card based on that template, fill in the fields, and save it. Do that several times and you have a “stack” of address cards. You could easily search these cards, and navigate through them.

You weren’t limited to a single style of card for a stack.

Then, on top of that core functionality, you have basic event driven programming with buttons and such. Add on the graphics capability of the Mac, and you had a nice little development environment that could be used by an end user.

The system was reasonably powerful, Goodman’s book on Hypertalk (the novel, English-like scripting language for HyperCard) is pretty big.

The biggest limitations of HyperCard was that it was pretty much stuck to the size of the cards based on the original Macintosh, it never really scaled out.

But, it was quite popular at the time. The game Myst was originally a HyperCard stack.

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That’s good. I remember buying the CD’s, but I’ve misplaced them after all these years. And during a remodel a few years ago, I purged several years worth of issue.

Larry Tesler gave us Smalltalkers at BIX (Byte Information eXchange) advanced hints about the Hypercard launch. I got it as soon as possible and it was the only programming my mother ever did.

There were clones like SuperCard and ToolBook from Asymmetrix. The latter powered many CD-ROM based applications through the 1990s. Eventually VisualBasic took up most of the niche that Hypercard had even though it left most of the casual programmers behind.

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The game, “The Manhole”, was mentioned in the article as a wanderlust game designed for children launched by the people who would eventually create the game, “Myst”.

If you’re interested in reading more about “The Manhole”, I recommend this article by Jimmy Maher about the game.


Regarding the Ars Technica article: If I recall this right, you could in fact link to a remote HyperCard stack via Apple Talk (and Apple Talk was part of IP, but not widely supported), so you could build the web with HyperCard. I think, this feature wasn’t in the first revision, but only came later.

I had a brief look at ViolaWWW and the influence is enormous. There’s an API for almost every major HyperCard feature (even drawing and basic sound) and all the objects and methods are exposed to scripting. Scripting was rather C-style, but by passing messages to encapsulated objects, just like in Hypertalk. There were additional classes for TTY, HTTP-clients and accessing the file system. In a nutshell, ViolaWWW was a HyperCard clone with HTML-support and stylesheets (yes, ViolaWWW had stylesheets long before CSS). To get around HyperCard’s limitation to fixed layouts, ViolaWWW added “hpane” and “vpane” classes to facilitate dynamic flow layout, which was all that was actually required.
(I’m planning to do a blog post on ViolaWWW in the next weeks, as I find some time. Let’s see…)

Personal note: Hypertalk’s “me” was the perfect introduction to the “this”-object, as was the message flow for event-bubbling, so I found myself quite well prepared for JS. :slight_smile:


I would love that! :slight_smile:


I briefly used in the mid 90s, on my first Macintosh, a LC 630.
If I remember correctly there were two versions of Hypercard. One was just a reader of stacks, while the full one allowed you to edit existing stacks, add your cards and things, like text, images, controls and sounds.

I remember it as very intuitive in use although a bit cumbersome in its potential, since If I’m not mistaken you were constrained by the usually very small size of the card, which was rectangular and didn’t allow the use the full size of the Mac’s screen.


If I recall this correctly, the HyperCard player was free and came with each Mac, while the authoring system (user mode 5, I believe) was commercial software. However, there was some inconsistency in marketing policies and bundling varied.

Something I do remember from my (limited) experience: While HyperCard was originally B&W only, there was an extension for color stacks, but using this one, you lost effects and transitions. So, if you wanted do a sophisticated stack, it was “do I want a really nice stack in B&W or do I want color and gray scale for really nice visuals but no choreography”.

BTW, Here’s the Users Guide for HyperCard 1.0 (1987):

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