HyperCard is application software and a programming tool for Apple
Apple IIGS computers. It is among the first successful
hypermedia systems before the World Wide Web.
It combines database abilities with a graphical, flexible,
HyperCard also features HyperTalk, a
programming language for manipulating data and the user interface.
This combination of features – simple form layout, database
abilities, and ease of programming – led to widespread use in many
different roles. Some
HyperCard users employed it as a programming
system for rapid application development of applications and
databases, others for building interactive applications with no
database requirements, command and control systems, and many examples
in the demoscene.
HyperCard was originally released in 1987 for $49.95 and was included
for free with all new Macs sold then. It was withdrawn from sale in
March 2004 after its final update in 1998.
HyperCard ran in the
Classic Environment, but was not ported to Mac OS X.
1 Similarities and differences to the World Wide Web
8 Similar systems
9 See also
12 External links
Similarities and differences to the World Wide Web
Through its influence on
Robert Cailliau (who assisted in developing
Tim Berners-Lee's first Web browser),
HyperCard influenced the
HyperCard stacks did not operate over the Internet, by 1988,
at least 300 stacks were publicly available for download from the
CompuServe network (which was not connected to the official
Internet yet) and the system could link phone numbers on a user's
computer together and enable them to dial numbers without a modem.
In this sense, like the Web it did form a brain-like association- or
link-based experience of information browsing, despite not operating
remotely over the TCP/IP protocol then. Like the Web, it also allowed
for the connections of many different kinds of media.
Macintosh SE/30 was one of the computers that ran the
HyperCard is based on the concept of a "stack" of virtual "cards".
Cards hold data, just as they would in a
Rolodex card-filing device.
Each card contains a set of interactive objects, including text
fields, check boxes, buttons, and similar common graphical user
interface (GUI) elements. Users "browse" the stack by navigating from
card to card, using built-in navigation features, a powerful search
mechanism, or through user-created scripts.
Users build new stacks or modify extant ones by adding new cards. They
place GUI objects on the cards using an interactive layout engine
based on a simple drag-and-drop interface. Also,
prototype or template cards termed backgrounds; when new cards are
created they can refer to one of these background cards, which causes
all of the objects on the background to be copied onto the new card.
This way, a stack of cards with a common layout and functionality can
be created. The layout engine is similar in concept to a "form" as
used in most rapid application development (RAD) environments (such as
Borland Delphi, and Microsoft
Visual Basic and Visual Studio).
The database features of the
HyperCard system are based on the storage
of the state of all of the objects on the cards in the physical file
representing the stack. The database did not exist as a separate
system within the
HyperCard stack; no database engine or similar
construct exists. Instead, the state of any object in the system was
considered to be live and editable at any time. From the HyperCard
runtime's perspective, there was no difference between moving a text
field on the card and typing into it, both operations simply changed
the state of the target object within the stack. Such changes are
immediately saved when complete, so typing into a field caused that
text to be stored to the stack's physical file. The system operates in
a largely stateless fashion, with no need to save during operation.
This is in common with many database-oriented systems, although
somewhat different from document-based applications.
The final key element in
HyperCard was the script, a single
code-carrying element of every object within the stack. The script was
a text field which contents were interpreted in the
(detailed below). Like any other property, the script of any object
could be edited at any time and changes were saved as soon as they
were complete. When the user invokes actions in the GUI, like clicking
on a button or typing into a field, these actions are translated into
events by the
HyperCard runtime. The runtime then examines the script
of the object that was the target of the event, like a button, to see
if its script object contains code for that event, code termed a
handler. If it does, the
HyperTalk engine runs the handler, if it does
not, the runtime examines other objects in the visual hierarchy.
HyperCard Mania!" Computer Chronicles, 1987 archive.org (Internet
These concepts make up the majority of the
HyperCard system; stacks,
backgrounds and cards provide a form-like GUI system, the stack file
provides object persistence and database-like functionality, and
HyperTalk allows handlers to be written for GUI events. Unlike the
majority of RAD or database systems of the era, however, HyperCard
combined all of these features, both user-facing and developer-facing,
in a single application. This allowed rapid turnaround and immediate
prototyping, allowing users to author custom solutions to problems
with their own personalized interface. "Empowerment" became a
catchword as this possibility was embraced by the
as was the phrase "programming for the rest of us", that is,
anyone, not just professional programmers.
It was this combination of features that also made
powerful hypermedia system. Users could build backgrounds to suit the
needs of some system, say a rolodex, and use simple
to provide buttons to move from place to place within the stack, or
provide the same navigation system within the data elements of the UI,
like text fields. Using these features, it is easy to build linked
systems similar to hypertext links on the Web. Unlike the Web,
programming, placement and browsing were all the same tool – similar
systems have been created for
HTML but traditional Web services are
considerably more heavyweight.
Main article: HyperTalk
HyperCard contains an object oriented scripting language called
HyperTalk. Objects exist in a message path hierarchy and respond to
messages generated by either the user or the system (timers for
instance). Objects inherit properties and attributes from those above
them in the hierarchy.
HyperTalk object classes are predetermined by
HyperCard environment, although others can be added by the use of
externals (see below).
HyperTalk is verbose, hence its ease of use and
HyperTalk code segments are referred to as "scripts", a
term that was considered less daunting to beginning programmers.
HyperCard object class, contains a set of "properties". For
example, buttons are a type of object, and come in standard styles. To
determine, say, whether a checkbox style button is in fact checked, a
script can simply call the highlight property, which would return
either true or false. In a similar way, objects can be analyzed via
functions. For example, the number of lines in text field (another
type of object) can be determined by a variant of the number function,
called simply as the number of lines of field 'fieldName'. This is
very useful when performing a given action on each separate line of
the field. The script that implements the action need only call the
function to know exactly the number of lines it must process. Should
the field data change, the already coded function call will still be
HyperTalk is a weakly typed language. All variables, and in fact all
values of any kind, are stored as typeless character strings handled
by the interpreter as numbers or text based purely on context. This
has a cost in speed. Variables need not be declared, but rather are
created on the fly as they are required. For example, the following
expression creates a variable named total, and sets its initial value:
put 15 into total. Then the expression add 3 to total would result in
the string "18" being stored in that variable. Taking this further, a
powerful and intuitive structure known as "chunking" allows precise
manipulation of text and number strings. It is possible, for example,
to have the second character of the value "123" (the 2) added to the
last character of the value "12345", yielding "12347". For another
example, word 3 of "life is cruel" (cruel) can be appended after the
first word of "Hello world", yielding "Hello cruel world". It would
then be possible to put "Goodbye" into the first word of that string,
replacing the current value of that word to yield "Goodbye cruel
world". The above mentioned terms: character, word, first, last,
after, and into, among many others, offer English-like control over
the ability to crunch numbers and parse text, down to the character
HyperTalk supports most standard programming structures such as
"if-then" and "repeat". The "if-then" structure is so flexible that it
even allows "case" structured code.
HyperTalk scripting allows the system to be easily modified and
extended. Unlike many procedural languages, and even many scripting
HyperTalk proved to be far more accessible to a wide range
of users, partly because scripts were more or less readable as
English. For instance, put the first word of the third line of field
"hello" into field "goodbye" did exactly that. Referring to objects
and the items on cards or backgrounds is easy. The example above shows
how to access data within a field on a given card, but one can refer
to any object in the same fashion, including the stack. All objects
can be named or renamed, as in the example above. Also, each object
(including the stack) has a unique numeric identifier (ID) that never
alters during the object's life.
Adding scripts is also easy. The user simply command-option-clicked
(or could click the Script button in the item's property dialog) on
any element in the stack, and an editor would pop up. The script may
then be edited, saved, and used immediately. Also,
a Message Box, an interactive command-line in a floating window that
can execute single lines of script. This also includes the find
command, so it doubles as a search dialog.
HyperCard 2.0 added a
HyperTalk was sufficiently popular that one of its main uses was not
as a database, but as a programming tool that empowered ordinary
computer users. Thousands of stacks were written and distributed as
stackware in the years when
HyperCard was widely available. As stated
above, programming "for the rest of us", that is, for
non-professionals, allowed many thousands of personal applications to
be created by individuals with a need for personal software solutions.
Some are still in use today.
Many hardware and software vendors provided their tutorials as
HyperCard stacks, since the application was bundled with all Macs.
The power of
HyperCard could be increased significantly through the
use of external command and external function modules, more commonly
termed XCMDs and XFCNs. These were code libraries packaged in a
resource fork that integrated into either the system generally or the
HyperTalk language specifically; this was an early example of the
plug-in concept. Unlike conventional plug-ins, these did not require
separate installation before they were available for use; they could
be included in a stack, where they were directly available to scripts
in that stack.
During HyperCard's peak popularity in the late 1980s, a whole
ecosystem of vendors offered thousands of these externals for
HyperTalk compilers to graphing systems, database
access, internet connectivity, and animation. Oracle offered an XCMD
HyperCard to directly query Oracle databases on any
platform. This was later superseded by Oracle's
Oracle Card product.
BeeHive Technologies offered a hardware interface that allowed the
computer to control external devices. Connected via the Apple Desktop
Bus (ADB), this instrument could read the state of connected external
switches or write digital outputs to a multitude of devices.
Externals allow access to the
Macintosh Toolbox, which contained many
lower level commands and functions not native to HyperTalk, such as
control of the serial and ADB ports.
HyperCard was created by
Bill Atkinson following an lysergic acid
diethylamide (LSD) trip. Work for it began in March 1985 under the
name of WildCard (hence its creator code of 'WILD'). In 1986, Dan
Winkler began work on
HyperTalk and the name was changed to HyperCard
for trademark reasons. It was initially released in August 1987, with
the understanding that Atkinson would give
HyperCard to Apple only if
the company promised to release it for free on all Macs. Apple timed
its release to coincide with the
MacWorld Conference & Expo in
Massachusetts to guarantee maximum publicity.
HyperCard was a huge hit almost instantly. Many people who thought
they would never be able to program a computer started using HyperCard
for many automation and prototyping tasks, a surprise even to its
creator. Apple never seemed to understand what
HyperCard's target market for users should be. Project managers found
it was being used by a huge number of people, internally and
externally. Bug reports and upgrade suggestions continued to flow in,
demonstrating it had a wide variety of users. Since it was also free,
it was difficult to justify dedicating engineering resources to
improvements in the software. It was not lost on Apple or its
mainstream developers that the power
HyperCard gave to people could
cut into the sales of ordinary shrink-wrapped products. Stewart
Alsop II speculated that
HyperCard might replace Finder as the
Macintosh graphic user interface.
In late 1989, Kevin Calhoun, then a
HyperCard engineer at Apple, led
an effort to upgrade the program. This resulted in
released in 1990. The new version included an on-the-fly compiler that
greatly increased performance of computationally intensive code, a new
debugger and many improvements to the underlying
At the same time
HyperCard 2.0 was being developed, a separate group
within Apple developed and in 1991 released
HyperCard IIGS, a version
HyperCard for the
Apple IIGS system. Aimed mainly at the education
HyperCard IIGS had roughly the same feature set as the 1.x
Macintosh HyperCard, while adding support for the color
graphics abilities of the IIGS. Although stacks (
documents) were not binary-compatible, a translator program (another
HyperCard stack) allowed stacks to be moved from one platform to the
Then, Apple decided that most of its application software packages,
including HyperCard, would be the property of a wholly owned
subsidiary called Claris. Many of the
HyperCard developers chose to
stay at Apple rather than move to Claris, causing the development team
to be split. Claris, in the business of selling software for a profit,
attempted to create a business model where
HyperCard could also
generate revenues. At first the freely-distributed versions of
HyperCard shipped with authoring disabled. Early versions of Claris
HyperCard contained an Easter Egg: typing 'magic' into the message box
would convert the player into a full
environment. When this trick became nearly-universal they wrote a
new viewer only version, the
HyperCard Player which Apple distributed
Macintosh operating system, while
Claris sold the full
version commercially. Many users were upset that they had to pay to
use software that had traditionally been supplied free and which many
considered a basic part of the Mac.
Despite the new revenue stream,
Claris did little to market HyperCard.
Development continued with minor upgrades, and the first failed
attempt to create a third generation of HyperCard. During this period,
HyperCard began losing market share. Without several important, basic
HyperCard authors began moving to systems such as SuperCard
and Macromedia Authorware. Nonetheless,
HyperCard continued to be
popular and used for a widening range of applications, from the game
The Manhole, an earlier effort by the creators of Myst, to corporate
information services, and many thousands in between.
Apple eventually folded
Claris back into the parent company, returning
HyperCard to Apple's core engineering group. In 1992, Apple released
the eagerly anticipated upgrade of
HyperCard 2.2 and made many
HyperCard enthusiasts happy by including licensed versions of Color
Tools and Addmotion II, adding support for color pictures and
animations. However, these tools were limited and often cumbersome to
HyperCard still lacked true, internal color support.
Several attempts were made to restart
HyperCard development once it
returned to Apple. Because of the product's widespread use as a
multimedia-authoring tool it was rolled into the
QuickTime group. A
new effort to allow
HyperCard to create
QuickTime interactive (QTi)
movies started, once again under the direction of Kevin Calhoun. QTi
extended QuickTime's core multimedia playback features to provide true
interactive facilities and a low-level programming language based on
68000 assembly language. The resulting
HyperCard 3.0 was first
presented in 1996 when an alpha-quality version was shown to
developers at Apple's annual Apple Worldwide Developers Conference
(WWDC). Under the leadership of Dan Crow development continued
through the late 1990s, with public demos showing many popular
features such as color support, internet connectivity, and the ability
HyperCard stacks (which were now special
QuickTime movies) in
a web browser. Development of
HyperCard 3.0 stalled when the QuickTime
team was focused away from developing
QuickTime interactive to the
streaming features of
Steve Jobs disliked the
software because Atkinson had chosen to stay at Apple to finish it
instead of joining Jobs at NeXT, and (according to Atkinson) "it had
Sculley's stink all over it". In 2000, the
team was reassigned to other tasks after Jobs decided to abandon the
product. Calhoun and Crow both left Apple shortly after, in 2001.
In the years that followed, the program saw no more support from
Apple, which finally ceased selling
HyperCard in March 2004.
HyperCard runs natively only in the classic Mac OS, but it can still
be used in Mac OS X's Classic mode on PowerPC based machines (G5 and
earlier). The last functional native
HyperCard authoring environment
is Classic mode in Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) on PowerPC-based machines
(although it can be run on modern Intel-based machines, including
non-Apple hardware, by using an emulation layer such as SheepShaver).
HyperCard has been used for a range of hypertext and artistic
purposes. Before the advent of PowerPoint,
HyperCard was often used as
a general-purpose presentation program. Examples of HyperCard
applications include simple databases, "choose your own
adventure"–type games, and educational teaching aids.
Due to its rapid application design facilities,
HyperCard was also
often used for prototyping applications and sometimes even for version
1.0 implementations. Inside Apple, the
QuickTime team was one of
HyperCard's biggest customers.
HyperCard has lower hardware requirements than Macromedia Director.
Several commercial software products were created in HyperCard, most
notably the original version of the interactive game narrative
Myst, the Voyager Company's Expanded Books, and multimedia CD-ROMs
of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony CD-ROM, the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night,
and the Voyager MacBeth. An early electronic edition of the Whole
Earth Catalog was implemented in
HyperCard  and stored on
The prototype and demo of the popular game You Don't Know Jack was
written in HyperCard. Renault, the French auto manufacturer,
used it to control their inventory system.
In Quebec, Canada,
HyperCard was used to control a robot arm used to
insert and retrieve video disks at the National Film Board
HyperCard was also used to prototype a fully functional prototype of
SIDOCI (one of the very first experiments in the world to develop an
integrated electronic patient record system) and was heavily used by
Montréal Consulting firm DMR to demonstrate how "a typical day in the
life of a patient about to get surgery" would look like in a paperless
Activision, which was until then mainly a game company, saw HyperCard
as an entry point into the business market. Changing their name to
Mediagenic, they published several major
HyperCard based applications,
most notably Danny Goodman's Focal Point, a personal information
manager, and Reports For HyperCard, a program by Nine To Five Software
that allowed users to treat
HyperCard as a full database system with
robust information viewing and printing features.
SuperCard for a while included the Roadster
plug-in that allowed stacks to be placed inside Web pages and viewed
by web browsers with an appropriate browser plug-in. There was even a
Windows version of this plug-in allowing computers other than
Macintoshes to use the plug-in.
HyperCard virus was discovered in Belgium and the
Netherlands in April 1991.
HyperCard executed scripts in stacks immediately on opening,
it was also one of the first applications susceptible to macro
viruses. The Merryxmas virus was discovered in early 1993 by Ken
Dunham, two years before the Concept virus. Very few viruses were
based on HyperCard, and their overall impact was minimal.
Compute!'s Apple Applications in 1987 stated that
HyperCard "may make
Macintosh the personal computer of choice". While noting that its
large memory requirement made it best suited for computers with
2 MB of memory and hard drives, the magazine predicted that "the
smallest programming shop should be able to turn out stackware",
especially for using CD-ROMs. Compute! predicted in 1988 that most
future Mac software would be developed using HyperCard, if only
because using it was so addictive that developers "won't be able to
tear themselves away from it long enough to create anything else".
Byte in 1989 listed it as among the "Excellence" winners of the Byte
Awards. While stating that "like any first entry, it has some flaws",
the magazine wrote that "
HyperCard opened up a new category of
software", and praised Apple for bundling it with every Mac. In
Steve Wozniak called
HyperCard "the best program ever
HyperCard is one of the first products that made use of and
popularized the hypertext concept to a large popular base of users.
Jakob Nielsen has pointed out that
HyperCard was really only a
hypermedia program since its links started from regions on a card, not
text objects; actual HTML-style text hyperlinks were possible in later
versions, but were awkward to implement and seldom used. Deena
Larsen programmed links into
HyperCard for Marble Springs. Bill
Atkinson later lamented that if he had only realized the power of
network-oriented stacks, instead of focusing on local stacks on a
HyperCard could have become the first Web browser.
HyperCard saw a loss in popularity with the growth of the World Wide
Web, since the Web could handle and deliver data in much the same way
HyperCard without being limited to files on a local hard disk.
HyperCard had a significant impact on the web as it inspired the
creation of both
HTTP (through its influence on Tim Berners-Lee's
colleague Robert Cailliau), and
Eich, was inspired by HyperTalk). It was also a key inspiration
for ViolaWWW, an early web browser.
The pointing-finger cursor used for navigating stacks was later used
in the first web browsers, as the hyperlink cursor.
Myst computer game franchise, initially released as a HyperCard
stack and included bundled with some Macs (for example the Performa
5300), still lives on, making
HyperCard a facilitating technology for
starting one of the best-selling computer games of all time.
According to Ward Cunningham, the inventor of Wiki, the wiki concept
can be traced back to a
HyperCard stack he wrote in the late
In 2017 the
Internet Archive established a project to preserve and
HyperCard stacks, allowing users to upload their own.
Other companies offered their own versions. As of 2010[update], four
products are available which offer HyperCard-like abilities:
HyperNext is a software development system that uses many ideas from
HyperCard and can create both standalone applications and stacks that
run on the freeware Hypernext Player.
HyperNext is available for Mac
OS 9 & X, and Windows XP & Vista.
HyperStudio, one of the first
HyperCard clones, is as of 2009[update],
developed and published by Software MacKiev.
LiveCode, published by LiveCode, Ltd., expands greatly on HyperCard's
feature set and offers color and a GUI toolkit which can be
deployed on many popular platforms (Android, iOS, Classic Macintosh
system software, Mac OS X, Windows 98 through 10, and
LiveCode directly imports extant
HyperCard stacks and provides a
migration path for stacks still in use.
SuperCard, the first
HyperCard clone, is similar to HyperCard, but
with many added features such as: full color support, pixel and vector
graphics, a full GUI toolkit, and support for many modern Mac OS X
features. It can create both standalone applications and projects that
run on the freeware
SuperCard can also convert
HyperCard stacks into
SuperCard projects. It runs only on Macs.
Past products included:
Hyper DA by Symmetry was a Desk Accessory for classic single-tasked
Mac OS that allowed viewing
HyperCard 1.x stacks as added windows in
any extant application, and was also embedded into many Claris
MacDraw II) to display their user documentation.
HyperPad from Brightbill-Roberts was a clone of HyperCard, written for
DOS. It made use of ASCII linedrawing to create the graphics of cards
Plus, later renamed WinPlus, was a product similar to HyperCard, for
Windows and Macintosh.
Oracle purchased Plus and created a cross-platform version as Oracle
Card, later renamed Oracle Media Objects, used as a
4GL for database
Asymetrix's Windows application
ToolBook resembled HyperCard, and
later included an external converter to read
HyperCard stacks (the
first was a third-party product from Heizer software).
TileStack was an attempt to create a web based version of HyperCard
that is compatible with the original
HyperCard files. The site
closed down January 24, 2011.
In addition, many of the basic concepts of the original system were
later re-used in other forms. Apple built their system-wide scripting
AppleScript on a language similar to HyperTalk; it is often
used for desktop publishing (DTP) workflow automation needs.[citation
needed] In the 1990s
FaceSpan provided a third-party graphical
interface, and continues to do so today.
AppleScript also has a native
graphical programming front-end called Automator, released with Mac OS
X Tiger in April 2005. One of HyperCard's strengths was its handling
of multimedia, and many multimedia systems like Macromedia Authorware
Macromedia Director are based on concepts originating in
AppWare, originally named Serius Developer, is sometimes seen to be
similar to HyperCard, as both were rapid application development (RAD)
AppWare was sold in the early 90s and worked on both Apple
Mac and MS Windows systems.
Apple Media Tool
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HyperCard stacks via the
A list of
HyperCard links, America OnLine, archived from the original
on April 30, 2007
Teach Yourself HyperCard, Folk stream
HyperCard (PDF) (manual), Apple
AppleScript (in French), Scripteur, archived from the
original on 2006-05-18
Differsifier, Economy X talk, archived from the original on
HyperCard conversion utility
HyperCard Had to Die (includes a section on "A HyperCard
walkthrough: making a four-function calculator")". Loper OS. Archived
from the original on 2015-06-05. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
Classic Mac OS
System 2, 3, and 4
Mac OS 8
Mac OS 9
Macintosh Programmer's Workshop
Command key (⌘)
Option key (⌥)
Old World ROM
New World ROM
Software by Apple Inc.
Final Cut Studio
Final Cut Pro X
Apple Remote Desktop
Classic Mac OS
DVD Studio Pro
Final Cut Express