Image for post
Image for post

Hypercard Taught Me Everything I Know About Programming

My nostalgic soft spot for one of the first all-in-one development tools

Jesse Freeman
Jun 24 · 3 min read

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.

I wonder what Apple could have done with HyperCard if they had continued to invest the time and effort into it? A new generation of “multi-media” tools was on the horizon towards the end of HyperCard’s life. First, there was Director, then Future Splash, which would ultimately become Flash. I had already begun learning HTML, Java, and JavaScript. These were all still in their infancy. But the newer crop of multi-media tools reminded me of HyperCard in how they were self-contained studios with everything you needed in one place to draw, code, and publish.

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.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store