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What is a HyperCard?

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  • Written By: John Lister
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2016
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HyperCard is a set of tools used for creating software applications. It was first released in 1987 and included at the time with new Apple Macintosh computers. It was one of the earliest widely used examples of interactive media and predated the World Wide Web by several years.

The idea of HyperCard was to allow users to create applications to carry out a specific task, rather than modify an existing application for their needs. It has been described as both simple and powerful. There are recorded examples of it being easy enough for young children to use, but effective enough to carry out tasks including running the lighting system for the world's tallest buildings, the Peronas Towers in Malaysia.

The concept behind HyperCard, and the inspiration for its name, is that applications are built through virtual cards. Unlike a standard card system, such as a rotating address file, the data on the "cards" can be linked together and set to carry out commands. This means it works in a similar fashion to the way text, audio, images, and video can be linked together on websites.

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Unlike many programming languages and systems, HyperCard did not require the user to understand and know numerous commands and codes. Through the card system, the user could concentrate on working out what the application should do, with HyperCard then taking care of the code required to carry out these actions. The programming language, HyperTalk, was kept relatively simple, allowing users the option of seeing how their changes affected the coding and having the opportunity to learn the language itself. This was similar in some ways to modern web page editing software that allows the user to switch between a "What You See Is What You Get" display of the page, and the underlying HTML and other code that turns the user's design and writing into a functioning web page.

Because programming using HyperCard was so simple, in relative terms at least, it created a trend of home users creating their own applications and distributing them to other users. The sets of files distributed in this way were informally known as stackware. This name was based on the idea of a stack of "cards" making up the application.

The last major update to HyperCard came in 1998 and it was withdrawn from sale in 2004. The software does not automatically run on Mac systems later than OS version 9. However, it can be used on newer machines through emulation modes.

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