Hypercard Taught Me Everything I Know About Programming
My nostalgic soft spot for one of the first all-in-one development tools
As a child, I struggled to pick up programming. My brain didn’t think abstractly enough at the time. Like most American kids growing up in the 80s, I learned some form of basic on early Apple IIe computers. I tried writing line after line of code into them, struggling to follow along from books. I’d love to tell you that I was some coding prodigy, but I wasn’t. Programming didn’t click with my artistic mind.
My first computer was a Macintosh LC. It also had an Apple IIe card, since that was the computer I had used the most up until that point. I remember poking around at all of the programs installed on it. And by some chance, I happened to stumble onto one, tucked in the back on my computer’s hard drive, called HyperCard.
I instantly fell in love with HyperCard. It was everything I wanted in a coding environment. There was no command line to type into, everything was visual, and it was entirely self-contained. I didn’t need to compile anything either. Everything I created worked immediately, even while I was in the process of editing it. But what captured my imagination most was how intuitive it was to link virtual index cards together with buttons and code.
I spent hours upon hours building little HyperCard decks, teaching myself their programing language called HyperTalk, and mostly just drawing with the built-in art tools. It never bothered me that HyperCard was black and white even though I was on a color computer. I also managed to teach myself coding. All without much help from the manual and the internet wasn’t even a thing at the time.
Eventually, AOL came into its own, and I had a way of seeing what other people were building in HyperCard. A small “online” community was growing, and having access to what others were making enabled me to take their projects apart and keep learning. I became more and more ambitious with my plans, hoping to get attention from others as I tried to push HyperCard as far as it could go. I wasn’t the only one doing exciting stuff with HyperCard either. Basement coders were laying the groundwork for an entirely new style of point and click game that gave birth to Myst.
Unfortunately, HyperCard wasn’t going to be my claim to fame. After years without updates, the lack of color, and the limitations of the tooling I began to lose interest in HyperCard. I tried to learn C, which was quickly becoming the most popular language at the time, but I didn’t understand where to begin. I’d spend all this time coding, debugging, and compiling only to display a basic sprite on the screen. In HyperCard, I could do this with a few clicks of the mouse.
When I think back at HyperCard, I’m still amazed that it was so ahead of its time. An entire generation of developers grew up on it and we went on to help shape the face of the internet. You’d be hard-pressed to find a modern development environment that doesn’t share some similarities with HyperCard. But like most technology that lives past its prime, you learn to move on.
The best developers don’t learn languages; they master transferable skill to make the inevitable technology migration easier.